FIRST considered changing its name in 2003

Situation Summary: We seek a new name for FIRST.
So begins a May 2003 report prepared by corporate identity consultant Tony Spaeth. The report was acquired by MentorBuilt as part of our exclusive reporting into the potential 2003 renaming of FIRST, a New Hampshire-based nonprofit organization which today organizes a K-12 progression of youth robotics competitions serving over half a million students worldwide.

Our reporting reveals that the FIRST organization was keenly aware of certain weaknesses of the FIRST brand at the time of the 2003 report.


Mr. Spaeth, now 85, is credited with providing brand planning and creative counsel for many diverse corporate entities throughout his career as an independent consultant, and previously as consulting principal of the branding firm Anspach Grossman Portugal. The report acquired by MentorBuilt appears to be the first step of an extended project led by the identity consultant. This process would guide the FIRST organization to imagine, evaluate, and select potential new names for itself.

"Naming Plan for FIRST / FIRST Robotics"

The report, entitled "Naming Plan for FIRST / FIRST Robotics," attempts to solve the "designation, communication and memorability problems" with the FIRST identity of 2003. The report considers, and rejects, several schemes that would keep a portion of that identity, before presenting a case for kicking off a "full-press" renaming program to potentially replace the FIRST name entirely.


Placeholder "Alpha"

Next, the Naming Plan invents a placeholder name - "Alpha" - to discuss the many ways the FIRST name is currently used throughout the organization and its programs.


Each following section of the report then discusses various requirements for the name that would replace the "Alpha" placeholder, including that the name must be distinctive, available as a URL and as a tradename in various US states, registerable as a servicemark in the US and Canada, short, and phonetically clear.

The Naming Plan also acknowledges the implied US-focus of the existing FIRST name, and acknowledges that FIRST brand must stand alongside its competitors in the youth STEM competition market.


Next Step and unanswered questions

It is unknown whether the rebranding project proceeded to the immediate next step as laid out by the Naming Plan.


In addition, we do not know what were the final outcomes of the rebranding effort, the identity consultant's final recommendations given at the conclusion of their involvement, or the reasons why the FIRST organization ultimately chose not to drastically rebrand.

MentorBuilt seeks to understand how FIRST and the identity consultant initially came to learn that the FIRST name "functions so poorly... that 'FIRST' has been deemed a net barrier, rather than an asset, in building awareness and appreciation for FIRST."

We also don't know whether there was much support for the rebranding activity within the organization at the time, or whether FIRST staff were enthusiastic about pursuing a name change.

Finally, MentorBuilt seeks to learn whether any part of this 2003 rebranding effort lived on within the organization and came to inform any later tweaks to the FIRST brand.


Mr. Spaeth could not be reached for comment.

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