While commercial organisations employ ever more sophisticated ways to create goodwill among their customer base, public organisations have the even greater challenge of gaining and maintaining the respect of a hugely diverse and often negatively predisposed community. In this respect, no public body faces a tougher task than the police.
Consider some key elements in a police force’s public image brief. Its employees must maintain an appearance of effective enforcement, yet they should be approachable and helpful. There can be no suggestion of unnecessary expenditure, but links with commercial sponsors must also be tightly controlled. New social, cultural, political, commercial and technological developments should be reflected within the force, but tradition, heritage and “old-fashioned” values must remain highly visible too.
You can also add to this list a demanding and very public declaration of objectives by which success is measured. We’re talking corporate performance measured in terms of exact percentages.
How many commercial companies set such exacting challenges, and then publish their subsequent performance? A document such as the Report of the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis – the annual report of London’s Metropolitan Police – makes the average plc report look like an exercise in vagueness.
Of course, it is entirely right that we should place such demands on our police. They should be accountable, after all, we pay for them. To use a design industry model, we are both the client and the end customer.
So, how effective and impressive is the appearance of our police today? And what does it tell us about the expected transition from police forces to police services?
The answers change from region to region and from individual to individual. My local force, the Met, has certainly had its problems. Just ten years ago it was in the midst of an image crisis. An excellent Sunday Telegraph Magazine article from August 1988 (penned by Matthew Parris) paints a picture of confusing vehicle liveries, impractical uniforms, public mistrust, recruitment difficulties, low morale in the ranks and an organisational culture more military than service-oriented. The Met’s head of public affairs at the time, Robin Goodfellow, persuaded the top brass to bring image consultants in to help them identify and address the problems. Enter Wolff Olins.
Ultimately, Wolff Olins’ input didn’t move far beyond research and recommendations, but its strategy created an exceptionally valuable platform for change. Ten years on and the decision to transform was clearly wise. Social developments and a New Labour administration have demanded that police and populace are brought closer. The Crime and Disorder Act is one example; it requires individual operating units to create partnerships with local authorities and organisations to set targets for – and achieve crime reduction in – their area.
However, lasting and meaningful improvements within police services can only come from the top, with politicians, senior officers and public representatives constructing intelligent strategies for improvement. Again, views on whether they are succeeding differ from individual to individual. My research of the Met suggests continuing problems, but an overall trend of improving performance and a greater service culture.
So, the Met has some positive things to say, but how well is it saying them? On a reactive front, its media relations skills are well-honed, but in terms of proactive image presentation there’s no doubt police forces are having to play catch-up.
The man in the hot seat at the Met is 45-year-old Dick Fedorcio. Appointed Director of Public Affairs in September 1997, he oversees an enormous communications output spanning everything from media relations to promotional campaigns and new media and covering both operations (day-to-day policing) and a portfolio of pan-London issues (race relations, organised crime, traffic). He has a 24-hour press bureau and special operations press desk at Scotland Yard and a press team in each of the Met’s five operational areas. Each local team is also required to cover a number of pan-London issues and has the responsibility for devising communications strategies for campaigns.
A graphics team at the Yard handles fast, simple work such as Wanted posters, while external consultancies are used for larger projects. Fedorcio directs and monitors this activity, including all flagship reports and projects. In essence, he polices the Met’s identity – a logo cop for the cops, but more than that too. In fact, he’s a civil servant and gained his identity expertise at the former Greater London Council, Kent County Council and the Electricity Association.
I’m suspicious. Few public sector people have sophisticated design sensibilities, but Fedorcio talks effortlessly about visual hierarchies, branding and the delights of Univers. “Yes,” he explains. “I did a three-year City and Guilds in design for print at London College of Printing. It was a great grounding for working in the commissioning side because you understand the processes involved.”
Such learning has stood him in good stead, but instead of the “new broom” approach he has employed elsewhere, his influence at the Yard has been one of instituting controls while encouraging more contemporary forms of expression . “There was already a very strong identity here,” he says. “What I’ve done is look at how it appears. Where necessary I’ve tried to restate the guidelines on use, clarify when and where, and also create a version that will work well in small sizes.”
It sounds a modest task but the enormity of the Met – 26 500 police officers and 13 000 administrative staff – and its vast material output makes managing the identity tough. As former DPA Goodfellow admitted ten years ago, a police organisation’s tendency to elaborate and ornament its appearance causes confusion in the public mind. Fedorcio is bringing order. “We are concentrating on the landscape version of the identity, where the words Metropolitan Police are stronger than the badge. But one of the things we have introduced in the last year is the slogan ‘Working for a Safer London’. We chose this handwritten style quite deliberately. It’s personal and individual, so we don’t want slogans coming in all over the place,” he says.
“One of the things that worries me about design development is the advent of desktop publishing,” he continues. He shows me some graphic illegalities that have set the sirens wailing within the public affairs department.
Meanwhile, the Crime and Disorder Act’s demand for joint community initiatives presents him and his team with another set of challenges. “The biggest is how to satisfy partners and sponsors yet maintain logo balance. It’s an important issue, not least because you can argue about the size of logos and lose sight of what you are trying to achieve,” says Fedorcio.
The areas of uniforms and vehicle liveries fall outside Fedorcio’s immediate remit and he is loath to pass judgement. As a casual observer it seems functional criteria are being met in that officers and cars are instantly recognisable and convey authority, but there are issues. For example, the marking and colouring of patrol cars follows no discernible system, which will create problems as sponsorship and messaging on cars increases. While the traditional helmet is now a tourist icon, it remains impractical in many situations (like running). And, in September this year, Home Secretary Jack Straw noted police uniforms are currently made in 20 shades of blue because forces have failed to create a common buying policy.
One area where Fedorcio has had a radical effect upon the Met is its website. “When I came in it was fairly standard, but I felt it needed a sharper look. It was redesigned and the structure for the rest of the site is now there. We had a massive increase in hits over the last year and we try to use it proactively now. For example, we see it as a way to provide information to people as fast as we give it to the press. I’m looking to develop it so we use it for press conferences and we’re encouraging more and more of the Met’s police stations to have their own site, under our umbrella,” he says.
The site hit rate for October 1997 was 50 000; the hit rate for October 1998 was 135 000. Visitors to www.met.police.uk will find useful and well edited content presented through a neat marriage of interactive and corporate design. If new media is a litmus test for an organisation’s approach to communication then the Met’s site has registered a bright, eye-catching blue.
Alongside the Net, Fedorcio believes the Intranet will replace some of the hundreds of internal reports, bulletins and magazines currently produced. “But one of the things I have learnt about internal communications is that you can’t rely on one means to get messages across,” he says. “You need to use everything you have in a coordinated way.”
A more externally aware approach is discernible in print design too. The Commissioner’s report was once a gallery of stock shots – now, designed by Osprey, it also uses commissioned photography, suggesting the beginnings of a more ambitious approach to image presentation. The Met’s Annual Policing Plan (what it is going to do) and The London Beat (its medium term strategy) will adopt similar approaches. None of it is D&AD Gold material and, in comparison to Studio Dumbar’s work for the Dutch police, it is conservative, but it is moving in the right direction.
Ten years ago this article would probably have ended despairing at the inward-facing and confused nature of the Met and its communications output. It is now displaying greater consistency and a more outward approach. It has taken time and – as the Stephen Lawrence murder inquiry has shown – there are challenges ahead, but the Metropolitan Police Service has started to act and talk like a service.
Metropolitan Police: A Brief History
1829 Sir Robert Peel’s committee paves way for an organised police service in London. First headquarters at 4 Whitehall Place in an area known in Stuart times as Scotland Yard
1839 The Police Act 1839 creates Commissioners of Police of the Metropolis
1878 Criminal Investigation Department created
1883 The Special Irish Branch formed to combat the threat from the Fenian movement. Later known as Special Branch
1890 New headquarters acquired overlooking the Thames near Westminster Bridge. This became known as New Scotland Yard
1920 Two motor vans were acquired and the officers who used them were given the name The Flying Squad
1937 999 telephone system introduced
1946 Metropolitan and City Police Company Fraud Branch formed
1967 Site at Broadway, London SW1, becomes the new New Scotland Yard
1973 Women police officers given equal pay and the same training, duties and opportunities for promotion as men
1989 Wolff Olins commissioned. The Plus Programme launched to improve the corporate image and the quality of service of the Metropolitan Police
1998 The Crime and Disorder Act requires close partnership with local authorities and organisations. Nearly two million emergency calls answered. Reported crime in London at its lowest for nine years