If working on both sides of the great divide between clients and consultancies has taught me one thing, it has to be the need for communicating the bigger picture. If working on the British Airways tailfins projects taught me one thing, it was the need to get the inside “onside”. And if the recent debate aired in the national media has taught me one thing, it has to be that there’s more to a corporate identity programme than just a logo.
Actually, I was already well aware of that, but it seems as if the design industry has the responsibility to explain this to others. For it seems that unless we do, nobody else will. The amount and type of coverage that the media has given to the recent spate of company naming initiatives prompted me to write this piece. It seems to me that most of this was given to airing the subjective views of the writer, as to whether or not he or she “liked” the name in question. Isn’t it time we gave this subject the proper, serious coverage it deserves?
In a previous role, I remember giving a series of in-house lectures, entitled “Much more than just a paint job”, which were designed to get the idea of the bigger picture across to attendees. How can we seriously expect the media, let alone the general public, to get beyond the “surface graphics” unless we play our part in helping them to understand?
No wonder Joe Public, and most finance directors, think we are just a bunch of long-haired luvvies with no sense of reality if we continue to fail in our duty. What people need is context.
I used to prattle on about PR departments and the failure of the press to put the bigger picture across to the general public. But that’s ducking the issue. Maybe the media aren’t really interested in serving the public interest. Perhaps the only thing people care about is the Union Jack and staying as we are, and maybe they do think that all corporate branding is a big waste of money. Perhaps they are justified in thinking companies should be better placed to spend that money on pay rises or customer service benefits.
However, I think that the public does want to know the bigger picture, has a right to understand the context and should be given a fair chance to understand the issues. Let them make up their own minds in the light of the evidence and not jump to sweeping, highly subjective conclusions, fuelled by certain aspects of the media, which is bent on sensationalism and emotive language.
I remember when I was trying to come to terms with a front page headline slamming the enormous cost of what the paper thought was a meaningless squiggle. A design manager colleague in another major corporation showed me a front page headline from five years before which was almost identical in its choice of words. If some communicators are not prepared to manage change, make progress and move forward, then we must.
Another time, when I was having serious reservations about joining a major corporation in my dim and distant past, a friend advised: “If you don’t like what you find when you get there, change it.” Good point. There is no point in moaning and groaning so let’s see what can be done. We owe it to the public, we owe it to the design profession and we owe it to ourselves.
So what’s to be done? Here is what I’d do for starters:
Own the problem – stop pinning the blame on others and expecting people to understand. Henceforth it’s up to us. We should have the debate first among ourselves, then with others.
A working party of interested players from the corporate identity and branding profession could get together to brainstorm ideas. We should involve a major national broadsheet newspaper in running the debate.
Movers and shakers: have a dialogue with the people in the driving seat. We should and must solicit the help and advice from movers and shakers, opinion-formers, PR companies, respected journalists, television presenters and the like.
Research: it’s not beyond the wit of Man to find out what the general public thinks, and to ascertain what would make a difference in their eyes.
Confront reality: be prepared for some home truths. If the findings are such that we need to take stock and adopt a completely different approach then we must be prepared to do so.
Ignore the findings at your peril: there’s more harm in asking people for their opinion and ignoring them than there is in not asking them at all. We must be prepared to act. If we don’t we have only ourselves to blame.
Adopt a more rigorous consultation process: with project launches there is a tendency, and, in some cases, a necessity, to keep everything under wraps until D-Day and then reveal it to a fanfare of trumpets, lots of dry ice, some slick-looking PR people and a well-written press release.
But fail to prepare and be prepared to fail. Is it any wonder the staff aren’t convinced sometimes? Is it surprising that the media poke fun?
A girlfriend in a previous life once remarked to a kitchen salesman friend who was struggling to make his mark: “The trouble with people like you, who come to tell me how to design my kitchen, is that you don’t work in one yourself so you can’t know what is required.”
I think she had a point.