|Brand:rebrand - Time for action|
|Thursday, 30 October 2008 13:25|
Max Hotopf looks at the successful, and controversial, rebranding of the charity National Children’s Home to Action for Children:
Sassoon describes the old NCH brand as “unbalanced and beset with problems – especially regarding its invisibility among the general public”. For starters, it was factually incorrect – the charity no longer runs long-term residential childrens’ homes. Secondly, the whole concept of childrens’ homes has been slurred in the public mind. And the acronym NCH was meaningless and cold to many of its stakeholders – three letters starting with N like NHS, NCB or NCP. And, he adds, it was an un-policed brand – often it wasn’t even used on projects the charity was involved in.
It was also a name unsuited to the ambitions and goals of the new management team led by chief executive, Clare Tickell, which wants the charity to become an independent campaigner, able to criticise the government. Polly Neate, executive director of public affairs and communications since 2005 and the woman who saw through the rebranding, argues that a strong brand is essential to raise income from supporters. This money, currently around 8% of the charity’s revenue, is the slice of income the charity is free to use as it likes, and assures its independence.
And yet getting NCH to agree to a brand change was never going to be easy. “The name had resonance for some of the stakeholders, particularly the trustees, the Methodist church, staff and commissioners.” says Sassoon. Many staff were shy of further change following previous rebranding exercises over the past 15 years. Indeed one of the first things Sassoon says he was told by senior staff was “change our brand, but don’t touch the name.”
The next stage was to invite agencies to pitch. Unusually, Neate decided to invite all eight agencies to the same one day briefing. She says: “We wanted a full day so they really had a chance to get under our skin and we were keen to see which were prepared to listen to what we said.” Worries that they may not want to ask questions in front of their peers proved groundless, as “agency people have pretty large egos”. The charity also talked budget on the day. “We gave them an idea of how limited our budget would be and told them it was all we had.” She won’t reveal the figure, but says the charity has kept to it.
So why did Baby Creative, a small, 20 person creative communications agency in London, win? Neate, who says the decision was unanimous, says she and her colleagues were wowed by its ideas, but Sassoon believes the emphasis on process was a key factor in the pitch: “We spent a lot of time sketching out how we would take the process forward. I think this was why we won – it is a conservative, process oriented organisation.”
For Sassoon, process was the key to the projects success. “If you go through this process then what you come up with eventually really will be 100% true to the organisation and this actually makes the creatives and advertising far easier and far more effective. There were a lot nay-sayers and sceptics. You have to remember that many of the staff at the charity are from social services background and hence do not automatically trust or admire marketing. Many saw no reason for the rebrand.”
Brand immersion was the first step for Baby Creative. “We spent weeks visiting different projects and talking to stakeholders – Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, Leeds, Sheffield, Manchester, Cardiff, London and Belfast. We covered all four nations.”
The next step was to create what Sassoon terms the brand platform – a phrase or a sentence which unites the organisation. The 3-4 brand platforms were tested in focus groups of employees, children and stakeholders. The phrase to emerge victorious was “Always there for children.” Sassoon and Neate say this sums up the charity’s 140 years of heritage and long-term, parent-like commitment to stability.
Sassoon describes the next step as bringing it to life. It was only at this stage that Baby breathed creative life into the concept with a series of adcepts he describes as “a rough sort of communication which shows what sort of adverts might come from the phrase if it were the heart of the brand.” These included a three minute mood video.
Neate says the video and the adcepts really electrified people inside the charity. Suddenly they could see the potential and understand from the film where the rebranding was taking the charity.
It was only at this stage that Baby Creative and Neate revisited the name.
Some 45 suggestions came in, from employees or the children and young people who used the charity’s services. Sassoon said it became clear fairly soon that Action for Children would be the winner. “First, this was part of the charity’s name for four years in the 1990s. Secondly, it explains what the charity does. Thirdly, it suggests that it is not a process-driven oil tanker: it is active and doing things.”
It was only now that Baby started coming up with creative designs and logos. Here the approach has been to build on the charity’s heritage, with a child and parent arm in arm. The new image has a livelier, more playful, less hierarchical image than the monolith suggested by the fat rendering of last century’s version. It looks friendly, approachable, contemporary and spontaneous.
For Neate the new brand is not simply an end product of change but is part of the change process itself. “Changing the brand and getting people to buy into the change is vital.”
Then there is the new advertising which will roll out early next year. Neither Baby nor Action for Children will talk about this, although Sassoon says it will be “awareness advertising presented in a different way from the norm, which is to show a stark black and white photo of a child in dire need and to ask for money. Instead, he says, this will emphasise the positive, the way the children can be helped, transformed and saved by the right intervention.
Is it wise for a long-established children’s charity with a clearly defined role in the sector to rebrand in such a way as to take on competing charities on street corners and through the letter box? Will Action for Children succeed in winning a slice of the pie? And if it does what will it have cost? This rebrand was essential but it can not have been cheap.
Neate is very confident that Baby delivered great value for money. And she emphasises that this charity is not out to challenge others, but that it does wish to grow its voluntary income.
And then there is Action for Kids, a much smaller children charity which is not pleased with the rebranding. However, the Charity Commissioners say the name change is acceptable. Neate says the charity knew of the issue as soon as it proposed its new name and has done everything it can to avoid confusion, with a web page dedicated to charities with similar sounding names. But she adds: “If you want a name for a children’s charity which really does what it says on the tin then the choice is pretty limited and there are a lot of children’s charities out there. There were some charities with similar names to NCH, like National Children’s Bureau (NCB) and I’m sure they’re chuffed we’ve changed!”
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