Chinese New Year

The Name Gain

By The Drum, Administrator

September 13, 2007 | 8 min read

Ask any proud parent about the birth of their child and the story is much the same: long, drawn-out labours, complications, and that inevitable struggle to encapsulate what makes their new creation special in a single word.

The birth of a new agency can be equally trying. Once the toil is over and a new agency is ready to face the world, its name can be crucial in reflecting its newborn identity – and those responsible for it – summarising the company ethos and attracting a client base.

But unlike newborn babies, there are no appropriate books of names, pop stars or other A-list celebs of the moment to ape – or so you would have thought.

In 1987 Michael Barrington, Stephen Johnson and Trevor Lorains left JWT Manchester to set up their own agency, Barrington, Johnson Lorains. As well-known industry figures in the north west, using their own names and established reputations had both a commercial advantage and reflected the times in which it was chosen, according to company director and remaining founder, Trevor Lorains.

“Just as the mood of the moment today is to call agencies unexpected names, going back 20 years, that’s just what people did.”

Agencies like Saatchi & Saatchi, Coley Porter Bell and Bartle Bogle Hegarty used their renown to similar effect, however, the trend for Smith and Jones-style names did not work for everyone.

After being made redundant during the 1980s recession, Paul Kerfoot paid his mortgage by doing freelance design work, until he and a former colleague decided to form Bulletpoint Design in 1989. Rejecting the surname approach, hours of brainstorming had left them with virtually nothing, when inspiration was staring them in the face. Literally.

“I had a permanent magic marker with me. I picked it up and noticed the name on the side, it said Bullet Point,” says Kerfoot.

Staunchly proud of the brand the Bulletpoint name has helped to consolidate – also encompassing Bulletprint Products and Bulletproof Brands – Kerfoot has also taken on the mantle of Bulletman, a persona derived from a 1940s comic character he discovered earlier this year thanks to a mid-life crisis and his love of eBay.

Says Kerfoot: “Its become a brand and a personality in itself and the logo has become less important to me than the Bullet name.”

Meanwhile, the shortening of Barrington Johnson Lorains to BJL was seen by its directors as a natural evolution.

“We altered the name to BJL for two reasons,” says Lorains. “I mean, you try answering the phone with that mouthful, and of course you get entertaining misspellings of it.

“Quite early on it colloquially became known as BJL and we thought if it’s good enough for BBH it’s good enough for us. It works fine and people coming fresh to BJL don’t need to link it to the heritage of the people who started it.”

When Scope Creative Marketing merged with Paradigm in 2003 it was agreed that an entirely new name was required. Following a brainstorming session between the creative and planning directors from both agencies, chief executive Charles Buddery was given just one name, Dig For Fire, which he believes expresses “the fusion of creativity and hard work.”

“It was like one of those moments from Monty Python,” says Buddery, “‘Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition,’ the door burst open and four very excited people ran into the room and that was it.”

Much as Kerfoot’s choice of name unintentionally alluded to more layered connotations, Dig For Fire unknowingly made reference to the track of the same name by US band The Pixies, although any similarity was pure coincidence according to Buddery.

“I can’t say that subliminally it might not have been in the back of someone’s mind somewhere…it was just the name that came out of the process.”

While agency names can range from the more obvious surname-based examples, to those inspired by chance or from a distinctive expression of company values, Manchester-based agency Love, founded in 2001, wanted a name that represented the vision and culture of an agency moving forward whilst conveying a passion for its work – avoiding any clichéd fruit/colour combinations common at the time.

Managing director, Alistair Sim, said: “I always thought it was just a bit naff, names like Blue Banana. I like my bananas yellow. It’s a good name for a sex aide though. The Rabbit, the Pink Courgette, the Blue Banana.”

The official back story to the Love name saw Sim and creatives Phil Skegg, Dave Palmer and Dave Simpson sitting in a local pub pouring over Manchester-inspired names.

“ I suggested to the guys that the reason we wanted to do this was that we genuinely love what we do…and very early on we thought that the ultimate destination for brands and marketing is to have a consumer love your brand, product or service,” says Sim.

“People have been talking about creative emotional connections for a number of years and we thought that the ultimate emotional response, love, would make a good name.”

And the unofficial version of the story? “We drunk eight pints of Guinness and were really pissed.”

Love is another example of an agency looking to convey a multi-layered concept through a more abstract moniker, rather than what Sim describes as the more “ego-driven and short term” Smith and Jones approach.

“We didn’t want our names above the door because we wanted Love to live on beyond the founding partners,” says Sim, “and some of these agencies have become a byword for old traditional agencies, slightly restricted by their glorious heritage.”

Rob Taylor of Like A River also believes that last name combinations are a bit old hat – despite toying with the surname approach (Rogers & Taylor; Taylor & Rogers) with co-founder Peter Rogers.

“Perhaps they only work when people know of you in the first place too,” he says.

“We chose a name that we felt could identify us as a creative type of business just by the name alone.

“A good name stands out in the market. It says something about the business culture. Our name came about as a way of saying we must always look for new and fresh ways of solving problems. The ethos we came up with was ‘Perpetual Renewal – Like A River’.”

“While using your last name is an honest approach and simple too, maybe you run the risk of your would-be clients wanting to deal with the name on the door all the time – and the business is perhaps less transferable at exit time?”

Lorains is not so convinced, though: “Think more about why you’re starting an agency and why you’re going to be different then what you’re going to call yourselves… If you have great clients, if you do great work and have great people working for you, then you have a good name regardless of what you call yourself. A good name will not rescue a poor agency.”

A catchy or recognisable name can, however, prove a boost for agencies in attracting likeminded clients, but a good name and a good reputation is priceless, according to Dig For Fire’s Buddery.

“People get very excited about names, but afterwards its all down to reputation, awareness and familiarity. That supersedes anything that might have historically been important in the creation of the name.”

A point that Elmwood chairman, Jonathan Sands would be happy to concede.

“In my view the name of a business is largely irrelevant because our businesses are only as good as the personal relationships between client and consultant,” says Sands.

“Over time if you win work and grow, the name becomes a totem of the reputation of the agency. In other words, it has a purpose beyong the initial relationship. Which is also why Elmwood is a good name even though it is a bad one!

“I wouldn\'t have chosen it as it sounds like an old folks home, but it would be hard to change as it stands for 30 years of great work,” continues Sands.

“Our buyout vehicle had a name which I thought was quite neat – Who Shaves The Barber – a puzzle typical of the puzzles we solve every day.”

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