FOCUS: CORPORATE IDENTITY - Dressing up a new business image/Presentation is all and companies go to great lengths to get their image across, often running into trouble along the way. Lee Kimber reports.

On paper it looked great. The sides of Saudia’s jumbo jets boasted the Saudi Arabian airline’s name in a simple, squared-off script: the word Saudia was painted in large letters along its fuselage. Only after the planes were wheeled out did outraged customers start to point out that the space between the ’S’ and the ’A’ of ’saudia’ formed Islam’s most reviled symbol. The Christian cross.

On paper it looked great. The sides of Saudia’s jumbo jets boasted

the Saudi Arabian airline’s name in a simple, squared-off script: the

word Saudia was painted in large letters along its fuselage. Only after

the planes were wheeled out did outraged customers start to point out

that the space between the ’S’ and the ’A’ of ’saudia’ formed Islam’s

most reviled symbol. The Christian cross.

’It’s a true story,’ says Nick Lund, director of Leeds and London-based

design company WPA - who quickly disclaims any responsibility for an

incident he claims forced Saudi authorities to repaint its jumbo fleet

in 1981.

But the story proves not only how easy it is to get a corporate logo

wrong; it shows just how easily unforeseeable issues can foul the least

political aspects of a new corporate identity.

Ask any PR agency, design house or marketing professional about the

problems corporate IDs throw up and they’ll reel off a list of household

names whose new corporate identities have flopped. Pepsi Cola and its

blue cans, BT’s attempt to introduce its prancing piper symbol just as

it raised its prices, British Gas launching a plump globe logo just as

the ’fat cat’ furore gathered strength - all of them come high up on the

professionals’ lists.

But more worryingly, many professionals in the business appear not to

understand what changing and managing a corporate identity actually


’It is misunderstood by some practitioners and design suppliers alike,’

says Tatham Pearce marketing director Grahame Jones. ’They get

themselves all wrapped-up in talk about visual niceties - such as

changes to a logo, a new style literature, introduction of a new

reception area - and how all these visual manifestations of a company’s

personality can in some way affect the hearts and minds of consumers and


In fact, he says, it’s a ’holistic’ experience that begins with how

staff meet and greet contacts and extends to the quality of products and

how they handle customer complaints. Staff attitudes are critical, says


Ask the staff what they think, agrees Lund, and the results will often

highlight the need for significant cultural changes in the organisation;

changes that should take place before anybody starts working on the

client’s image.

’One client put their identity on hold for a month because there was

such a gap between their perception of themselves and what their staff

thought,’ says Lund, although he refuses to name the culprit. ’It was a

merger and they found that what they were promising and what they could

do together wasn’t actually supportable.’

Getting the intrinsic business right and delivering promises is why

Virgin’s identity is such a success, says Countrywide Porter Novelli’s

new media director John Orme. Whatever it turns its hand to, from music

to aircraft, to financial services and drinks, the public appears to

accept the extension of the Virgin brand into new contexts. Orme says

this is because its high profile chairman exudes the same ’try-it’

spirit that has become Virgin’s hallmark.

’It’s the importance of the man’s values that are part of the brand,’ he

says. ’Communication is one of the things that Branson intuitively


Although Branson is driving the corporate identity of his company, Orme

argues that in most companies the real drive should come from the

marketing department. He says it should ensure that the marketing

strategy supports, and is supported by, the vision at the heart of the


’With the marketing department in the driving seat,’ adds Lund, ’our

view is that the design company should come in very early to get an

in-depth understanding of what the company is and how it works. And the

visual identity is the third or fourth stage.’

But, he says, many of his referrals still come from agencies, not

clients, suggesting that marketing departments have not cottoned on to

the real work the design company should be doing.

The list of businesses which have been ravaged by the press just as they

announced an expensive new corporate logo demonstrates how many senior

marketing departments have failed to grasp the concept. Agencies, design

companies, communications specialists - they’re all still regularly

approached by companies that claim their logo is looking tired and needs

updating - a sure sign that the client hasn’t understood the fundamental

issues underpinning its corporate identity.

Lund’s solution is to take issues raised by early talks with staff

straight back to the client’s marketing department, whose job it is to

make sure that staff - from receptionists right up to directors - know

what the company is really trying to achieve.

Corporate identity is as important as any financial, property or

technology tool, agrees Peter Farnell-Watson, managing director, Europe,

of design company Landor Associates.

’It should therefore also be managed at the board level,’ he says. ’Only

a senior level ”brand champion” will be able to bolster the support at

all levels of a company necessary to a corporate identity change’s


Another element in managing a corporate identity is the importance of

communicating it effectively to staff. Whoever ends up driving the

process - marketer, board-level champion or agency - they have to ensure

that their staff are with them. And that’s a job that is also affecting

the way identity change is managed.

’Ye olde world of communicating a new corporate identity was littered

with vast manuals,’ says Phil Reading, deputy managing director of

communications specialist The Presentation Company. ’The largest we ever

came across weighed over 15lbs. That’s no joke.’

Instead of such cumbersome documentation, The Presentation Company is

producing electronic manuals on CD-ROMs which - at about pounds 1 each -

are cheaper to produce, distribute and update and contain the kind of

graphics and sound that makes them more exciting to look at, and weigh

nothing like 15lbs.

’Your typical brand manager has got access to a CD-ROM drive,’ he


Other staff, and the public, are increasingly likely to have access to

company web sites - making the Internet and Intranets fast, continually

updatable sources of identity information, from the mission statement to

the product returns policy.

Now hi-tech solutions are winning support even from less design-oriented


’Intranets are ideal vehicles for companies to take a new look at

corporate identity,’ says Orme, ’because it makes it easier for staff to

access information - and it’s a lot more interactive.’

Clearly, specialist communications strategies could iron out some of the

communications problems posed by corporate identity changes. They might

also ease a more worrying implication this has for agencies. For if more

marketers take control over identity change, agencies will still be left

at the coal-face dealing with the staff and public - with a dangerous

monitoring role and less control over the machinations that fuel the


’A lot of the way corporate identity management and production is

policed - and I use that word carefully - can lose the aim of it all,’

says Orme.

’For example, when a PR department or agency beats people up because the

corporate logo went out with the wrong pantones. Well, that’s where the

whole thing stagnates.’

Better communications technology could ease their burden. And help them

avoid being crucified on unexpected crosses.


WPA’s work on Greenalls Squares pub chain started as a simple request

early in 1996 to provide some point of sale support and to design a pub

sign as a brass plaque. But when managing director Miles Pinfold

presented Greenalls with WPA’s vision of a metre-high bronze monolith

carved with icons. Greenalls signed the company up to stamp the image

across its seven pubs as a recognisable identity for the Squares brand.

What caught its eye was the public’s reaction to test viewings of the

rough cast slab and people’s quick grasp that the icons at the base of

it told them exactly what Squares stood for.

Greenalls then asked WPA to extend the design to everything from its

staff uniforms to its toilet signs, and in doing so gave it control over

almost every aspect of the public’s relationship with each Squares


As a new chain, with only senior Greenalls staff already on the payroll,

WPA had few staff communications issues to worry about. It had been

asked to design an image for a city centre pub that would host business

people and their customers during the day but switch to a music-oriented

20 to 35 age group during the night. The only constant element was that

the customers would be reasonably high income earners.

But that mix of functions presented potential problems in ensuring that

all the consultants and suppliers designing each element of the first

seven pubs knew exactly what to produce.

’We carried the brand’s strength across the chain without errors by

producing an interactive CD-ROM for third parties to use,’ says Pinfold.

’All signwriters, designers, clothing manufacturers involved in the

Squares chain used the design guidelines set out in this CD-ROM.’

Up to 100 staff now work in each pub and all have been indentured into

the Squares identity with WPA uniforms, and an operations manual that

says how they should maintain the atmosphere that is the Squares

proposition and deal with its suppliers.


When British Gas revamped its identity two years ago, its new logo

featured a globe referring to its international status and


Yet at the same time, British Gas received a record number of complaints

and its reputation took a pounding during the furore over chief

executive Cedric Brown’s salary.

’Like most newly-privatised utility companies, it forgot about

consumers,’ says Tatham Pearce marketing director Grahame Jones.

’Clearly it was a case of the ’old’ British Gas wearing ’new’


But he points out that the problem lies not with its logo but with the

business itself.

’Corporate identity is misunderstood by senior managers who see it as a

”magic wand” mysteriously creating the change without really

understanding the principles and the need to create change themselves,’

he says.

Redhouse Lane managing director Jeremy Redhouse says that in his opinion

the worst recent example of a mishandled corporate identity is Pepsi

Cola as it treated its corporate identity as just a visual identity when

it relaunched on ’Blue Tuesday’ last year.

’They’d lost the brand values and identities that they’d built up fairly

effectively over the previous decades, so they tried to identify

themselves with values of a new generation. But there was no evidence of

a link between the colour blue and the values of that generation,’ he

says. ’And strong visual activity like painting Concorde blue simply

obscured the message that lay behind it.’

But too weak a corporate identity lies behind one of the most damaging

examples of mishandled identity, says Peter Farnell-Watson, MD, Europe

of Landor Associates.

More than ten years after a gas explosion in an Indian factory killed

and blinded thousands of workers, Union Carbide is still identified with

Bhopal. ’Union Carbide has not invested in its image or identity, but

has preferred to remain ’invisible’ to the public,’ he says. ’It risks

only being known for its disasters.’


The identity faced potential trouble because the decision to change

direction had been taken by a small group of senior Charlton executives

without staff involvement

Marketing communications practice Butler Cornfield Dedman (BCD) was

called in earlier this year by Charlton Associates to design a new

corporate identity to match the banking adviser’s decision to take its

business in a completely new direction. A London-based banking and

financial services consultancy, which traditionally supplied technical

and managerial advice to Eastern Europe’s banking community, Charlton

Associates had decided to chase the bigger western European banking

advice market, where it saw better growth opportunities.

BCD’s job was eased by Charlton Communications business manager Graham

Samuel who had already recognised that changing Charlton’s name to CA

Consulting would help ’reinforce the organisation’s professionalism and

convey its expertise’ to a new and far more sophisticated market. The

identity already faced potential trouble because the decision to change

direction had been taken by a small group of senior Charlton executives

without staff involvement.

Faced with a business selling an arcane set of skills in an extremely

conservative market, BCD chose a design for CA’s visual identity that

uses a typeface-based logo and a distinctive, and conservative, blue and

green colour scheme to create a professional identity designed to

inspire confidence.

That ’expertise’ message is reinforced with the strapline ’Consultants

to the financial services industry’ across CA’s literature and


Before launching it, BCD and CA worked together to brief its 20 business

consultant staff.

’Consultants working directly with clients were invited to special

briefings so they could explain to clients exactly what it implied,’

says BCD director Paul Butler. ’With clients from Azerbaijan to Moscow,

it simply wasn’t possible to have face-to-face meetings with all of


Instead CA wrote to all of its 300 clients, put in telephone calls to

some and arranged face-to-face meetings where practicable. It set up a

web site based on BCD’s visual design to allow anyone to find out


And with mobile staff who work on highly confidential documents, it is

also using new technology to avoid presenting them with any problems

applying the new image during day-to-day contact with clients.

’We developed templates so the design can be used on PC-generated

reports and proposals,’ says Butler. It also used e-mail in favour of

letters to deal with any sensitive issues raised by consultants in

Eastern Europe’s least accessible regions.

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