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Not New Coke

-first posted at RTDNA.org on October 13, 2009

If you’re reading this blog then by now you have discovered that what was once  “RTNDA” is now “RTDNA,” The Radio Television Digital News Association.   I won’t go into a lot of details about the specifics of the name change here – you can read those in number of other places on the RTDNA.org web site.  But what I will talk about is what the new RTDNA is not.  It is not New Coke.

If you were old enough to have been drinking something other than mother’s milk in 1985, then you probably know what New Coke is.  For those of you younger than that, I’ll give a very brief backgrounder. The Coca-Cola Company took its famously successful Coca-Cola drink and—without anyone really asking for it, changed its formula in 1985. The company didn’t actually change the name of the drink—it was still “Coca-Cola,” but after the marketing campaign touted it “the new taste of Coca-Cola,”  it was quickly dubbed “New Coke” by consumers everywhere.  The problem with New Coke was that the company took a product that everyone loved already and changed it for no apparent reason. It would be safe to say that consumers did not take well to the change in the formula of their favorite drink. Less than three months after the introduction of New Coke, Coca-Cola reintroduced “Coca-Cola Classic,” which had the taste of the original Coke formula. The whole episode has gone down in marketing history as one of the biggest blunders of all time.

When we began discussing a name change at the old RTNDA, I instantly thought of New Coke. No doubt, RTNDA was the Coca-Cola of the broadcast journalism industry. We got on top early and stayed on top as the number one association representing broadcast and electronic journalists. So was discussing a name change in the association akin to changing the formula on a product that everybody loved anyway? I knew it could be if we did not do this right. I was determined we would not make the mistake the mixers and marketers in Atlanta had done in 1985. For our product to get better we truly had to stay with the original formula as base and build upon it, adding more value, more relevance, and more worth.

What would need to remain the same?  The first two letters in our old—and new—name told us that. We had represented radio successfully since 1946, and television since 1952. We knew going into this that our role as advocates for those traditional broadcast vehicles must remain as strong as ever. In fact, in these trying economic and regulatory times, we must work even harder to help keep traditional radio and television journalism strong. Broadcast news directors had been turning to us for training, for ethics help, and for First Amendment advocacy since Harry Truman was president. That could not change. And it has not. The association under its new name is just as committed to providing those broadcast services.

So what could change? Well, we took the letters N and D (that stood for “news directors”) and flipped them around to represent “digital news.” That’s a twofold change. First, getting rid of the word “directors” allows us to tell everyone that we’re more than just a managers’ organization. Sure, we have a lot of news directors as members. And we’re a great resource to which to turn for help with some of those tough managing questions. But many of our members, and many more people who use our web page regularly, are rank-and-file journalists looking for best practices to solve the problems they face in the field.  We provide those answers and many others for future managers and those who just want to remain great storytellers. With that in mind, it seemed somewhat misleading or incomplete to give people the impression with our name that we appear to represent only news directors.

By removing the news director reference in the name, we also had the opportunity to add to our mission. Radio and television are no longer the only ways our members deliver their content. The digital revolution made each and every one of us an on-line publisher. And our association has been quick to step in to help guide digital journalism just as it did more than 60 years ago with radio. So adding the word “digital” to go alongside “radio” and “television” seems only proper. That then gave us the setup to follow all three with the most important word in the name–“news”—the heart of what all of us do, regardless of platform.

So as you ponder that new logo at the top of the page and the new name that accompanies it, remember that we haven’t changed any of what you love about the association, we’ve just added more. So it’s not like we forced a new, New Coke on you with this change. It’s more like we’re still bringing you the same Coke you know and love, but in a bigger bottle to serve more.

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