In April the global "reputation management" company Observer Group changed its name to Cision. If Observer Group doesn't mean much to you, perhaps you're more familiar with one of its subsidiaries, Bacon's Information, which since 1932--and especially since its 2002 acquisition of MediaMap--has been an important source of information for public-relations practitioners, who rely on the company's database of more than 900,000 media contacts in 150 countries. Along with the rest of Observer Group, Bacon's is now Cision. In this installment of New Name Beat, I'll discuss the new Cision name generally, with a focus on the Bacon's transformation.
Observer Group, founded a century ago in Sweden, has offices throughout Europe and North America; its services include research and media monitoring. The global firm calls itself the largest media company in the world.
Founded in Chicago in 1932, Bacon's appears to have been named for its founder (I was unable to verify this through an online search). The surname Bacon has old Anglo-Saxon roots and many well-known family-tree members, from Francis to Kevin. In sound and associations, it's clear, down to earth, and approachable.
The Cision name is none of those things. It was developed by global branding agency Landor Associates, and it fits squarely within a certain segment of the Landor portfolio: classical-sounding coined names that require a bit (or a lot) of explanation. Other Landor names in this category include Lucent, Agilent, Accenture, and Centigon. Landor has also created some metaphorical real-word names, including Reveal, for the General Electric light bulb line.
What does Cision mean? Here's a quote from the Landor site:
"Cision suggests many ideas related to the Observer Group's offerings, linked to their global media intelligence network that helps clients make better 'decisions' while also providing "precision" in target audience identification and insights," said Ed Keller, Director for the Chicago office of Landor Associates. "The tagline, 'Media Intelligence. Communication Insights.' supports the idea that Cision is a partner that not only provides helpful media linkages, but brings thoughtful understanding and strategic insights to their clients' communication needs."
Aha: precision and decision. That explanation helps to clarify the word's pronunciation, which isn't as transparent as one might hope. "Cision" could be pronounced Sish-on, to rhyme with gone fishin'. The first i might be pronounced as a long vowel--Sigh-shun or SEIZE-zhun. Or the second i could be long--sis-EYE-on (as in anion, cation, Cis-ion). The word could be pronounced with two syllables (CI-zhun) or--especially among Spanish-speakers--three (SIS-see-on). When in Spain, would we say THEE-si-on or, more logically in Castilian, Thee-si-OAN?
When you know that Cision is a contraction of decision or precision, you can appreciate its positive associations. But that's a logical left-brain job. The right side of the brain hears the sound of the word as an extended hiss. And even a left-brainer can run into trouble, because -cision can end some not-so-positive words. An acquaintance of mine who works in PR told me, "After getting an invoice from them, one of my agency clients called them 'Incision: They Take a Deep Cut.'"
If we ourselves cut deeper into the structure of Cision, we discover that the cis- prefix has much independent meaning. In Latin, it means "on the same side [of]" or "on this side [of]"--the opposite of the trans- prefix. In chemistry, cis is a double bond in which the greater radical on both ends is on the same side of the bond. In genetics, cis- signifies the co-location of two or more genes on the same chromosome of a homologous pair. In geography, placenames beginning with Cis- convey "on this side of" (Cisjordan, during British Mandate years, meant "on this side of the Jordan River"). In astronomy, cislunar means "in the space between the Earth and the Moon." Cisgender and cissexual are the opposite of transgender and transsexual. And in music, cis means C-sharp.
That's interesting to those of us who like word puzzles. But in name development, etymology isn't as important as metaphors and associations. And where "Bacon's" conjured people--or food--"Cision" conjures ... well, nothing tangible. It's a cold wall of a name, faceless and emotionless. Yes, its obvious Latin roots make it suitable in theory for a global company. But when the business of that company is people and their stories, a name like Cision feels like the sharp blades of a scissors (a word that's a linguistic cousin) shearing off emotional connection at the root.
And the tagline? "Media Intelligence. Communications Insights" does a decent job of describing the conglomerate's functions. But it consists of four polysyllabic Latinate words that fail to take the chill off "Cision." In settling on this tagline, Observer Group and Landor missed an opportunity to balance an abstract corporate brand name with a bit of lyricism, wit, or plain English.