The Orphan on Michigan Avenue

bill utter

BY Bill Utter

November 19, 2018

Public Relations

There’s an orphan hiding in plain sight on Michigan Avenue, 875 North Michigan to be exact. Abandoned by its parent, The John Hancock Insurance Company, the building that has no name stands proudly as an important part of Chicago’s skyline and history.

There could be a new parent, as new owners find a new partner to plant a new name on the front door. But a warning to any corporation looking to adopt: Be very clear on what you call victory or risk losing.

A full 360-degree review of all aspects of any naming rights deal is required. It is just as important to have marketers and reputation management experts at the table as it is to have the financial experts. Pressure test the reasons for wanting to name something in the first place. Make sure they hold up to scrutiny and can be defended. (Hint: ego and vanity are losing reasons.)

Ideally it is best to be first with a name. Gordon Kane, a Chicago sports marketing consultant with a global client base works with team owners on naming rights deals. “There’s much more marketing power in being there during construction, to be called by name from the start,” he says. “Coming along years later, it’s a much harder fight to change perceptions.”

The historic Wrigley Building — where Grisko calls home — has always carried the name, even after the chewing gum company left. No plans to abandon that one.  A more recent example, the United Center, has been there from the start, an accepted part of the landscape. But there’s no guarantee for success for places that abruptly change names. The only folks calling it Guaranteed Rate Field are probably those White Sox broadcasters required by contract to do so.

Patience is another virtue in the naming rights business. It has been more than a decade since Macy’s replaced Marshall Field’s, almost as long since Sears Tower became Willis. The former was part of retail consolidation, the latter was a nimble marketing move by a little-known British reinsurance company. Pushing against headwinds from the public was only part of the story, and emotions fade.

It does remain a head scratcher why the Hancock company forced a name change in the first place. In Boston, where the tallest building in New England was ordered to drop Hancock, 200 Clarendon Street remains the name of the building three years later.

Will there be a new corporate parent that adopts 875 N. Michigan?  Like Willis, it could be worth the investment from a marketing perspective, even if the public will be slow to accept. Let’s hope the new name is fitting for such an iconic and beautiful building and that the plans have been put to the test.

Now, about that supertall hotel/condo building on the Chicago River, the one with five giant letters plastered on the side? That’s a story for another time.

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bill utter

BY Bill Utter

November 19, 2018

Public Relations