Call them ‘unprincipaled.’ Initially, it seemed like a West Coast phenomenon. Here were all these start-ups inventing monikers for themselves the way high school musicians name their garage bands: Black Rocket. Ground Zero. Blazing Paradigm.

But proximity to a particular ocean is not the defining influence. The Heat, a California-sounding start-up, hails from Boston. In Texas and Alabama, two shops are debating which will call itself Jackhammer.

While Web shops often assume quirky identities, ad agencies rely on their founders for an identity. Doing otherwise somehow seems un-American. People know The Campaign Palace, but it’s Australian. Yellowhammer, bought by D’Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles in 1990, was British. Starting a shop here means putting your name on the door.

That was the case in 1989, when Weiss, Whitten, Stagliano principal Adam Stagliano and his then partners split from Doyle Graf Raj to start Carroll Raj Stagliano. Stagliano said when it became Weiss, Whitten, Carroll, Stagliano, he and his partners considered ‘abandoning the principals’ (not principles, he points out). The idea, however, was nixed. He admits that ego came into play.

‘I think there’s an advantage to having someone there whose name is on the door. In a service business, people want to know the person,’ Stagliano said. But, as a branding tool, he understands using a different strategy– especially if the principals’ names don’t carry enough clout in the market.

‘You think of an ad agency or a design firm, and you think of a lot of names on the door,’ said Todd Tilford, a principal of Jackhammer, Dallas, a spinoff of The Richards Group. ‘We’re trying to be some kind of hybrid. Names on the door conflict with that mutation.’

‘We tell our clients they need to stand for something and be different. We think it’s an advantage to say who you are,’ says Lynda Pearson, creative director and founder of Amazon Advertising, San Francisco. She says the name of her shop, which reflects powerful advertising from a woman’s point of view, is the shop’s point of difference.

Is this a strategic or generational twist? At 34, Chris Goldschmidt, president and creative director of Jackhammer, Birmingham, Ala., sees himself on the early fringe of Gen X rather than the end of the baby boom. That influenced him when he renamed his 4-year-old agency two years ago. ‘As Generation X moves forward in the business, you’ll see more of it. Baby boomers are already out there. We need to rattle their cages,’ he said.

The Persuasion Group. Big Bang Engineering. The Undisclosed Agency. Any fear of clutter? ‘It all depends on how well you name your agency,’ Goldschmidt said.

Is it simply a clever attempt to get attention in a saturated market? Sure. But in the end, what matters is that clients call you for the right reasons, not what they call you.

Many agency executives admit that branding is something they don’t do well for their companies. Eschewing their own names, the ‘unprincipaled’ agencies either have an advantage or a challenge on their hands.

–Kevin McCormack

Copyright ASM Communications, Inc. (1997) ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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