When An Ad Agency Asks Its Peers To Rename Itself

PSFK talks to senior executives at DH+W about crowdsourcing its new identity.

The big news in advertising this week is that an ad agency in Santa Monica has decided it needs a new identity. To rebrand itself, the agency formerly known as DW+H is using the Victor & Spoils crowdsourcing network to solicit a new name. PSFK’s Piers Fawkes spoke to Frank Striefler and founder Lucas Donat about the project. Read the transcript below or watch the Google Hangout interview we recorded at the bottom of the article.

Piers: So, what’s wrong with using people’s initials for the company name?

Lucas: The letters become interchangeable because they don’t have meaningfulness associated with them, nor clarity of purpose. Part of this whole exercise is on whether we find a name that is more synonymous with who we are and what we stand for as a company and as a group of people trying to do good things in the world?

Piers: Aren’t ad agencies supposed to have initials in their name?

Lucas: Well, whenever somebody’s supposed to have something the rabble-rousers start getting antsy. I think the purpose of this is, can a name be more than just a name, the name of the founders? I was at South by Southwest with Frank and somebody asked where we worked. We said, “DW+H,” and we got no response.

I think a name can do more than that. I think a name can actually start a conversation. What we’re looking for is something that is synonymous with who we are, what we stand for, but also inspires a conversation.

A friend of mine started a non-profit called Hope Mob, which essentially uses social, uses the crowd, uses the mob to bring hope to people in need. It’s a great name. It’s an example of something that is synonymous with what it does, but also inspires conversation and inquiry and curiosity. That’s what we’re hoping for.

Piers: Yes, I remember a conversation with Carl Johnson of Anomaly in the early days of PSFK. He criticized the name PSFK because it just didn’t say what it did.

Frank: When you look at the creative brief we have out, we listed Anomaly as a good example of something which conveys really quickly what the company’s all about. It needs to help you to express what that agency is about, what clients you want to go after and what work you want to do.

Piers: Can you just describe what the brief in terms of, what is the proposition behind it?

Frank: Positive change is the philosophy we’ve already adopted, but positive change is really hard to own, as you can imagine. Positive change has a lot of relevance and meaning outside of advertising. Everybody owns it in every shape and form. Our philosophy is actually, we believe that brands and businesses don’t have just the opportunity, but the obligation to be the biggest force of positive change in our world. We want to work with clients who have something useful, powerful to say, to put out there in the world. We’re here to accelerate their positive change.

This shouldn’t be mixed up with do-gooder mentality or tree-hugger mentality. Good shouldn’t be just at the fringes and an expense of your business. It actually should be the driver of your business.

Piers: Let’s touch upon the use of the crowd through Victor & Spoils. Why did you take this approach?

Frank: There are many different reasons for it. First of all, we truly believe in collaboration. In this case, it’s actually more like co-petition, the idea of collaboration between folks who are normally seen as competitors.

For us, anybody who pushes the envelope, and anybody who’s trying to change the industry, we look at them as co-conspirators rather than competitions. From that perspective, we like it. We like it from the perspective just to get first-hand experience as an agency.

I was involved in Pepsi Refresh and I also did the “No Right Brain Left Behind” initiative, which was a crowdsource initiative, a speed innovation initiative as well. I do believe there are good opportunities to do crowdsourcing.

Crowdsourcing is not always the right opportunity, but here we are asking 6,000 professionals in the industry about what a company who stands for positive change should be named. The idea that there’s always somebody smarter out there than the smartest one in the room, if you just buy into that premise of crowd sourcing, we felt it’s a good experiment and actually a good addition to our internal ideation.

What we are actually doing is that we have an open brief out. Actually, everyone here in the agency is ideating against it. We’re combining both the idea that a good idea can come from anywhere within the agency, and the idea of crowdsourcing.

Lucas: It’s an invitation to people who otherwise would never be invited to come and play, get to participate. You really do get to see that great ideas can come from anywhere, even outside of the creative community.

Piers: Where are we in terms of process? When does the competition end?

Frank: The brief is open for two more weeks. People actually do get feedback based on their submissions. We have two creative directors working with people to make their submission and their ideas better. We also asked everyone at DW+H to submit their ideas as well, for two reasons, A, to achieve an even playing field for people actually to be able to, as well, earn the reward we put out for finding the right name, and simply to encourage people to submit early so that they get that time stamp. In case more than one person submits the same name (the person who submitted the name first will be the winner).

Piers: Anybody who signs up to Victor & Spoils can be part of this competition, yeah?

Frank: Totally inclusive, yeah.

Piers: Well, I wanted to thank you guys. I wish you great luck.

DW+H

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