x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

From the desk of Frank Kane: naming the shaming

Focus: Sometimes it is not what's in a name, it's what's behind a name change. Other times it's just splitting hairs, writes Frank Kane.

I always think it's rather depressing when an old corporate name gets consigned to the rubbish bin of branding history. I was saddened when the UK post office became the ludicrous Consignia, and maddened when Guinness became the undrinkable Diageo.

I can sometimes see the logic. In both the above cases, the old name, which had stood the company well over decades, even centuries, had become tarnished: Guinness by the insider dealing scandal of the 1980s; the Post Office by the Neanderthal tendencies of its trade union leaders. So change had to come, however regrettable.

Sometimes it comes about as a result of corporate consolidation. For example, when three British insurers, Norwich Union, Commercial Union and General Accident merged some years back, the full name was obviously unwieldy, while the acronym - Nucuga - sounded like a new signing by Manchester City. So, the saccharin Aviva it became.

These examples illustrate the controversy that can surround a change of name. I cite them to illustrate the sadness I felt this week when Financial Dynamics, one of the great brands of international public relations, took on a new moniker.

"FD", as I've know the firm for years, was an easily pronounceable, unique acronym in the PR world, and had genuine lineage, having begun in London in the 1980s and then gone global under successive owners and managers, most of whom I knew well and counted as friends.

Now, according to the official word, "FD" will be known as the "Strategic Communications practice of FTI Consulting," a US-based global business advisory firm. Whatever the long-term advantages of the rebranding, I can't really see the sense in replacing the two, crisp, easily understood letters "FD", with 17 tongue-twisting syllables, as in the new name. And as an acronym "SCPFTIC" doesn't quite work.

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But names, and peoples' job titles, really are important. I got in trouble with an American contact recently when I called him a "publicist" rather than the "lobbyist" that he would prefer.I could see his point, and retracted by email, blaming editors, as writers invariably do.

Publicists work in showbiz, often Hollywood, getting the media to write gushing pieces about their precocious clients' new movie, or play; lobbyists work in the nitty gritty world of politics, often Washington, getting the media to write gushing pieces about their precocious clients' new company, or political party. It's a world of difference.

It struck me there is no really acceptable or 100 per cent appropriate name for a practitioner in the field of public relations. "PR man" is sexist, "PR lady" is patronising, "PR" on its own is kind of derogatory.

"Spin doctor" causes some PR professionals to fly into a fury, while "flak" is ancient and reactionary, not giving enough weight to the "strategic" nature of their work.

"Communications executive" is too long, and sounds like a marketing manager at Etisalat, while the abbreviation "comms exec" just doesn't do it for me.

Any PR professionals out there who might guide me as to the preferred phrase?

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Right, you tight-fisted Arsenal fans, this is your last chance. Get your wallets out. Next Sunday is D-Day: D for Destruction.

In a column towards the end of last football season, I described how I, a lifetime fan of Tottenham Hotspur football club, had reluctantly acquired an Arsenal team shirt, signed by all the first-team players.

I offered to sell it to the highest bidder (proceeds going to charity, of course) or burn it. With only feeble response from Gunners fans, I've had to store the wretched thing all summer.

Sadly, some of the names are no longer on the Arsenal books, so it's a piece of living history now as well.

This Sunday, Tottenham plays Arsenal, and this is my deadline. I will have the shirt with me at the Jumeirah Beach Hotel, where I will watch the game. If no Gunner puts in a bid by the time the teams come off the pitch, the shirt gets it.

fkane@thenational.ae