As the governing body and producers of national speech and debate activities and competitions, the National Forensic League enjoys a positive reputation with the thousands of forensic (debate) coaches in high schools across the country. Many count themselves as NFL alumni and are enthusiastic supporters of the organization, serving as NFL’s brand ambassadors to recruit students in their respective schools. But the name “National Forensic League” was hindering their ability to attract students.
The confusing name was also a lost opportunity to engage the public in speech and debate activities, specifically in garnering local press coverage for tournament winners, and in galvanizing financial support for activities at the schools.
The NFL set goals of doubling the number of teen members of the organization by 2020 and attracting more national sponsors. They needed a strong brand to achieve these goals.
We started by identifying the specific problems that were inherent in the name, National Forensic League:
These problems with the name were set within the larger context of the organization’s overall brand challenges:
The last point is important, since attracting more sponsors is one of NFL’s major goals. As evidence of this problem, one of their large sponsors said: “It’s difficult to leverage the relationship because of the way the NFL’s mission is buried under the acronym, and the fact that no one knows the organization or what they do.”
Given that NFL’s core audiences of coaches and students were enthusiastic about the organization, it was important to get their perceptions of the NFL’s strengths and weaknesses, and feelings about the current name and a potential name change.
We also wanted to validate the need for the change with appropriate evidence, as well as refine the parameters for the name change, and uncover insights and opportunities that would be useful in generating names.
We conducted 27 interviews with coaches, students, alumni, and sponsors. We heard first-hand the passion that people have for NFL and the frustrations they experience in getting recognition for the activity. It also helped us understand the feeling they had about changing the name, and helped us test questions for the survey that we were developing.
As our next step, we created a survey to gain quantitative feedback on the name change. Separate surveys for coaches and for students resulted in more than 1,500 responses, providing good insight into a range of perspectives.
When you first heard the word ‘forensic,’ did you know that it referred to speech and debate?
With these criteria to guide us, we started the name generation process, developing hundreds of ideas with a wide range of creative latitude.
At this point, the NFL had some options. It could keep the original name, change only part of its name, to National Speech & Debate League, or adopt one of the new names.
The research revealed that both students and coaches felt a very strong affinity for the organization and its name. The organization adopted the name National Speech & Debate Association, which honors the organization’s 80-year history, maintains recognition of its trophies and other intellectual properties, and is more in line with the statewide and regional debating league names.