Tips for Changing your Publication’s Name

HelloShakespeare promises us that "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet." But how about a publication? Handle a name change incorrectly and  you risk losing readers and identity. Here's what one publisher has learned about publication name changes through personal experience.

We have had multiple experiences with changing the name of a publication.

When we first bought the San Diego Christian Classifieds in 1988 we changed the name to San Diego Christian Times. It actually had a very positive effect. People said, "Now it is a real newspaper."

When we bought the Northwest Christian Journal in 2000, we changed the name to Northwest Christian Times. We did not notice any negative impact with the name change, despite its prior 10-year history under its former name. Ad revenues and readership were not adversely affected.

Then we had our major name change in November 2003 from Christian Times to Christian Examiner. While we did not notice any negative impact to revenues, we still feel the effects of the "branding" issue. Even today, nearly five years later, a guy referred to our paper as the Christian Times. The Christian Times had developed such a strong brand in Southern California, that even regular readers/clients still refer to it under that name. There is still regret that we had to give up that name.

So, our experience is that a name change, while not something you want to have to do, can be done without negative impact. Here are 10 tips to changing a name (compiled from our personal experience):

1. Pick a unique name that nobody else has. Keep it short. No more than two words, if possible. Develop your own unique brand/identity. Immediately trademark your name with the U.S. Patent Office.

2. Avoid regional identifiers (i.e., Baghdad Christian Tabloid), especially if there is any possibility at all that you may develop multiple regions. You want to build your brand the same everywhere. You can identify regions in a subtitle or as a slug under the logo (Baghdad edition).

3. Make sure you choose a name that can have an identical URL with .com, .org and .net addresses all available to you. Do not abbreviate or hyphenate your name for a URL. If your name is not available in a .com URL, don't choose it. You want your exact brand name as your complete URL (www.christiantabloid.com). Be sure to get at least the .com version of your name, but also get the .net and .org if you can and redirect them to your main site.

4. Mimic your current logo with the new name -- you want them to look very similar.

5. Maintain your same look for your front page or cover, flag and masthead. People will recognize it as the same publication even though it has a different name. If you what to change your style, wait a few months to do it.

6. Get some radio time (trade, of course) and promote the new name on the air as much as you can.

7. Run a large ad in your own publication for a few months showing a multiple front page collage of your old brand alongside the new brand.

8. Feel free to use this great tag line a guy gave to us: "A new name for an old friend." We had the tag line put onto our exhibit display, on trade show bags, etc. and used it for a whole year.

9. In small type on your front page flag beneath the logo, print your former name ("i.e., formerly the Christian Grapevine") for four to six months.

10. Send a direct mail letter to all your clients announcing the "new" name while emphasizing the "same" ownership. It might even be good to explain the reason for the new name.

By handling it correctly, you can avoid problems when you switch to a new name, reaping the benefits while avoiding pitfalls.

Lamar Keener is President & CEO of Selah Media Group and publisher of the Christian Examiner Newspaper Group.

Posted in 2008.