Helping other firms make a name for themselves

By Sharon McLoone
Monday, May 17, 2010

Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified Katie McIntyre. She is the director of creative services.

In a land of national associations and acronym nameplates, Tate M. Linden has carved out a lucrative niche for himself.

He and his small Alexandria company, Stokefire Consulting Group, name things and then turn them into brands.

"If you're going to hide who you are behind a series of letters that no one gets, there's no value to your name," Linden said.

The firm's first mid-size contract was to help rebrand the Automated Meter Reading Association. "The challenge was people weren't relating to the name. It didn't sound like something that the president of a utility company should belong to," Linden explained.

Stokefire's solution was to rename the group Utilimetrics.

The formerly named Association of Physical Plant Administrators needed a way to answer the question "what is APPA" and was looking for an answer that didn't involve "physical plant" or "administrators." Stokefire helped the APPA team select a tagline -- "Leadership in Educational Facilities."

Stokefire, which now has six employees, a full-time contractor and three interns, just won its first government contract: to provide strategic communications for a government agency. Thanks to a robust list of clients ranging from small firms to large multibillion-dollar businesses, Linden expects Stokefire to become profitable in July.

The firm recently moved into new offices on King Street, and still has not completely unpacked. Boxes are scattered everywhere, and pictures sit on the floor leaning up against walls. Employees did manage to take some time to help Linden paint some of the office walls and trim a bright red-orange -- the fire in Stokefire. Some paint may have splattered a bit on the ceiling and on some neighboring white walls. But that's okay because Linden is not a stay-in-the-lines kind of guy.

He studied opera for 3 1/2 years but abandoned that track to get a college degree in philosophy from the University of California at Los Angeles.

"I loved the performance aspect, but spending eight days going over the same notes in the same way" was too much, said Linden, 39. "And colleges really aren't looking for original thought from philosophy students."

After college, he worked as a project manager running branding campaigns at some large firms, but he felt that the firms would choose their contractors "because everybody goes with them" and not because they were the best fit for the job.

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