PRWeek Every Fourth Week: The Peril of Descriptive Brand Names



I read recently that PRWeek was changing its publication schedule to monthly (see NYT article). And so here we have yet another example of the perils of using overly descriptive brand names.

Don’t get me wrong. Descriptive brand names can work, when executed well. International Business Machines, Sports Illustrated, General Electric — These are all great descriptive brand names. The key is to describe something about the product (or company) that will never ever change. Referencing geography (e.g., naming a company after the street its original office was on), technology (e.g., naming a company using language that is specific to a certain platform or standard), or, as demonstrated by PRWeek, referencing timing can all lead to your brand becoming obsolete.

Catchword strives to create names that have staying power. When we are naming a company, we lean toward names that will accommodate shifts in the company’s business model or value proposition (while still communicating something of relevance for the company today). When we are naming a product, we look for names that will allow the parent company to expand its target audience, or adjust the product’s positioning. The more descriptive the name, the harder it is to allow flexibility.

Surely the folks at PRWeek never expected to switch to a monthly distribution when they selected their brand name. But this is exactly the point. It’s because entrepreneurs don’t expect these things that makes choosing the right name so important.

The big question remains: should PRWeek have changed their name when they changed their schedule? IMHO, I think they made a mistake by keeping the old moniker, and not just because the delivery schedule is different.

The reason they are moving from a weekly to a monthly is because revenue is down and people are reading more online. The world is changing around them, and the folks at PRWeek seem content to maintain the status quo. Maybe a new name would have been just the kick in the pants they needed to communicate an improved business model to prospective advertisers. “Take a look at us now! We’ve shed that old stodgy PRWeek brand in favor of a new name, a new delivery schedule, and a new look and feel.” In this version, the truncation of delivery is just part of a larger, more positive story. One would have thought that PR experts would have figured out how to put a positive spin on this situation.

Or maybe it was just that PRMonthly wasn’t available as a .com domain.

Name Grade: C+


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