Wednesday, June 4, 2014

A New L&I?

What does an organization do when it's trying to shred a soiled reputation? Just ask Comcast what "Xfinity" means. Americans have short attention spans, and since many of us rarely look up from a trending Tweet long enough to notice it's raining frogs, newly branding a product can be a simple way of bypassing any true improvements.

But it's not always just a show. New branding can work when it means a better service or product. Xfinity wasn't just an attempt to find new customers who didn't know it was synonymous with Comcast, it was part of a larger effort to improve customer service and the services themselves, services that truly have improved.

The city's department of Licenses & Inspections was taken to task by writer, Brian X. McCrone for shelling out $50,000 to the advertising and public relations firm, LevLane. The main source of contention is in the department's most visible upgrade, simply changing "L&I" to "L + I." It sounds absurd, but rebranding the department is just the most visible component in a much larger marketing strategy to make the department more visible and accessible. 

It's not the first time a city organization has contracted a PR firm to improve its reputation. In fact, it happens all the time and more public departments would be smart to get in line. Government agencies have a reputation for being out of touch with their audience because they simply are. 

PR firms make money by helping other companies make even more. They understand the public in ways that CEOs and government employees don't. It might be hard to believe, but most Philadelphians probably don't know what L + I is. And if they do, they don't know how it's integrated with the city's 311 system or how to formally file complaints with the department. They may not even know they have a voice.

L + I's new brand is a fine start, but what remains to be seen is if the changes within the department will go beyond its new logo. If LevLane's work works, it translates into phone calls and emails, complaints. But if the department's improvements don't go beyond aesthetics, the increased visibility could only tarnish the department's already tarnished reputation.

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