The game of the name Featured

9:56am EDT July 22, 2002

MacTemps’ name said it all. The Boston-based company with an office in Pittsburgh provided temporary and contract staffing for companies in the areas of Macintosh computer-based print design and creative, print production, Web and other technologies.

For 13 years, the name worked for the company, easily defining its niche in the vast computer-related temporary services industry. The only problem was, the company wasn’t just about Macintosh-based designers and other temporary-service providers anymore.

“It’s now a company whose mission is to enhance the lives of independent professionals,” says Pamela Miller, vice president and regional manager of the company. Obviously, that’s not what the name suggested. So the company simply changed it.

Of course, “simply” isn’t exactly the way to describe a process that cost more than $1 million to implement, following a lot of soul searching to decide what the company was, where it was going and whether the current name enhanced the mission.

“We thought about changing our name for the last five years,” Miller says. “And we had to decide, do we want to shatter 13 years of brand equity? But then we said, ‘We have a mission that extends beyond Macintosh personnel, and we want to move beyond our image as a temp agency.’”

Its new mission, according to company documents, was to expand its commitment to serve as agent and advocate for the growing independent work force.

“Independent professionals represent 20 percent of today’s work force, or 25 million people, more than the number of union members in the U.S.,” says MacTemps CEO and co-founder John Chuang, in describing his interest in pushing his company’s focus in that direction.

Chuang took the naming challenge to veteran linguistics consultancy NameLab Inc. It was a challenge with which the San Francisco-based company was familiar, having already come up with recognizable brand names including Compaq, Acura and the PowerBook.

After considering such names as Indepro and InCommon, both of which play off of the “independent professional” theme, NameLab came up with a totally different name, which Chuang and company adopted: Aquent Partners.

“If Aquent were a Greek or Latin word, it would suggest ‘not a follower,’” says Ira Bachrach, president of NameLab in a prepared statement. “The word was coined to describe the rapidly emerging career path of independent professionals and a new employment relationship between corporations and highly skilled individuals.”

Miller says the name was derived “sort of from ‘asequential’ but admits it’s entirely made up. She adds, however, that “we’re going to create meaning in it. I liked it because it was different.”

Under the new name, Aquent will introduce customized programs for independent professionals and continue expansion into new industries and markets worldwide which, Chuang predicts, will push revenue up by 30 percent this year.

To implement the change, Miller says, the company recently hired a new public relations agency to develop a whole package of collateral materials emphasizing the change, right down to the little geometrically shaped people, dubbed IPs (for independent professional), in different colors and positions on business cards and other materials. The company also is doing a direct-mail campaign to customers and others announcing the change, and it’s meeting with its biggest accounts to personally discuss the evolution.

In similar fashion, Robinson Township-based DXI Inc., a high-tech company that provides automated back-office computer software solutions for firms involved with transporting ocean cargo, has adopted its own name change.

Like Aquent, DXI started out in 1987 as a company that provided automated rate and shipment management information to the ocean transportation industry. But what was it supposed to do once it expanded its portfolio of products to include a wide range of e-commerce solutions to those involved in global trade? And for that matter, what did DXI even stand for?

So it recently changed its name to E-Transport Inc.

“We feel that the new name better describes what we do and reflects our strategic direction in the transportation industry,” says Robert Ryan, chief executive officer of the 155-employee company. “We intend to be known as the premier facility for presenting, purchasing and managing industrial transportation services. Changing our company name helps our current and future customers and investors understand the value that we add to shipping transactions.”

Both companies clearly have taken a chance changing more than a decade of brand equity, but in the name of better understanding of the changing company. It’s not for everybody, however.

Says Aquent’s Miller: “If a company is doing it just to do it, it’s probably not a good idea.”

How to reach : E-Transport’s Robert Ryan at (412) 788-2466; Aquent Partners’ marketing department, via e-mail, at hqmarketing@aquent.com