It’s The Hardest Thing To Do In PR, Cleveland Is Pulling It Off

When you add it all up, there’s nothing harder to do in PR than successfully communicate a company name change.

That’s especially true when it’s not just the name, but also a visual identity, including a logo. Why? In no particular order, these adages combine for a challenge that tops all the rest. Change is hard. Art is subjective. Everybody has an opinion.

This has probably always been true but is especially so in an era of social media, where nothing attracts traffic like a “take” and snark can take hold instantly. This is even more pronounced in sports, where tradition meets emotion to fuel opinion. A case in point I’ll always remember is when I was sitting in a sports client’s office, minutes after a name and logo change was announced in the relatively early days of social media, and a respected media commentator tweeted “Congrats to my 6 year-old (daughter) who apparently won the ‘Design The Logo’ contest.” That got a lot of retweets.

Even in the corporate sector, name changes pose the highest degree of communications difficulty. Company histories and names are so tied together, if only by habit, if not strong emotion. Customers need to be reassured by what’s not changing. Employees are used to answering “Where do you work?” a certain way. They need to be prepared and guided through change. The signage is everywhere so the checklist for physical change is so long and complex.

While I typically root against them on the field, I give a huge amount of credit to how the Cleveland baseball team has handled their name change, after decades of controversy. First, they sent a signal months ahead of time that something different would be coming, to begin to condition their audiences for change. Then, they remained open-minded, reportedly considering more than 1,000 names. Importantly, they met with their audiences, reportedly hosting hundreds of conversations, to seek input, rather than what we see too often in other cases where whatever a CEO wants goes, without any real study.

When it came time for the rollout, they didn’t just take the easy routes. First, there were no leaks, which was impressive (in the sports example shared above, our primary job for that client was to design a leak-free strategy, which upset some audiences who felt like they should have known the final choice in advance). Then, they used social media, with celebrity sizzle, but only to start. Later in the day, answered questions with journalists in person, including from their popular field manager, to get messages out.

Change will be hard in baseball and in Cleveland. We have seen that art is, indeed subjective, even without a color change as some critics with a degree in graphic design from Facebook University don’t like something about what they have viewed. And yes, as always, everybody has an opinion, including those who will never understand why having a pro sports team called the “Indians” was a problem. But this team handled the toughest task in impressive fundamental fashion and for that, even a Tigers fan can admit the rivals should feel like they have a very good chance to finish on top.