By all accounts, the number of companies that changed their name surged last year. But surveyors of the trend couldn’t seem to make up their minds about the reason.
“Tough market conditions and continued corporate restructuring” were behind an 11 percent increase in corporate name changes, said Anspach Grossman Portugal, a consultant firm, in its annual survey.
“A very bullish indicator for the economy” and a sign of “optimistic” management, said a release Tuesday by Interbrand Schechter, another firm in the business of polishing company identities.
Which is it?
Interbrand Executive Vice President David Martin on Wednesday stood by the more positive tone, saying it was unlikely many companies in financial trouble would “go through an incredible investment” to change names.
Anspach’s Chief Executive Jim Johnson maintained that there was not much conflict between the two views, which he called “different sides to the same coin.”
He said corporations that seek to hone images in fiercely competitive markets could also be bullish about their future, citing 1994’s $10 billion marriage of Martin Marietta and Lockheed Corp. - two large defense contractors now known as Lockheed Martin.
The situation reflects the hurdles faced by firms competing for free media attention.
Interbrand and Anspach, both New York-based consultants to companies seeking to spruce up their corporate images, in the past have released name-change surveys to the press within weeks of each other that tried to tie the results to larger economic trends.
Interbrand’s release Tuesday referred to a 22.7 percent jump in New York Stock Exchange-listed companies switching names in 1994 from the previous year.
But the current releases were more attentiongrabbing than usual because the explanations appeared to be so different.
“The fact that the two are diametrically opposed is really incredulous. What school of economics do these organizations reflect?” said public relations veteran Robert Dilenschneider, after The Associated Press faxed him copies of both releases.
Dilenschneider, who runs New York-based Dilenschneider Group, said he disagreed with the attempts to tie corporate-name to economic trends. He said that companies choose new names for widely varied reasons.
“They certainly have contributed to the attitudinal crisis of the average business person’s view of the economy,” said Howard J. Rubenstein, president of Rubenstein Associates, a New Yorkbased public relations firm representing a large number of major corporations.
“I don’t think this trend can be distilled down to one basic reason,” he said, after reading faxed copies.
While the companies stressed a single economic trend in the name changes, they detailed other reasons as well.
Of the 54 NYSE-listed companies that changed names last year, financial services firms comprised 10, according to Interbrand. One notable name-change was Primerica’s purchase of the Travelers Inc. insurance company. Primerica, which owns the Smith Barney Inc. brokerage, adopted Travelers’ name.
Anspach reported that a total of 1,004 companies, including privately held ones and publicly traded firms on major stock exchanges, changed their names last year.