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Untangling a web Featured

6:28am EDT July 1, 2005
William Logsdon pushes a sheet of paper across the desk with a list of the 21 names that his law firm has used over the past 160 years.

“Here’s a list of the predecessor firms and how we got to where we are,” says Logsdon, a partner with The Webb Law Firm.

Although it’s been using its current name since 1993, The Webb Law Firm officially adopted it just this year.

All of the previous names carried the names of various partners. The last was Webb Ziesenheim Logsdon Orin & Hanson, easily one of the hardest on the list of law firms to remember. The partners settled on naming the firm after now-deceased partner William Webb, a nationally known litigator and patent attorney who practiced law for 68 years. The Webb Law Firm’s partners knew that a name comprising the surnames of five partners was cumbersome and difficult to remember, so the decision to adopt the zippier moniker wasn’t a tough one. But it’s not always so easy.

Suggesting a name change can stir up a lot of emotions, whether because the name is identified with the founder or the current owner, or has just been around so long that everyone knows it, says Andrea Fitting, principal with the Fittingroup, an advertising and marketing communications firm that specializes in branding.

There’s often resistance to changing a name, whether for reasons of vanity, a fear of a loss of identity or plain old fear of change.

But as with The Webb Law Firm, the names can get in the way.

“How many names can you have on the door?” says Fitting.

If you’re thinking about a change in your company’s name, keep a few things in mind, says Julie Meder, a patent attorney with The Webb Law Firm. For one, use a team approach.

“It’s really a team effort,” she says. Getting your marketing, public relations and legal teams used to working together should smooth the process. Each has a different responsibility, but they are all interconnected when it comes to changing a name.

“Don’t wait until the name is developed before you involve the PR people,” says Nancy Wintner of GWN Associates, a public relations and marketing consultant.

Get them in on the process early on. They are the ones who will be mounting the media relations and public awareness efforts to put the new name on the map.

If your name is a little staid, consider jazzing it up. Take the opportunity to set your business apart from the rest. Says Fitting: “Why not change it to something that people will never forget?”

Once you’ve adopted a new name, don’t keep it a secret. Wintner suggests putting together a press kit that offers the media a variety of opportunities for coverage, whether it’s to reveal a new focus of your business that precipitated the name change, to explain why you’ve made the change or to describe your campaign to publicize it. And repeat the message every time you have the opportunity in all of your communications.

“Branding is no Lone Ranger,” says Michele Rothert of Esteta Communications. “For maximum impact, branding must be used consistently and repeatedly with all types of communications.”

HOW TO REACH: The Webb Law Firm, www.webblaw.com, Fitting Group, www.fittingroup.com