Local Ad Execs to Present at SXSW Festival

By Andy Meek

A pair of admen from Memphis will be in Austin, Texas, presenting at the South by Southwest Interactive Festival that starts later this week.

Archer-malmo chief creative officer and principal Gary Backaus, along with archer-malmo associate creative director and copywriter Justin Dobbs, will be there during the five days’ worth of presentations from leaders in emerging technology.

Their presentation at the high-profile SXSW festival Monday, March 11, will focus on something their agency has seen over and over again in the course of its 60 years of working on names for brands, products, campaigns, nonprofits, startups and more.

“When bad names happen to good startups,” is the name of their presentation. There are plenty of common “namehacks” they’ll address, like dropped vowels and multiple domains, but they’ll also go beyond that and encompass much more than concepts like search engine optimization and grabbing the right Web address.

Because even if it’s for a hot, high-growth emerging technology company, they’ll tell the audience that there’s a lot about naming an enterprise that hasn’t changed over the years.

“We’re investing all this creative capital into early stage startups, and one of the things we’ve seen is how many don’t have a clue about how to name their startup,” said Patrick Woods, director of a-m ventures, the division of archer-malmo that invests money and creative capital into digital startups.

Woods won’t be on stage, but he’s organizing and helping put the presentation together for Backaus and Dobbs to present.

“One of the problems we’ve identified is that it seems like early stage entrepreneurs think they’re naming a startup, when in reality they’re naming a brand,” Woods said. “So they get focused on what the thing does rather than what the brand should say, what it should be, what it should inspire people to do.”

The presentation will look at examples from history as well as the company’s own portfolio about what makes a great name. The speakers also will provide a handful of questions, tips and how-to’s that startups can apply to start thinking about how to name their brand in a more disciplined, interesting and meaningful way.

Woods said the inspiration was the culmination of many different things archer-malmo and a-m ventures have experienced, not anything around one startup in particular.

A lot of them, Woods explained, have struggled with names that not only sound odd but end up taking the target audience in the wrong direction.

“We’ve seen founders struggling to explain what their names mean rather than what their companies are about,” Woods said. “One company in our portfolio has a founder that would spend 10 minutes talking about the name of his company and what it really meant before he could even get into his pitch.

“One of the things our folks here are really good at is taking an offering that a company has and distilling it down to its essence and really building a great brand around that. So one of the more valuable services that a-m ventures is providing is the naming element.”

Some common mistakes he says that are made repeatedly include going straight to a service like GoDaddy.com and typing in potential startup names and grabbing whatever is available. Founders also mistakenly think they have to have their company name somehow embedded in their Web address for their enterprise to be successful.

“Another fault is naming your product based on what you do, not who you are,” Woods said. “We’re hoping we can help founders think big about the context they’re creating around their name. Their name should create a rich set of creative hooks on which to hang a brand story and creative execution and Web design.”

Woods said a-m ventures is ramping up for a 2013 that rivals the “exciting” 2012 the division experienced.

“We’re spending a lot of time around Tennessee and Austin and heading to Boulder (Colo.),” he said. “We’re sort of at a point in our model where we feel like it’s working. We’ve figured out how to work with early stage startups. Even though we’re a 60-year-old agency, we’ve developed a process and a set of tools that really work well. Now that we’ve got that machine fine-tuned, we’re ramping up to tell that story at a national level.”