A Winnipeg agency’s placeholder brand is a siren call

McKim.Sherpa, the agency that arose out of last year’s merger between McKim Communications and Sherpa Marketing, is making a bit of a splash in Winnipeg’s marketing community, thanks to a temporary name change announced this week.

The agency is adopting the moniker “Mermaid Cheeks” for the next several weeks as it looks to come up with a permanent name and identity. Mermaid Cheeks was one of several names suggested by clients in an online word scramble game that was the agency’s holiday greeting.

McKim.Sherpa was itself meant as a placeholder name for the new merged entity, said the agency’s co-CEO, Peter George. “The whole thing stems from the fact that our clients, our employees, and our stakeholders are all asking ‘What are you going to call this new business?'” he said. While they still wanted more time to settle on the permanent brand, they decided to have some fun by asking for help choosing a new temporary name.

“We’ve got two well-known and respected names, particularly in the Prairies,” said George. The McKim name dates back to Montreal in 1889, and has been in Winnipeg since the early 1900s. “When I go to conferences, people always ask me if I know someone who worked at McKim in the ’60s or ’70s, because they were everywhere.” While not of the same vintage as McKim, Sherpa is also an established entity, having been around since 1996.

The holiday challenge invited people to use a combination of the letters found in McKim, Sherpa Marketing, and the agency’s higher education division, ED, to form a new name. There were more than 150 submissions, including, not surprisingly, some NSFW suggestions.

“There were a few that were obscene but highly amusing,” said George, noting that the game’s developers created a pop-up featuring Wayne Knight’s character from Jurassic Park reprimanding people for using obscenities. The agency also made a $20 donation to Habit for Humanity Canada for each submission, and presented the charity with a check last month.

In addition to Mermaid Cheeks, the top suggestions included “McSherpa,” “She Rap & Mc Kim,” “Draper McKim,” “Shark Meat” and “Gimmiks are Taken.” After an online poll last month, Mermaid Cheeks emerged as what George called the “Boaty McBoatface” winner.

For now, all of the agency’s social platforms, email signatures and letterhead have been converted to the blue and orange Mermaid Cheeks brand. Despite a photo mock-up on the agency’s website, the exterior signage has not been changed. “That’ll save us $50,000 and some work,” joked George.

“We’re kind of stuck with [Mermaid Cheeks] for a few weeks while we work on our actual brand,” said George, who has already received some bemused reactions from friends and colleagues about the temporary name. “One of my best friends, who works in Sweden, texted me last night and said ‘Have you lost your mind?'”

George says the plan is to come up with a new agency name that will strike a balance between the law firm-sounding names that were a hallmark of so many legacy agency brands, and the occasionally head-scratching names adopted by some contemporary shops.

“We’re doing what we do with clients: We’re consulting people internally and we’re consulting stakeholders,” he said. “We’re trying to make the best decision we possibly can, because we only want to do it once.”

Chris Powell