Mind the ‘brand’ gap
January 27, 2021 By Roxanne Beaubien
In the old days — circa. any time before the ‘me’ generation and social media — there was little talk of personal or professional brands outside the world of Hollywood and the like. Now there is no shortage of self-help and business books on how to brand yourself in the internet age.
But let’s think bigger for a moment; beyond the individual. What is your service’s brand? It is more than the public image of your chief or your media relations officer. It is more than your crest or your shoulder flash. Your brand is the way the people ‘see’ your organization. It is what they think and feel when they think about your service.
And while the deportment and personality of those who publicly represent your organization is part of your brand, it is not all about them.
Many services spend a lot of time determining their mission, vision and values. Building and managing your brand is amplifying those words in everything your organization does from interactions with citizens and representation in the news media to your community programs and the design of your website.
The first step in managing your brand is to know what that brand is. In an ideal world, you have recent public and employee surveys showing how these groups view your service. If you don’t, show 20 random citizens from different walks of life your agency’s crest and ask what words come to mind. Do the same thing with 20 members. Yes, it is a very small sample size but it may give you an idea of what your brand is.
Step two is to brainstorm about what the words are that you want to come to mind when those you serve think of your organization? Professional, trustworthy, honest, accountable, transparent are common but you may have many more for your agency. Innovative, responsive, compassionate?
Now, compare the public and employee feedback to your list. If there’s a gap, you have some work to do.
Too often we rely solely on the mainstream news media or social media to try to overcome that gap. Simply put, that is not going to do it. One could argue, as I often have, that there are positive news stories about policing every single day. You catch a bad guy or gal, seize firearms or drugs, get a conviction in court — these all reflect positively on the police but they are slippery stories; they don’t stick to the public or to our members the way those that are critical of the police service do. Citizen video of an arrested that involves any level of use of force versus a major drug seizure or even murder charges — which one is going to get more media play? Which one is going to leave a longer lasting impression?
So, all that is to say, you have to go beyond the news and social media. Your ‘brand’ needs to be reflected in the day-to-day interactions your officers have with the public, in the community outreach initiatives your service offers, and in the professionalism of everything from your letterhead to your website.
It also needs to be reflected in how you communicate with your members; do you tell your members about significant changes before they are implemented? Do they get a heads up before something major is announced externally? If you want the public to see you as transparent, it needs to start with your members; they are either your best ambassadors or your worst critics.
If you don’t ‘mind the gap’ between what citizens and members think of your service, and what you would like them to think, just like getting on the Tube, it can trip you up.
Roxanne Beaubien is a former crime reporter with nearly two decades experience in corporate communications in the policing sector at the federal, provincial and municipal levels. She was most recently the Corporate Communications and Media Relations Manager with the London Police Service. She now owns and operates Duty Calls Communications. More at dutycallscommunications.ca. Her opinions are her own.
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