Maxwell Stephens

What's in a name?

Naming, and the closely related branding, forms part of the bedrock of marketing strategy. There’s a lot of science to both and a huge amount of reference material on good and bad experiences. But in the end, you make your decision, unveil your work and pray for the best.



BIFM’s name-change programme, confirmed last week, is monumental for the institute. A genuine sea-change at an organisation that, over 25 years, has carved out a position for itself in the marketplace – but also an organisation that has never taken off in the way its most ambitious supporters have hoped. Consider the qualifications programme, for example: a thorough and comprehensive system built up from little more than an idea that the profession needed something better. On the other hand, the ‘voice of the industry’ goal has remained unfulfilled.

I am delighted – as I have been occasionally before over these 25 years – that BIFM has a plan and is pushing forward with it. This time the changes proposed are much bigger; but the ambition is commendable. Am I confident they are on the right track? Frankly, no – but I am certainly open to having my doubts dispelled.


The new name worries me. Coupling workplace and facilities management strikes me as coupling apples and oranges; or perhaps more accurately, apples and braeburns. Workplace is a term that is very much of the moment in our industry and beyond, yet it is also pretty timeless – so, though it feels a bit like jumping on the current bandwagon, it’s probably also a wagon with a lot of life in it. But in a meaning hierarchy sense, facilities management doesn’t equate to workplace (or Workplace, as my colleague David Emanuel would have it). Rather, FM is a component of workplace – one of several disciplines (along with HR, IT, property and potentially others) that come together to ‘create’ a workplace, whether that’s an office, shop, surgery, leisure centre or coffee bar…any place people do their work.


So, if FM is hard to explain to the uninitiated it will remain so, unless those uninitiated are happy to just catch on to the word they understand and leave it at that. If not, we’ll still have to go through the elevator-pitch loop: ‘well, FM is all about….’ And then explain its relationship to workplace – which could be an interesting and instructive discussion, but also one that may be diverting from the job at hand.


Does any of this matter? Perhaps not. That may be the view taken by the 90% or so of eligible BIFM members who did not vote on last week’s special resolution. But part of my job as editor is to be pedantic – do the words make sense? Are they conveying the meaning intended? Have we got the facts right? On the first of those points, you’ll gather I think the answer is no. On the second, clearly the BIFM is convinced that they do. On the third, time will tell. The institute says it has gone into this seriously: they’ve done their research, they’ve got a plan and it’s carefully programmed out. But we must await delivery in order to judge success.


What’s in a name? Quite a lot, really, because it defines a thing in both literal and figurative terms. But, as all good marketers know, the values and meanings an organisation works to bring to its name can shape (and even re-shape) perception. It’s all about the quality of delivery, from the start and over time. And on that score, this industry doesn’t need a single voice, but it does need institutes and associations with fresh ideas and ambitions, plus a determination to work for the common good across the entire sector.



The Author

Elliott Chase
Managing Editor, i-FM




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