What’s Your Brand Worth?

by Kacie Boniberger

Would you change your brand for $20 million?  That’s the question facing upstate New York’s Paul Smith’s College.  According to The New York Times, a generous gift from 20-year board of trustees member and benefactor, Joan Weill, would help reverse Paul Smith’s College’s financial troubles – but only if the school changes its name to Joan Weill-Paul Smith’s College.

The board of trustees is behind the change, and by the looks of Paul Smith’s home page, already planning how to spend the $20 million:

Paul Smith

Considering the overall impact of changing brand elements like a name or tagline, however, Weill’s gift might not be worth the price.  Paul Smith was founded under a family name synonymous with the best of the Adirondacks – a family known for humble beginnings and a pioneering spirit.  In contrast, Joan Weill and her late husband are known for transforming financial services and being billionaire philanthropists.  Two totally different ideals.  And, combining them would force the college to assume a new identity to accommodate both.

A court decision yesterday was supposed to determine whether the school would officially accept its new name, but the judge deferred ruling until more information could be presented.  At the hearing were about 15 people in opposition; they are joined by more than 3,000 alumni and community members in this Facebook group, and by more than 3,200 who have signed a Change.org petition.

I can’t lie … I would agree to change my name in a second if it meant a few million dollars in my bank account.  Although, in this case, rebranding should be an alternative, not “Option A.”  By acquiescing to Weill’s demand, not only is the board of trustees alienating thousands of alumni who have publicly voiced their opposition online, but it’s ignoring a responsibility to maintain the college’s integrity.

Plus, isn’t the meaning of philanthropy to show altruistic concern?  If Weill’s sincere motive is to help Paul Smith’s College maintain a brand promise to its students, alumni and community, her gift should come with much different stipulations – especially considering two buildings on campus already have her name.

A rebranding initiative shouldn’t be the result of a paycheck.  Special care should be taken to evaluate the effectiveness of your current brand elements, the opinions of your key stakeholders and the potential positive and negative impacts of a change.

What do you think?  Is $20 million worth sacrificing your brand?

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