We almost had another corporate identity scandal last week. A front-page article in The Sun described the “decision” by a British institution to squander its customers’ cash on an expensive tweak to its logo, and we looked set for a fight. Building on a snippet from The Guardian of the previous day, The Sun denounced John Birt for an alleged 5m plan to convert the BBC’s six-year-old identity from four-colour to black and white.
The episode was played down by the Beeb. It said it was merely considering a change to save costs, particularly on-screen, with new digital channels in the offing. But it must have sent shudders down the spine of Tony Key, the BBC design director who in 1991 held the same job at BT as its contentious “prancing piper” emblem made a premature debut in The Sun. Key was conveniently incommunicado for a couple of days – judging a design contest, we’re told – and so was spared any explanations.
Unlike the furore that surrounded Wolff Olins’ effort for BT, the BBC row seems to have fizzled out – for now. And, hearteningly, the coverage that followed suggested that most media folk now understand that there’s more to an identity than a logo. Deliberations meanwhile continue behind closed doors at Portland Place.
You could say that if the issue really is about the cost of using the current identity on-screen, why change the lot? Why not just develop strong sub-brands for each TV channel? Other BBC activities need not be affected.
That was my view at the outset of the rumpus. But it soon became clear how bad the BBC is at communication. Its journalists were as much in the dark as the rest of us about the rumoured image change, and other staff were reportedly concerned about the possible cost.
A graphics facelift is no answer to the BBC’s ills, even if that’s the route Birt and his colleagues choose. It’ll need a full appraisal of its entire operation to get it communicating its culture properly with customers and staff. It’s time for Tony Key to push for the big one.