Opinion: Hackney brand is more than a logo

The recent out-of-court settlement between Nike and Hackney Council has reignited the debate about the value of brands in the public sector.

Nike is reported to have paid £300,000 for emblazoning sports kit with the council's logo, without first gaining permission. The case raises a few issues, not least why anyone would want to wear Hackney's logo - but let's leave that to the fashionistas.

It's interesting that this test case was between one of fashion's best-known names and a council whose brand has historically exemplified all that is wrong with public services. The image of a fat chav wearing a Hackney Council vest bearing the slogan ‘just do it' carries a tragic sense of the ironic. Perhaps the Hackney/Nike story marks a turning point for this improving council that has been able to prove that its brand does indeed have a value.

So should other public bodies rush to protect their trademarks? While the likelihood of seeing the Westminster skyline adorning Kate Moss's chest on a London Fashion Week catwalk has to be remote, acting to protect your brand must always be a sensible move.

Local government marques - more than any other in the public sector - represent not just the council that owns them, but an area of the country. The application of council branding on livery, uniforms, estate signs, street nameplates, road signs, public parks and buildings creates a sense of place. Some might argue, as indeed I would, that inappropriate application creates an over-bearing sense of municipality and institution, yet applied properly there is no doubt that a logo can be a powerful tool.

But, of course, a brand is much more than just a logo. It is the personality of the organisation and the sum of everything that organisation does. The overly officious librarian, the lazy street sweeper, the rude parking attendant and the hapless social worker are much more dangerous to your brand than a T-shirt.

My advice to councils is simple: get your service offering and customer care right and your brand will look after itself. These days, Hackney appears to be doing just that.

Lorraine Langham is co-founder and managing director of Verve Communications. She is a former assistant executive director at Hackney

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