WHAT’S IN A NAME?

It’s embarrassing.

A few months back when I started recruiting people to this new strategic communications mentorship program i was starting I didn’t think to name it anything special. This wouldn’t be such a big deal if the program itself wasn’t all about using communications effectively and strategically. Like I said, embarrassing.

Like so many people working on social justice projects I was caught up in all the details, and I wasn’t stepping out to look at the thing from the outside. I ran the risk of letting “Strategic Communications Mentorship Program” stick as a name. Thankfully one of the designers at Design Action, the worker-owned union shop that created our logo, asked us “Wait, what is the name?”

To knock my self out of the not-enough-time-to-name-the-damn-thing spot, I reached out to Rinku Sen, the Director of Race Forward and publisher of ColorLines. After 30 years as the Applied Research Center (aka ARC), Race Forward recently went through an 18-month re-branding process.
She told me:

Thanks Rinku!

I can’t think of anything more important than a group’s name and its project/campaign names. Your name can reveal who you are (constituency), your politics and/or your strategy. An organization’s name should be clear and welcoming to potential members.

When I asked Rinku why ARC decided it was time to change the name, she said:

Over time, our strategy developed into one in which speaking race out loud was central – you can’t solve a problem that no one is willing to name. We needed to note visibility to pursue our strategy, we needed to make it easier for the people who wanted our work to find us. Since the change, our numbers, donations, press hits have all increased.

Thanks to Rinku’s honest and thoughtful answers to my basic questions, I set aside time for the mentorship team to do some naming and branding. We did some basic identity work, answering questions about the feeling of the project, its goals, its audience, what kind of animal would it be. We did some brainstorming. We did some surveying of a group of our hopeful constituents. And eventually when it came down to a few good options we flipped a couple of coins, argued some more, and slept on it. We eventually made our way to the:

Like many new brands (or re-brands) that don’t have massive advertising budgets, I am sure The ReFrame Mentorship will have those who love it, those who hate it, and those who don’t care until it starts to inhabit its own identity. This is the real work of naming and branding, making it live and maintaining the discipline to use it correctly.

So until we are as big as Nike, I am going to go back to all the details that were stressing me out before we named the damn thing.

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