What’s in a name? For Jones Lang LaSalle, a lot less

JLL is saying TTYL to its old name.

Jones Lang LaSalle, the Chicago-based commercial real estate company, announced its new abbreviated name this month, joining a long list of corporations with shortened monikers, including AOL, KFC and UPS.

The transition has gone smoothly so far — minus the fact that when spoken too quickly with a Southern accent, “JLL” sounds a little like “jail,” JLL Chief Marketing Officer Charles Doyle said.

Doyle toyed with the idea of the name change for years, and finally took the leap because the company had become global enough where its name was being said in multiple languages by clients and employees, and the acronym is easier to pronounce than the full name. JLL is also more succinct on the Web, social media and mobile apps.

“Our dominant marketing channel has become the Web,” Doyle said. “The Web doesn’t like long names, it likes short names and symbols.”

It is not the first time the real estate firm has gone through a name change, but it is the first time it’s shortening its legacy names to single letters on the company’s logo, Web site and other public-facing marketing images. Jones Lang LaSalle was born out of the 1999 merger between 200-year old British firm Jones Lang Wootton and Chicago’s LaSalle Partners.

“There was some nostalgia for the old name, but we’re retaining Jones Lang LaSalle as our legal name and for formal documentation,” Doyle said. “It’s important for brands to reposition themselves. It’s a rethinking of the firm for the modern age.”

Companies for years have attempted name changes with varying degrees of success. How well it goes depends on how well the shortened name resonates with customers, and whether there’s a clear objective behind the change, said Anthony Pappas of Pappas Group, a digital strategy and branding agency based in Arlington.

“We always tell our clients to be careful about the name change,” Pappas said. “You have to be committed to it. If you’re going to use abbreviations, you have to understand the task at hand, you can’t change it just to change it. You have to put the energy and dollars behind it and give it time to take hold.”

The problem with failed name changes is that you don’t hear about them because they never catch on, Pappas said. In 2011, online retailer Overstock.com rebranded itself as “O.co” — even changing the Oakland NFL stadium, where had naming rights, to O.Co Coliseum — but it never caught on, and the company reverted to Overstock.com within six months on its Web site and in ads.

Other nicknames are unintentional, and take on a life of their own. Global law firm Morrison Foerster has gone by MoFo informally for years, but the origin of MoFo was no joke. In the 1970s, when the teletype was used to send overseas cables, the firm shortened the last names of two of its early partners, Alexander Morrison and Constantine Foerster, to “mofo” to use as firm’s teletype address.

“In some ways the nickname was a weird happenstance,” MoFo Chief Marketing Officer Joe Calve said. “There are ways we’ll use the nickname and ways we won’t. It’s like if you’re an athlete and you nickname yourself, it’s kind of crass ... it’s pleasing when clients call you ‘MoFo’ in an affectionate manner.”

The firm uses MoFo for swag such as hats and umbrellas, and its Web site and e-mail addresses are also MoFo, but “we don’t really refer to ourselves as MoFo,” Calve said.

But that hasn’t stopped others from doing it. In 2010, the name landed the firm in a Jay Leno headlines segment in which “The Tonight Show” host jokes, “Call my MoFo lawyer!”

(BTW, TTYL stands for Talk to You Later, how the texting crowd says bye or got to go).

Catherine Ho covers law and lobbying for Capital Business, which she joined in 2011. She was previously a reporter at the Daily Journal in Los Angeles, covering LA civil courts and labor and employment law.
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