Since widespread allegations that Harvey Weinstein committed serial sexual harassment and assault against dozens of women over decades in Hollywood, the legendary producer’s name has become radioactive. Weinstein fled to Europe, while actors and studios have made great efforts to disassociate themselves from him while condemning his behavior and promising to guard against any similar predatory behavior in the future.
Meanwhile, the company that bears his name is in dire need of a rebranding strategy. The Weinstein Company is well known in Hollywood as one of the most influential and successful film studios of the last two decades. But its leadership has suffered severe criticism, and its name can no longer stand. The company has made a promise to change its name soon, but we’re still waiting to hear what that new name will be.
From a business perspective, losing your name is a devastating occurrence, and one that can put your entire company in jeopardy. As the Weinstein Company considers its next move in the wake of Harvey Weinstein’s ongoing public fallout, it has few palatable options to move forward. Whatever happens, though, it’s clear the company’s name can no longer stand. A rebrand is in order. And it won’t be easy.
Every rebrand is different. Some entail a top-to-bottom cleaning out of executive leadership following a scandal. Others are a pivot to a different consumer group or product line. For the Weinstein Company, the challenge is in severing ties with one of its scandal-riddled founders and starting a new chapter in its history.
Whereas a more popular brand like the Olive Garden might embrace a rebrand that targets a different consumer demographic, aiming for more upscale clientele or dressing down to offer a more relaxed dining experience, the Weinstein Company figures to be largely the same as what it was before: an independent film studio with deep pockets and extensive industry experience.
Image attribution: David Shankbone
What’s under the hood at the Weinstein Company is unlikely to change, unfortunately, even if certain personnel do leave the company. Instead, the company’s rebranding needs to signal a dissociation from Harvey Weinstein and from any way the company may have been complicit in, or at least leveraged, the actions of a serial abuser. The corporate rebranding, in this case, is largely cosmetic.
There’s good and bad news that comes with a more cosmetic approach. On the one hand, it is potentially easier to engineer. You don’t need to find a new business model, because your business model already works. All you need is a new name, new leadership on the company’s board, a renewed commitment to supporting the right individuals, and embracing certain principles. But the perceived simplicity of this rebrand is what can make it so difficult to accomplish. To the outside world, changing the company’s name is viewed as too easy of a solution. A name change, on its own, doesn’t prove that the heart of the company and the company’s core values have changed at all.
As Tungsten Branding president Phil Davis told Ad Age, there’s almost no way to complete this sort of rebranding without some turbulence along the way. “[Name changes] must be executed with absolute authenticity to have any chance of success,” Davis said. “Almost all name changes today are met with scathing criticism. This will be a given almost regardless of what the eventual new name turns out to be.”
That said, the Weinstein Company—and any company following a similar blueprint—should expect some backlash and early struggles as their rebrand gets underway. But this initial reaction won’t determine whether the rebrand is successful or not. The true test will be whether the business can resume normal operations once the commotion dies down.
Critics will argue that a name change is an easy out, or a cosmetic change that doesn’t represent true transformation. Without a clear commitment to new values and finding people that truly share them, it will be hard to convince people there has been any change at all. But from a business point of view, even something as superficial as a name change carries plenty of risk.
For one, the company loses all of its name recognition within the industry, which is an asset they have been investing in for years. In reality, the cachet of that name went down the toilet once Harvey Weinstein’s name hit the newsprint, so there’s no way the company wouldn’t be starting from scratch. Nevertheless, starting from square one is going to set the company back. It will take strong, experienced leadership using their industry connections to build the company back to anything resembling its prior stature.
Image attribution: Anders Krusberg / Peabody Awards
Through this rebrand, there’s a risk of alienating or losing the consumer base that made you successful. For the Weinstein Company, this is both film consumers and industry entities including studios, investors, actors, and other players. And changing the company’s name won’t save it from public backlash in the form of protests, which could further cool any interest in doing business with the firm.
Those are the mechanics of what businesses face during a corporate rebranding. But there’s another hurdle to clear in this process: actually sitting down and choosing a name. This is much harder than it might seem, especially to leaders at the Weinstein Company, who at one point promised a new name within forty-eight hours. Weeks later, no new alternative has been announced.
Pending acquisitions aside, it makes sense why they couldn’t meet their own deadline: Choosing a business name always carries major implications, even when that name isn’t attempting to turn the page from a scandal that nearly destroyed the company. As Entrepreneur notes, it’s dangerous to rush this process. Business leaders should invest time in brainstorming options and considering the kind of association these names might carry with their consumer audience. A strong new business name will clearly represent an ideological shift that the company is making, without infringing on the territory and branding of any competitors.
Once a final list of options is established, the name should be circulated among a small group of decision makers to solicit feedback and see which names get the strongest support. Ad Age argues that given its history, the Weinstein Company should be looking for something that is “neutral, evocative and positive,” as well as something simple and easy to remember—a key consideration when you’re trying to recover that lost familiarity with your brand.
Even then, there are no guarantees. You need buy-in from top to bottom within your organization to give the rebranding strategy the best chance of succeeding, but some degree of your success will be determined by forces you can no longer control—forces set in motion when the original scandal hit.
If it doesn’t work? There are still options. The Weinstein Company is reportedly interested in being sold off to a private equity firm. That won’t solve its problems completely, but it will pass off those problems to a different entity and create another degree of separation between the initial scandal and the company’s name. That probably isn’t anyone’s dream scenario, but those are the breaks.
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Featured image attribution: Nicolas Barbier Garreau