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Naming rites: an association's name-change initiative re-energizes members and reshapes its public image.

WHAT'S IN A NAME? PLENTY. AT THE American School Food Service Association, Alexandria, Virginia, we identified a serious gap between our name and the work of our members and the image that we wanted to present to the public. The mission of ASFSA--to advance good nutrition for all children--was the core of an association that represented not only district directors, managers, and cafeteria workers, but nutrition educators, regulators, and suppliers as well. Since its formation in 1946 as a 501(c)(4) organization, the association has had a long and distinguished history of supporting nutritious meals for all children in grades kindergarten through 12 through advocacy, education and training, standards, credentialing, research, networking, and other activities. Looking from the inside out, ASFSA members are proud of the role that they have played in seeing that all children have access to nutritious meals during the course of the school day. Approximately 28 million lunches and 8 million breakfasts are served daily as part of the National School Lunch and Breakfast program.

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However, our members were extremely sensitive to the negative public image of both school nutrition programs and cafeteria line workers. Three primary factors contributed to this negativity:

* a public that knows little about the programs except what they experienced 20, 30, or 40 years ago in their own school cafeterias;

* children's marketing, advertising, television programming, and publishing that tries to appeal to children by making fun of meals provided by school cafeterias; and

* reporters who look exclusively for sensationalism--and avoid doing research--to get their stories carried in the news.

The nation was also waking up to the fact that they were super-sizing themselves and their children into an unhealthy state. Obesity was gathering considerable, sustained press coverage. Students have been growing up with little or no nutrition education since Congress eliminated the dollars for those programs in the 1980s. Tax-dependent schools, looking for ways to bring in extra money, began selling candy and soda to kids via vending machines within the schools. Only U.S. Department of Agriculture regulations and the school nutrition providers prevented the machines from invading the cafeteria.

All of the above factors contributed to an overall poor image of school nutrition programs. So no one was very surprised when ASFSA members identified the public image of school nutrition programs as their number one priority in 2001. With a fix-the-image mandate, the 2001-2003 ASFSA Strategic Planning Committee called for the association's leadership to enhance recognition of the association as the voice of child nutrition and focus on public outreach.

As an outcome of the strategic planning committee's work, the association's board president for 2003-2004 appointed a name-assessment task force to examine and evaluate not only the name of the association but the overall brand as well. Following are the key strategies that led to a successful name-change initiative for what is now the School Nutrition Association. Our process may provide some lessons for your association should you undertake a similar project.

Getting started

From the beginning, we knew that it was important to engage our state affiliate leaders in the process. We also wanted to take a look at the process that other associations had followed in changing their names.

Involving state affiliate leaders. State presidents and presidents-elect have a strong influence on the way national initiatives are perceived. Not only do they have the power to persuade, but they also are the single largest voting block in the association's house of delegates. If any change in name was to occur, we needed their support. Before moving forward, the ASFSA executive board planned a discussion with state affiliate leaders during the 2003 house of delegates meeting. We wanted to make sure that state leaders felt that they had a voice on this initiative before the association invested time, energy, and dollars. We also wanted to identify reasons why they would or would not support a name change and determine whether enough support existed to go forward at that time.

In an informal poll during these discussions, approximately 65 percent of the state leaders appeared to be in favor and 35 percent against a possible name change. The most significant concerns during the mega-issue discussions had to do with loss of name recognition for the association and the expense for changing all of our insignia, including stationary, membership pins, forms, banners, and so forth. However, the executive board did not consider these issues to be impediments to a name change, and we were prepared to move forward.

Examining the success stories of other associations. Why reinvent the wheel? My friend Robert J. Dolibois, CAE, executive vice president of the American Nursery and Landscape Association (ANLA), Washington, D.C., gave us excellent advice: Move cautiously. You do not want members to think a decision has been made to change the name, he said. You want them to know that you are only evaluating the name as to its appropriateness in the current environment. Dolibois's association had used a name-assessment task force as well, and it was the task force that recommended a name change for his association upon completion of a full evaluation. Only then did his board of directors move forward with the proposed name change. This seemed like an effective process, and we decided to follow ANLA's example.

Developing and introducing a new brand

Once we were ready to proceed, we invested significant time and resources in assessing our existing name and brand as well as in developing and presenting our new one.

Completing a full assessment of the existing name. ASFSA officers appointed a name-assessment task force that included representatives from each of our seven regions and all member segments of the association. It took two conference calls and one two-day meeting to complete their work. Conducting a full assessment gave the task force and executive board the rationale for changing the association's name and insight into what the new name should be.

The criteria (see sidebar, "Finding a Fit: Assessing Your Association's Name") and format we used were critical to our success in not only evaluating the current name but also uncovering the new name. We looked at the name as a whole and then weighed each word within the name using a grid. Each word of the name was listed in the grid horizontally and a rating system going from 5 to 1 was listed vertically. At the end of the day, and after much discussion, we had thrown out three words: American, food, and service. The words food and service covered most segments of a huge industry and did nothing to elevate the image of school meals or relate the programs to nutrition. American was more difficult, but the task force felt this word was not only implied but possibly limiting, considering our growing involvement in global school nutrition programs.

Two of the words from our existing name were judged to be critical: school, because of the link to education, and association, because that defines us as an entity. The missing word became obvious, as it represented what members feel the association is all about: nutrition.

Introducing a new brand with the new name. Making it possible for members to see how the new name would work to enhance the image of school nutrition programs was a key factor in our success. Rather than debate the merits of one word over another in the name, the focus was on the overall brand of the association. The executive board had allocated $100,000 for developing a new brand, which would involve redesigning all the materials that carried our name and logo. Once the name-assessment task force recommended that the association move forward, the board invested in developing a new brand (logo and tag line) to go with the new name. And that's how the new name was ultimately introduced to the executive board, state leaders, past presidents, and the house of delegates: name, logo, and tag line.

Selecting the right brand consultant. ASFSA staff developed a request for proposals and took sufficient time to find the right agency to develop our new brand. After multiple interviews with various agencies, we hired a firm located in Philadelphia (with only one other association client) that literally knocked our socks off with its presentation. Unlike other agencies that did little preparation before presenting their plans, the agency we selected took a big risk by investing up front, without a contract, in research and development of a proposed new brand. Because it did its homework, the firm hit a home run on the first swing.

Being as transparent as possible. Keeping key members informed throughout the process was very important. Meetings were held with past presidents as well as industry and state leaders when possible. By our Legislative Action Conference in February 2004, state and national leaders were informed that a new name would be proposed and introduced in April at the National Leadership Conference. The ASFSA president-elect, who had chaired the name-assessment task force and was well-liked by all, made a dynamic presentation at the conference that included the task force's assessment process and ended with the new name. She slowly built up anticipation until the very last slide. At first there was dead silence, and then people began to applaud. Then they stood up and began applauding louder and louder.

Providing state leaders with a presentation and materials to use in their states. We felt it was important to ensure that the new name and brand were presented consistently and with flare in each state--in the same exciting and professional way that we presented them at the National Leadership Conference. Each state president was given a kit that included a four-color brochure, a PowerPoint presentation, and handouts to use when presenting the name change to his or her board and house of delegates. Kits were also sent to the past presidents and to patron members.

Looking to the future

In July 2004, the ASFSA House of Delegates voted 153-7 to change the name of its organization from the American School Food Service Association to the School Nutrition Association, new brand and all. The positive vote spurred a great deal of excitement and applause. This was immediately followed by the passage of a dues increase without one voice in opposition to the increase--a first in our association. Then, we surprised the delegates with two huge cakes iced with our new name, logo, and tag line. And so the celebration began.

The name change has been a shot in the arm for the association. The excitement at our annual national conference was like nothing we had ever experienced. Members lined up to order shirts, aprons, and hats with the new logo. Membership has increased for the first time in several years during our first three months of the fiscal year. Every state affiliate that has met since our name change (10 states) has voted to change its name as well. The other 40 states have started the process but do not have their annual conferences until spring or summer. Although states were told that they did not have to change their names if ASFSA did, not one state has indicated that it doesn't plan to move forward.

There is no question that our members really like the new brand, but it is still too soon to tell the impact on our external world and those groups most important to this association. We are still in the middle of the campaign to introduce the name and brand to all our targeted audiences. Personally, I receive a far more positive response from people I meet when I hand them my business card and say, "I represent the School Nutrition Association." The look on their faces says "Ah, now I get it. You all are about nutrition." And not a word is said about hairnets or ketchup.

RELATED ARTICLE: FINDING A FIT: Assessing Your Association's Name

Is a name change the right strategic move for your association? Here are the important questions that we addressed before changing our association's name:

* Does the current name speak to the organization's targeted audiences?

* Does the name convey key messages?

* Does the name reflect the mission and vision of the association?

* Does the name reflect a positive public image?

* Does the name reflect the organization's value to others?

* Do members identify with the name?

* Does the public identify the name with the school environment?

* Does the name strike an emotional chord?

* Is the name easy to say, use, and remember?

* Does the name lend itself to an acronym or initialism that is easy to say, use, and remember?

* Does the name exclude any important groups to our mission and vision?

BY BARBARA S. BELMONT, CAE

Barbara S. Belmont, CAE, is executive director of the School Nutrition Association, Alexandria, Virginia. E-mail: bbelmont@schoolnutrition.org.
COPYRIGHT 2005 American Society of Association Executives
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Author:Belmont, Barbara S.
Publication:Association Management
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2005
Words:2140
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