Progressive AEC Marketing: Naming STIR Architecture

The story of STIR Architecture. An interview with Leslie Young by David Lecours via

In terms of mem­o­ra­bil­i­ty and mes­sag­ing, most A/​E/​C firms have ter­ri­ble brand names. Firms named af­ter founders can be prob­lem­at­ic if dif­fi­cult to say or spell, and chal­leng­ing for own­er­ship tran­si­tion. Acronyms are even worse. Lost in al­pha­bet soup, they are nei­ther mem­o­rable or dis­tinc­tive.

I chose to in­ter­view Leslie Young, As­soc. AIA, LEED AP, CDP be­cause her firm re­cent­ly re­named us­ing a metaphor­i­cal name, STIR Ar­chi­tec­ture. Hav­ing a great brand name is an in­di­ca­tor of pro­gres­sive mar­ket­ing.

Tell me about your role at STIR
I am As­so­ciate Part­ner and Di­rec­tor of Strate­gic De­vel­op­ment lead­ing Mar­ket­ing and Busi­ness De­vel­op­ment. Known for both large-scale, com­plex mixed-use projects in the Unit­ed States, Eu­rope and Asia, as well as a bou­tique port­fo­lio of adap­tive reuse, in­sti­tu­tion­al and tran­sit work, STIR has of­fices in Los An­ge­les, Am­s­ter­dam, and Mani­la. I am one of two As­so­ciate Part­ners and 3 Part­ners who were ul­ti­mate­ly the de­ci­sion mak­ers for the re­nam­ing of our firm.

Your firm has changed names a couple of times in its history. Why?
The firm was found­ed in 1984 by Ronald Al­toon and James (Jim) Porter, so we start­ed out as Al­toon & Porter Ar­chi­tects. In 2012 when Jim left the firm, we up­dat­ed our name to Al­toon Part­ners. When Ronald left the firm in 2015, we saw an op­por­tu­ni­ty to re­name the firm as some­thing not di­rect­ly tied to part­ner names. In 2016, we rein­tro­duced our­selves as STIR Ar­chi­tec­ture.

Metaphorical naming typically isn’t done by AEC firms. Did you consider using partner names or adopting an acronym?
Since the firm’s found­ing, the in­tent was al­ways to cre­ate a lega­cy firm with a for­mal own­er­ship tran­si­tion plan. The re­main­ing part­ners have been at the firm for 30 years, on av­er­age. There was a lit­tle bit of “I’ve earned the right to have my name on the door” think­ing, so we did ini­tial­ly con­sid­er the typ­i­cal acronym of us­ing the first let­ter of each partner’s name. But we dis­cov­ered fair­ly quick­ly that DSA, ASD, DAS, ADS, SDA was not go­ing to work for us. But most­ly, we didn’t want to go through the nam­ing process again if one of the part­ners leaves. We thought it was an op­por­tu­ni­ty to come up with a fresh name that bet­ter de­scribes who we are.

Any other considerations for the new name?
Many of our new­er staff had nev­er worked with our founders, Al­toon or Porter. While our val­ues and prac­tice hasn’t changed dra­mat­i­cal­ly, we want­ed to evolve the firm with a new name that every­one could em­brace as their own.

Did you work with an outside consultant for the naming process? Why?
For about five sec­onds, we thought we could do it our­selves. But we quick­ly re­al­ized we need­ed an ex­pert and a ref­er­ee. We al­so had a strict dead­line – at­ten­dance at our largest an­nu­al do­mes­tic tradeshow. We hired WOW Brand­ing to keep us on sched­ule. Al­so, work­ing in for­eign mar­kets, we need­ed their help with a name that trans­lat­ed well in­to oth­er lan­guages.

What Was the Naming Process?
We had con­fer­ence calls with our con­sul­tant and the five de­ci­sion mak­ers. Some last­ed as long as six hours. We re­viewed our Mis­sion, Core Val­ues, and pri­or­i­tized goals of the firm. The strat­e­gy has to come first. Next, our con­sul­tant pre­sent­ed a long list of about 50 names, which we edit­ed down to 8-10, then ul­ti­mate­ly 5. From these 5 fi­nal­ists, they did avail­abil­i­ty re­search and some ba­sic de­sign treat­ment. We had two re­al fa­vorites, one of which we ul­ti­mate­ly de­cid­ed could cause us in­tel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty prob­lems. Ul­ti­mate­ly, we de­cid­ed on STIR Ar­chi­tec­ture, which we are very ex­cit­ed about.

Why STIR? What Does it Mean?
We love that stir is a verb, as in “stir­ring things up.” We like to tack­le new de­sign chal­lenges. Our work al­so “stirs” the emo­tions of users of our build­ings. STIR refers to how we prac­tice — com­plex projects with many stake­hold­ers and mul­ti­ple team mem­bers. The en­er­gy of our new name ap­peals to us, our staff and our clients. It is for­ward-fo­cused. It re­flects who we are, what we do and what peo­ple ex­pect of us. Our name is our promise.

How Did You Communicate This New Name to the World?
We dis­trib­uted press re­leas­es stat­ing that as of April 11, 2016, our new name is STIR Ar­chi­tec­ture. These in­clud­ed shar­ing our strat­e­gy of de­vel­op­ing the name and what the name means to us. We fol­lowed up with a di­rect mail pro­mo­tion­al piece (see be­low) to 600 peo­ple on our mail­ing list. Since we didn’t have phys­i­cal ad­dress­es for every­one, we sup­ple­ment­ed the di­rect mail­er with a 2500 per­son email an­nounce­ment. We chose not to ref­er­ence our pre­vi­ous name in a tagline or as a tran­si­tion­al de­vice. We went all-in with STIR. We still own all our pre­vi­ous URLs, so if a user in­puts an old web­site ad­dress, it will au­to­mat­i­cal­ly redi­rect the user to our new site at We con­tin­ue at every op­por­tu­ni­ty to re­con­firm our brand through di­rect mail, so­cial me­dia, press re­leas­es, ad­ver­tise­ments, etc. Con­sis­tent re­in­force­ment of our brand at every turn has been a pri­or­i­ty.

What Advice Would You Give To Other Firms That Are Considering a Name Change?
Give your­self time. On one hand, it was good that we had a strict dead­line to get the name done by, but it caused a lot of stress. Keep in mind that get­ting the name done is re­al­ly just the be­gin­ning. Then you have to de­vel­op a new lo­go, vi­su­al brand­ing tools, mar­ket­ing col­lat­er­al, and web­site. Al­so, hav­ing a for­mal pro­gram in place to keep re­in­forc­ing the brand mov­ing for­ward is key.

In gen­er­al, I rec­om­mend oth­er firms dream big, be bold. As long as you are con­sis­tent in con­tin­u­ing what has been suc­cess­ful for the firm in the past, clients will con­tin­ue to fol­low you.

In start-up mode, most firms, un­for­tu­nate­ly, put lit­tle thought in­to the firm name. The sole fo­cus is bring­ing in any project that pays the bills. Mov­ing out of child­hood and in­to ado­les­cence, firms should start to think and act for them­selves, de­vel­op­ing a dis­tinct point-of-view. If not done pre­vi­ous­ly, this is the time to de­vel­op a dis­tinct brand name that re­flects where the firm is head­ed, not where you’ve been. Re­nam­ing isn’t easy — few things of val­ue in life are easy. As Leslie and STIR Ar­chi­tec­ture have shown, with the right ap­proach, a small fo­cused team of de­ci­sion mak­ers, and an ex­pert guide, suc­cess is at­tain­able. Past clients will con­tin­ue to work with you and fu­ture clients will gain a fa­vor­able first im­pres­sion.