When times are tough, there's nothing like a quick image and name change to help fix a broken corporate identity.
At least that's what many top corporate executives seem to be thinking, and that's why business apparently has never been better for the handful of specialists in corporate nomenclature. Just look at the Allied Corp., United Technologies and Bendix Corp.'s brouhaha over the fate of Martin Marietta Corp.
In fact, one in the handful of corporate-indentity-game players is responsible for the image campaigns that have attempted to sharpen the visibility of three of the four companies in that takeover: Allied, United and Bendix.
Walter Margulies, the chairman of Lippincott & Margulies Inc., helped create those images. He says the Allied takeover of Bendix might never have happened if Allied Chairman Edward Hennessy had not realized, when he took over his troubled company almost three years ago, that Allied needed a facelift.
Ironically, Margulies and his firm took what was United Aircraft and helped make it into United Technologies when Hennessy was a vice president there earlier in the 1970s.
"He wouldn't have done it at Allied Chemical," Margulies said of Hennessy's $1.9-million bid for control of Bendix and a 39 percent interest in Martin Marietta.
"Mergers make even more critical what a company is called, and Allied might not have gotten the support" from Wall Street for the merger if it were not for the image change some investment analysts and others say Hennessy has pulled off.
Changing names reflect changing times, the image changers say. And with corporations devouring each other, limits on financial institutions going out the window and technology altering the ways goods and services are sold and delivered, names and the images they create are getting a lot of attention.
Lippincott & Margulies, for example, boasts of the success of the Allied name change in their literature, though the end of the Allied Chemical era and the introduction of the accompanying corporate symbol, the so-called "A Mark," won Allied shareholder approval only 17 months ago.
Before the name change, Wall Street was "uncertain about the emerging stream of corporate earnings" at Allied, and analysts did not know quite where to categorize the New Jersey concern because of its historic, though shifting, dependence on chemicals, oil and gas.
"The problem was to bring a dangerously outdated and misleading perception into line with the impressive corporate reality," the firm notes in its literature. "The new name retains the important 'heritage' values of Allied, with its positive longtime associations with the business community.
"But the change, and the new name itself, also signal clearly and unequivocally that Allied, through diversification, has become far more than a chemical company," the firm continues. "And, importantly, that it is now poised for unlimited balanced growth in whatever field it wants to enter. There is no chance that Wall Street will miss the significance of the new identity program."
United Aircraft had a similar problem, in Margulies' view: it had the image of an aircraft manufacturing company with a cyclical dependence on government contracts. "It was highly misunderstood," he said in an interview.
Off came Aircraft, and on went Technologies, and suddenly United was able to tell its public that it was truly a part of the high-tech generation. United Chairman Harry Gray capitalized on that move by merging United into a half dozen ventures outside its purely traditional lines of business.
At Bendix, where Margulies' firm designed the "blue banana" symbol beneath the corporate logo, the image problem for Margulies was different when he was called to Michigan 17 years ago.
"Bendix was a potpourri of various little entities merged under one umbrella," he recalled. "They were so fractionalized they could not communicate. On top of that, the perception was that Bendix was a washing machine company, and they were not."
Margulies' firm persuaded Bendix to exclude any other words from its corporate name -- no "corp.," nothing -- and to advertise using just Bendix and the blue banana. According to a Lippincott & Margulies booklet, that program, including other basic strategic advice, continues "communicating to a new generation Bendix's rededication to technology in the decade ahead."
Another consultant, however, is less certain about the corporate name strategy. John Diefenbach, president of Landor Associates, said, "I don't know what an Allied is. It's sad to take the personality out of something.
"Our analysis is that people have so little time to follow anything, so that in order to get through with any kind of message, it has to be simple," he said. "What we are advising our clients when it comes to naming questions is to adopt names that are highly simplistic and quite personalized."