Your Agency’s Brand

crowdI work in government. I know how much the title of this post bothers many of you. The little twitch you did when you read it. “We don’t need a brand, we’re the government; branding is for people selling something.”

Like we don’t need people to know what we do; like we’re not selling something.

Because we are selling something. We’re selling us. I hinted at this earlier, when we talked about how government is not competing against competitors, but against irrelevance. There is a cacophony of interesting information out there, much of it contradicting what we’re telling people, especially on the public safety/health/community side of things.

We want people to eat healthier, we want people to exercise, we want people to start putting together a preparedness kit, we want people to volunteer in their communities, we want people to utilize our parks, to meet their neighbors, to vote, to turn off the TV. Think of the last ten commercials you watched: did any of them espouse these things? Each of them was researched, developed, molded, written, filmed and distributed to elicit the maximum amount of time, money and interest from exactly those things we want.

We can’t compete with them. Simple as that. Try as we may, as good as our stuff is, as right as it is, Don Draper’s ilk are kicking our butts. And that used to be okay, because we were the government. People trusted us, believed in us. But that’s not the case anymore. So why should the public listen to us? Do they even know what we do?

I’m sure at some level, they do know, but do they know the whole story? Often, government roles are misunderstood, or more perfectly, mis-underestimated. At a session at the NACCHO Annual Conference I attended last week (that I’m going to reference a lot going forward), one public health department found that the public thought their job was to give vaccines to poor folks and to inspect restaurants. That’s it.

Now imagine that you live in that community, and you don’t get free vaccines (no, you pay full price), and your favorite restaurant just got shut down for some BS violation. How much would you support that public health department? When budget cuts came to the local legislative body, would you stand up and yell to make sure they kept their fair share of the pie? Of course not. Similarly, fire departments that people think are out-dated because there aren’t that many fires these days, mental health agencies that only deal with problem people, the list goes on.

If no one knows what you’re doing, if you’re not seen as beneficial to your entire community, your agency’s head is on the chopping block. That’s the power of a branding effort. That’s what you can gain.

And it’s not like you need to do expensive market research to see how the public sees you. When you’re presenting to the legislature, how many people show up to support you. Is your crowd bigger or smaller than others? Is it bigger or smaller than last year? Want something more quantitative, then look at your funding levels. What does the overall trendline look like? Is it positive or negative? Is it more positive or more negative than others?

Folks, we need supporters. And the public won’t do it if we’re always seen as supporting “other people.” What do you do for the whole community?


6 thoughts on “Your Agency’s Brand”

  1. We’ve been doing a ton of branding work at our office over the past couple of years. We’ve been working on consistency in look and message, and putting ourselves out as a place to get information on HIV. It’s made a huge difference in goodwill from the community. Plus, imagine my shock when someone over at the health department casually mentioned that we’ve been doing a great job “positioning ourselves as a place to get information.” We must be spot-on!

  2. All good points, Jim. Morale is such a huge point. The public affairs office can’t be the only part of a gov organization working on branding. Everyone has to get involved. We need to create the same sense of pride that employees of many private orgs have. Everyone is a marketer, and the level of negativity I see in the majority of my colleagues doesn’t help the branding in any way.

    1. Chris:

      You’ve hit the nail on the head. That’s exactly what I was hoping to write about in my next post on branding later this week. Thanks so much for sharing your experience!


    1. Andrea:

      It really was a phenomenal session. I’ve got plans to do a quick post when the session recording is released, so keep an eye out for that!


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