When Jeff Bezos decided to buy the Washington Post for $250 million, he took only the flagship newspaper and a handful of smaller papers and specialty magazines such as Apartment Showcase. Bezos leaves behind the rest of the Washington Post Co., which the paper itself calls a “grab-bag of seemingly unrelated businesses.” The grab bag includes online publications such as Slate, local television stations in Houston, Miami, and San Antonio, educational services that include Kaplan, a hospice company, and Forney, a ”global supplier of products and systems that control and monitor combustion processes in electric utilities and industrial applications.” These leftover holdings will be getting a new, to-be-determined name. How do you name a company whose units have nothing in common but a heritage brand that’s no longer available for use? We called David Placek of Lexicon Branding to find out. Lexicon is the company that came up with BlackBerry (BBRY), Febreze (PG), OnStar, Pentium, FiOS, and four new non-racist ideas for the Washington Redskins.
First of all, does it matter what a company like this is called?
I think it does. It can serve as a signal as to where you are going. You can have a deliberate strategy that says this is just a holding company name, it’s not going to symbolize anything. If you make that decision, the lazy way would be let’s just think of an acronym. You can call it the WPX or something like that. But I think anytime you can tell people a little bit about where you are going and what your orientation is, it’s a good thing to do.
So how would you approach naming what’s left?
I’d try to find some common ground, either a common value or a common direction. They really don’t have a common heritage. They have been collected over time. If this was a project that we were working on, what we would do is sit down with management and understand what they have, the history of it, and where they think they might be going. And then ask the question: How can a company name help you to get where you are going?
Is there a risk—if you name it after one of the existing businesses—of sending the wrong message to the others?
You wouldn’t want to do that. That would be the worst thing for you to do. That’s the challenge. Is there something in common here? I’m going to assume that along the way, they purchased these things because they folded into some sort of a strategy. And if they could capture that, that would be good. Or just think about where are we going in the future? Naming it after one sector or an existing business would be limiting. You lose some flexibility. So I think it should be something more—with a little bit of emotion to it—that generates some interest, and it helps support the argument that we are going to take this thing and make it better or make it bigger.
But it can’t be too specific.
And too broad becomes just bland.
It’s a little bit of a puzzle to solve.
Should they try to signal the historical connection to the Washington Post newspaper?
I think that’s a strategy that should be explored. Maybe it’s with the word Washington. Maybe a simple thing is Washington Enterprises. You say: ‘We wanted to create a link to our illustrious past but obviously moving forward.’ Post could be a little trickier to work with.