From Rapala fishing lures to the Maytag repairman, the work of Carmichael Lynch Spong has been about building brands.
Now, the Minneapolis public relations agency is rebuilding its own brand.
On Tuesday, Carmichael Lynch Spong changed its name to Spong after being linked by name for 23 years to its sister advertising agency, Carmichael Lynch.
"In this day and age, brand clarity is so important especially if you are in the branding business," Spong founder and President Doug Spong said in an interview. "We're making this move to avoid confusion between Spong and Carmichael Lynch."
Spong, with 60 employees, has consistently ranked as one of the top public relations outfits in the Twin Cities.
Under its former name, Spong was selected as "Creative Agency of the Year" for 2013 by the Holmes Report, a respected national trade journal. The agency also is a four-time "agency of the year" award winner from trade journals including PRWeek and PR News.
Still, it was decided that Spong needed its own identity in order to grow and attract new clients.
"I think this is a really good idea," said Steve Wehrenberg, director of the professional master's program in strategic communication at the University of Minnesota School of Journalism and Mass Communication. "Doug is the brand in many respects, and it allows them to leverage his profile."
With the agency name Spong, the firm can also go to potential clients unfettered by the Carmichael Lynch name, which might create the perception of a conflict of interest if the client company has a relationship with another advertising agency.
"It's confusing," said Wehrenberg, the former CEO of the Minneapolis ad agency Campbell Mithun. "This branding allows Spong to go after growth without worrying about conflicts."
Spong called the arm's-length distance from Carmichael Lynch "white space."
"The majority of our clients retain other agency brands, and we play just as well in the neighbor kid's sandbox as we do our own," Spong said.
In the new arrangement, Spong and Carmichael Lynch remain sister companies under their Interpublic Group of Companies parent. They will continue to operate out of their current shared office space in the Minneapolis Warehouse District and collaborate on back-office functions including finance, human resources, IT and production.
Doug Spong also remains a managing partner and member of the Carmichael Lynch board of directors.
Carmichael Lynch remains one of the top advertising agencies in the Twin Cities. The agency hired 53 new employees in 2013 as revenue increased by 11 percent over 2012.
Spong has had no shortage of high-profile clients within its book of business.
For nearly two decades, the agency has represented Maytag and its affiliated brands, including the handling of the Maytag repairman's public appearance schedule.
"We had to decide if the Maytag Repairman traveled in his work uniform or not or if he could have a drink while he was traveling on an airplane," Spong recalled. "We had a training camp for everyone so it was clear how he behaved in public."
Two years ago, the Spong organization mounted a high-profile sign-painting job for client Sherwin-Williams when the HOLLYWOOD hillside sign overlooking the film capital of the world fell into disrepair. The result was a wealth of publicity that landed Sherwin-Williams on national news stories and went viral on the Internet.
"Public relations has changed a lot in the last 20 years, even in the last five years," said Wehrenberg, who also teaches strategic communication at the university. "Doug's been able to evolve PR from being media relations and crisis communications and internal communications to creating experiential programs where people can try on a brand and create content for brands."