Brand Health Check: Metropolitan Police

Metropolitan Police
Metropolitan Police

LONDON - Allegations of brutality and political agendas have tarnished London's thin blue line.

The police are often accused of being quick to close ranks when the effluent hits the fan. It was therefore telling that the Chief Inspector of Constabulary Denis O'Connor was so blunt in describing some officers' actions at last month's G20 protests as 'unacceptable'.

Certainly, the footage of balaclava-clad officers employing heavy-handed tactics against demonstrators and apparently innocent bystanders is a lifetime away from the warmer image of a 'service' - rather than 'force' - that the police has been keen to portray of late. Forget Dixon of Dock Green - this had more in common with the South African police during the apartheid era.

These stories emerged shortly before the Met received criticism for its con-duct in the arrest of Tory immigration spokesman Damian Greene, who was subsequently exonerated. It's safe to say it has not been a good month for the police force.

Although O'Connor rightly pointed out that many officers perform a valuable role - evident in the heroism of a constable who died last month while trying to stop a fleeing vehicle in London - it seems these actions have become overshadowed in the eyes of the public.

The Met is in danger of losing public support, and some sort of marketing activity might be advisable - preferably not too hard-hitting. We asked Graham Duff, the son of a police officer and EMEA president of Mediabrands, and Tim Duffy, chief executive of M&C Saatchi, which used to handle the Met's ad account, to turn copper's nark.

 

Graham Duff EMEA president, Mediabrands

My late dad was a police constable in East London for 30 years. As a teenager, I played various sports for police teams (including the most brutal game of football I have ever taken part in, against Dagenham Unigate) and, consequently, I saw his colleagues as just normal blokes.

Toward the end of his career, he bemoaned the fact that recruitment had been narrowed down to '5ft 2" graduates or 6ft 4" thugs'. Is this an old-fashioned copper's jaundiced view of the modern force? Yes, but in its way it encapsulates the issues faced by the police today.

Brand experience now dominates opinion. Just because you have been told that something is good is no longer enough. Love the car but the dealer and service experience is dire? Move on.

Probably more than any profession(or brand) the police force is hugely reliant on respect. In years gone by, that respect was often assumed. Now, it has to be earned. The only real way for a public-sector brand to win respect is via the actions of staff, at all levels.

None of the recent high-profile 'errors', nor the subsequent clumsy attempts to manage the consequences, has helped any police officer in his dealings with the general public.

If authority and respect are too easily challenged, a policeman's job becomes that much harder.

 

Remedy

  • Constantly remind the public of the genuinely difficult aspects of the job.
  • Respond swiftly, honestly and decisively to issues. Mistakes are normally understood; apparent cover-ups are not.
  • Recruit for the job, not statistical headlines.

 

Tim Duffy chief executive, M&C Saatchi

Q You, the Metropolitan Police, stand accused of crimes against brand management. Anything you say may be used in evidence against you. Did you respond well to the G20 crisis?

A No.

Q Why not?

A It was all coming from the public with blogs and camera phones. We didn't know what was going to happen next. It was too fast.

Q Does the public give you enough credit for what you do well?

A No.

Q Why not?

A All they see is the bad news, and hours on end of cops with cameras on the telly.

Q What should people think about you?

A We have thousands of good officers who, day in, day out, are protecting Londoners, not only from everyday crime but also terrorism, paedophiles, drug networks, and high-tech fraud.

Q Have you addressed this?

A Yes. Er, no. Er, I'm not sure.

 

Remedy

  • Show what police officers are doing for us. Scale back on the plethora of campaigns showing what we can do for the police such as reporting crime or keeping our possessions safe.
  • Use imaginative ways to involve us in the Met - even MI5 is moving toward transparency. Making the website more interesting and dynamic would be a good place to start - or, God forbid, persuade a TV company to make a show that isn't about traffic cops or flashing lights.
  • More police 'service', less police 'force'. Britons like their cops. They seem friendlier than those in other countries, and generally are not armed.
  • Be careful about using aggressive, quasi-military words and images.

 

 

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