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Does your organisation’s name need too much explanation? Pauline Tambling reflects on the process of changing an established brand name and offers insight for arts organisations embarking on a similar journey.

Creative Lives Everyday Creativity Montage
Creative Lives everyday creativity montage

In June this year, Voluntary Arts changed its name to Creative Lives.  When the organisation was originally set up thirty years ago, it was called the Voluntary Arts Network (VAN). The name avoided the obvious alternative ‘amateur arts’, which was problematic because of its possible association with ‘unprofessional’. 

Over the last decade, the staff consistently found the organisation’s name proved confusing and needed too much explanation. And the trustees were clear that the name did not reflect our activity championing everyday creativity across the UK and Ireland. 

Everyone has issues addressing the ‘important but not urgent’ tasks, not just small arts organisations with limited resources. So, two years ago our Chair, David Bryan and the board formally agreed that the name of the organisation must change by the date of our 30th anniversary in 2021. We set up a steering group with three senior staff and a trustee and agreed a methodical approach to finding a new name. 

Reviewing our core purpose

Some of us had worked with brand agencies before and knew that we couldn’t move directly to a new name and visual identity without first revisiting our organisational purpose, aims and activity. We have a staff team of 24 people, many part-time, all dispersed, working with a range of different funders and stakeholders. Inevitably we were all using slightly different language to describe what we do. 

As we had not reviewed our aims and objectives for a long time there were unspoken assumptions about our purpose, sometimes responding to new external factors. For some we were a ‘movement’ growing creative activity on the ground, for others ‘a rights-based organisation’ or a ‘campaign’ to encourage people to take part in local creative activities. But we were still holding on to the original language of our founders about being a ‘representative body’ speaking on behalf of a ‘voluntary arts’ sector. 

The truth was we had moved on with our practice but not with our language or brand, and we were continuing to do some things just because we always had. Working with staff and trustees, we generated a long list of possible names but once we agreed a clearer way of expressing our purpose, it was much easier to align the ‘candidate names’ against this. 

A ‘vision name’

The normalisation of online meetings because of Covid enabled us to consult much more widely about our name change than might otherwise have been possible. We held a range of focus group meetings with existing stakeholders, funders and supporters – and with groups of people not familiar with our organisation, too.

One breakthrough came when we realised that our enormous longlist of potential names naturally divided into three broad types: names that tried to explain what the organisation is and does; names reflecting the organisation’s vision; and abstract names that would need to be explained by a strapline. Trustees and staff agreed that a ‘vision name’ was the best fit for the style and tone of our organisation. 

This narrowed down our longlist at a stroke and, because of the painstaking work we had done to clarify our purpose, ‘Creative Lives’ emerged as the best way of describing what we are about.

‘Like a couple that has renewed their marriage vows’

If we had more money, we would have hired an agency at this point. But our staff was now engaged with the process, so we decided to harness internal resources and set up task groups to develop the visual identity, brand language and relaunch event. 

Many staff are part-time and have other careers as artists, writers and journalists. The ‘new name’ project gave us access to staff skills not ordinarily deployed in their work for us and it was a revelation to see how enthusiastic they were to work on the new name and how capable too. 

Creative Lives has emerged from the Covid lockdown like a couple that has renewed their marriage vows. We are still 100% committed to ‘everyday creativity’, and to drawing out creativity in local groups and individuals across the UK and Ireland, but we are clearer about what we do and why we do it.  

Our new logo is brighter and sharper than before. Our programmes which had different names and sub-brands – mainly because of our lack of confidence in our old name – have been refreshed and relaunched as Creative Lives Awards, Creative Lives On Air (our partnership with BBC local radio), Creative Learning, Creative Citizens and Creative Networks.

What did we learn from the process?

That sometimes an organisation has the resources within itself to achieve something important. That our staff and trustees are even more talented than we thought. That the name change provided us with an opportunity to refresh and reinvigorate our organisation, to challenge complacency and to bed-in other positive changes that had evolved over time. 

That almost without exception, the name we chose was accepted as appropriate and right for us by stakeholders and friends who said, “Yes, Creative Lives, that makes sense. It’s what you’ve always been about”. And that our name change has been a very positive experience, energising staff and trustees but also bringing in new people and enthusing our existing stakeholders. 

Signs you need to re-brand:

  • Spending too much time explaining what your organisation does.
  • Hiding services and activities behind sub-brands. 

Things to think about:

  • Are you clear about your organisation’s main purpose, vision, aims and objectives? 
  • Are there activities or services your organisation should stop doing? 
  • Can you join up all your organisation’s activities and services so that they all work towards achieving a single vision and purpose? 

Getting it done:

  • Create a project plan and timeline in the diary for ‘important but not urgent’ tasks and stick to it.
  • Ensure you understand your staff members’ skills, particularly the ones that don’t directly apply to the job they do for you.
  • Much like a stage production, believe that you will do a good job, plan a launch date and just do it. 

Pauline Tambling CBE is a Trustee of Creative Lives. 

 www.creative-lives.org
 @CreativeLivesCL | @PaulineTambling

This article is an advertising feature sponsored and contributed by Creative Lives.

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Photo of Pauline Tambling