Branding for Excellence

Creating a brand could help public-sector managers improve performance, create a culture of excellence and impel everyone working for the agency to think about their core mission.
October 25, 2006
Scott Pattison
By Scott D. Pattison  |  Contributor
Scott D. Pattison was a GOVERNING contributor. He is executive director of the National Association of State Budget Officers.

When public managers think of the concept of a "brand," they often think of private sector companies selling consumer products and not something that is relevant to their work.

At a recent regional conference of state budget officials in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Tim Reeves of the Neiman Group -- who was press secretary to former Governor Tom Ridge -- challenged the audience to think about their departments and agencies as a brand. This got me thinking about how creating a brand could help public-sector managers improve performance, create a culture of excellence and impel everyone working for the agency to think about their core mission.

More and more, government programs and departments are using branding to improve their image and performance. In this context, brand refers not just to marketing, but the public's image of the quality of the product itself. When thinking about a brand, public managers should be careful not to put forth something perceived as a temporary "feel good" public relations campaign that will only benefit the agency's top brass.

Tourism and economic development departments in government have used branding for years. We've all heard the slogan "I Love New York ." The Marines have a brand that effectively uses "the few, the proud" as a slogan to define the selectivity of their branch of the armed services.

Public-sector managers should decide what they want the public to think when they hear the name of their agency or program. And, what should employees feel when they say the name of the department where they work? Of course, you want citizens to think positively about your agency and you want your employees to feel proud of their work and accomplishments.

The first step to developing a brand is to hold formal and informal meetings with staff. Employees must be involved, and, if possible, citizens should be included in the process. Begin by asking, "What do people think when they hear our agency's name?" Several years ago, just hearing "DMV" could elicit laughter or, worse, anger. Citizens often thought of their DMV as slow and inefficient with long painful lines. As a result, many states have spent years streamlining DMV processes with the result that citizens have a much more positive view of their state DMVs.

Branding can also be used to change attitudes internally. I know of agencies that use the awards they receive to define themselves to their employees. They create a "Top Gun" culture--one in which employees feel proud be part of the agency and a pressure to perform at the highest standard. The agency has created, in effect, a good brand name and a culture of top performers.

To reiterate, public managers should ask themselves: Do people have a positive or negative reaction when they hear my agency name or acronym? Are my employees proud to say where they work? If our brand is viewed negatively -- think FEMA after Katrina -- what do we need to do to improve our agency, image, and, therefore, our brand?

There are real advantages to branding. For government, the brand could be much more than a public relations slogan -- the brand can define the mission and culture of the agency.