The Agency Business: More than just names, some firms' monikers have meaning

Some agency owners are moving past simply using their last names for their firms and are finding out that unusual agency names can create big buzz for a business.

Some agency owners are moving past simply using their last names for their firms and are finding out that unusual agency names can create big buzz for a business.

What's in a name? In the past, when a couple of colleagues got together to start a PR firm, they slapped their last names on a shingle and hung it. Now - and probably since the dot-com boom (remember that?) - agencies are coming up with all sorts of odd monikers. It's to be expected. We are, after all, in the branding age. But some have come up with truly unusual names with stories behind them. And the agency owners say there's no drawback to an unusual name. On the contrary, it can create what PR is largely about: buzz. When Caryn Marooney and Margit Wennmachers started OutCast Communications in San Francisco, they struggled to find a name, Marooney says. They didn't want to use their own because "we come from agencies with people's names on the door, and we knew how limiting that could be for people whose names are not on it. Plus our names are hard." The two tried out several names on reporters, and OutCast was by far the favorite. The "CHO" in CHO HighWater, a New York agency, stands for "come hell or." (The agency's website even has a page explaining the name.) Lance Seymour, co-CEO and cofounder, says he and partner Dan Harnett were throwing names back and forth, and Harnett came up with it. "I thought it was the stupidest thing I ever heard in my life," Seymour says. But every other name "was too obvious or trying too hard. The second-place name was Kinetic Communications - it's just so ehhhh." (A Google search reveals that there are several companies called Kinetic Communications, but none appears to be a PR agency.) Sticking with the water theme, Cynthia M. Dobyns, president of AboveWater PR/Marketing in Naples, FL, says she and her husband came up with the name because when they started the agency four years ago that's what they were doing - trying to keep their heads above water (it also resonated earlier this year when hurricanes battered Florida). Mirella Cameran, managing director of The Red Consultancy USA in New York, says when the agency launched in London in 1994, it was one of the first to use a color for its name. Elsewhere on the color spectrum, Stephen F. Johnstone, EVP and director of PR at Milwaukee-based Blue Horse, says the name came about when two agencies merged in 1998. "The main reason for Blue Horse was to avoid being Andrews, Mautner, Fuller, Thiede, & Luskin," Johnstone says. On the other hand, through a series of mergers, the agency has backtracked on its name. It is now known as ESW/ Blue Horse - ESW stands for Ebel Signorelli Welke. Charles Epstein, president of BackBone in Boca Raton, FL, admits that he has gotten inquiries from people thinking he's a chiropractor. He picked the name because his agency does a lot of tech PR (as in network backbone), and he likes to think the name implies forceful advocacy. Peter Shankman, CEO of The Geek Factory in New York, says that if companies don't want to work with him because of the name, he doesn't want to work with them. (Outfits like Disney and American Express don't seem to mind). The name came about when a client told him that if he ever had kids, they'd all be geeks because he knew too much about The Brady Bunch. Some agencies are in just the right business for unusual names: Nasty Little Man does music PR for groups like the Beastie Boys (and staffers answer the phone, "Hello, Nasty," hence the group's album title). Some use their names without using them. PR-BS in Boca Raton, FL, stands for Public Relations by Schweikhart, as in Gary Schweikhart, the president (though he also says that "all PR campaigns are a mixture of PR and BS"). And a name can even help woo a client. Earlier this year, Detroit-based Airfoil PR won a new account, CareTech Solutions, a healthcare IT outsourcing firm. CareTech president and CEO James Giordano told the agency the name appealed to him because he's a pilot, says agency CEO Lisa Vallee-Smith. Vallee-Smith came up with the name in 2000 while flipping through the dictionary searching for a moniker for her new agency. "Airfoil" appealed to her because as someone who does a lot of tech PR she knew her clients would know that it is the part of the wing that allows a plane to take off. ----- Unusual agency names
  • AboveWater PR/Marketing
  • Absolutely PR
  • Airfoil PR
  • Antenna Group
  • Atomic PR
  • BackBone
  • Bite Communications
  • ESW/Blue Horse
  • Calysto Communications
  • CHO [Come Hell Or] HighWater
  • Environics Communications
  • Epoch 5 Public Relations
  • 5W [who, what, where, when, why] PR
  • The Geek Factory
  • Image Professors
  • LaunchSquad
  • The Milk Group
  • Nasty Little Man
  • OutCast Communications
  • PR-BS
  • Racepoint Group
  • Reaction Marketing Group
  • The Red Consultancy
  • SparkPR
  • Straightline PR
  • Truth Be Told
  • Wax Marketing

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