Law enforcement agencies often believe that branding is not necessary or important as a government agency. After all, we’re not trying to increase profits or sell anything in the traditional sense.
However, we sell ourselves to our community. We want our community to know how we can help them, how they can help us, and what we do as an agency.
Many law enforcement agencies may use their social media as a tool to disseminate important information during a news situation. While a worthwhile step, wrapping this information in strong branding can help establish us as a credible and trustworthy source that citizens can turn to for information. .
Branding helps tell your agency’s story
Branding can also help tell your story by giving an agency personality, which is how it conveys itself. With strong visuals and clear communication guidelines, branding can help deliver important information to citizens and help them better understand those who serve them. Is an agency clean and professional, or fearsome and restrained?
Branding is able to communicate more than just words or visuals and instead brings them together in a cohesive way to communicate accurately and give citizens an idea of a department. It allows you to be recognizable to your community across multiple media channels – from social media to print flyers and everything in between.
Development of the Pasco Sheriff’s Office brand
The Pasco Sheriff’s Office (PSO) did not have a well-established brand a few years ago. Our website was unlike our social media. There was no clear definition of how to use which logos or fonts would work best in a particular application. Print materials had varied appearances across the agency and our social media strategy operated on an outdated understanding of each platform’s algorithms. Little information was shared on these platforms regarding what PSO was doing in our community, and it was difficult to determine what, if any, were the important news on our social media. In 2020, PSO’s followers on social networks were decreasing and we decided to thoroughly review our communication strategy.
Getting started with branding may seem like a daunting task, but in reality, many of the brand’s visual elements are probably at your fingertips. Establishing a visual brand is usually the easiest place to start. An agency will likely have established colors and a potential font. Start establishing a brand by expanding on existing features and defining railings to use.
The visual branding of the Pasco Sheriff’s Office is based on our most easily recognizable character: our patrol cars. Most of our fellow citizens have seen a patrol car during a service call, at a gas station or in a neighbour’s driveway, if they live near an MP. It’s an obvious symbol of our agency and something most community members saw and quickly recognized as OSP. For this reason, we used colors, fonts and general appearance similar to those of patrol cars to create our visual brand. A distinct green stripe on a white base dominates most PSO branded parts, linking the visual appearance of the car to other experiences citizens may have with our brand, such as our website and social media platforms.
A visual brand is easily established by defining three important factors: a logo, colors and a font. Many agencies have multiple logos, perhaps for different units. Choose a single logo with the agency name included and use it consistently for all forward-facing pieces, like social media or print materials. When selecting colors, choose two or at most three. White or black should represent at least one of these colors since they are easy to use in many applications. Finally, select a font that is clean, easy to read, professional, and accessible. To ensure that a brand is used agency-wide, agency members must have access to it. Choosing a font that is available across multiple applications, computers, and programs provides a path of least resistance to implementation.
Brand story informs communication strategy
To establish your brand’s story and tone, it’s easiest to start with the basics. In the case of PSO, we answered simple questions about our mission and purpose: who we are, what do we do and who do we answer to?
With these responses, we established a new social media structure, written branding guidance and safeguards, and the PSO Strategic Communications Guide. This guide prioritizes three pillars of our communication strategy:
- Educate citizens about PSO operations, ways to get PSO information and more.
- Inform citizens about what PSO is doing in their community, or answer the question “why are all these police cars on my street?” »
- Have a positive impact on residents perception of PSOs and law enforcement, because if we are not our biggest defender, who is?
We have also determined that if a potential social media post, print article or other publicly available item does not fit one of these pillars, we will not‘t post it or produce it. Not only did this help us determine what was most relevant to post, but it also helped us manage our workload. It also prioritized sharing useful information with our citizens and contributed to transparency. This, in turn, established a brand for our agency that was transparent, open and helpful to our residents, as well as easily recognizable as a PSO visually.
With the adoption of a strategic communications guide, we have established safeguards for what to post on social media to ensure that all messaging is aligned with our brand. We made sure that all posts were accompanied by a strong visual element related to the Pasco Sheriff’s Office, such as a car, PSO member, K-9, or building.
In addition to the strong visuals, we also made sure to explain what this visual element was doing for the community. For example, when we posted a photo of a helicopter, we took the opportunity to explain that our aviation unit was doing proactive patrols, as were our deputies in patrol cars. An assumption in our county was that the helicopter only flew when searching for a criminal.
In keeping with these pillars, we’ve written adaptable scripts for our most common messages, such as missing persons, road closures, and suspect identification attempts. While each case is unique, having a ready-to-use script can help deliver accurate information to our citizens quickly. A script contains a consistent location for certain information, such as a suspect’s description, the area of the county involved, etc. The script also contains ways to provide accurate information to our investigators, such as calling dispatch or reporting tips through an online system. Additionally, it gives citizens a consistent posting style to help them differentiate educational posts from more informative or newsworthy posts.
We paired these scripts with a separate graphic, affectionately known at PSO as “Alert Tahoe”, or a photo of our Chevrolet Tahoe patrol car with the lights on which we only use to relay news to our citizens. The Alert Tahoe graphic includes the PSO logo and an iconic green stripe with white text that changes depending on the situation – from case updates and road closures to suspicious incidents or weather warnings. This acts as a visual trigger for our citizens that this message is important information.
Brand consistency increases citizen trust
Consistency with how a brand is used is imperative. While clearly defining which items to use is a great first step, establishing clear rules about how and when to use (or not use) each item is just as important as selecting them. This is where a brand and style guide comes in. Ensuring that selected brand elements are presented legibly, clearly and in the correct shape and color each time they are used establishes consistency in branding and makes it easy for your citizens to recognize your brand and know that everything branded comes directly from a trusted source. : you.
Defining your pillars ensures that you meet key touchpoints with each publication or product. The assembly of these guidelines is a document that not only allows you to follow the navigation of your brand, but can also be easily distributed to your agency.
Branding is often at the heart of what you communicate and how it is communicated. This‘t require a significant monetary investment. However, the time invested in developing clear and well-established guidelines is well worth the cost. Developing a brand that reflects who you are and what you do can help communicate with your citizens and earn the trust of your community. By looking internally and having conversations about what you do and what you want your brand to communicate, a brand guide can be established to help navigate communications through many scenarios.
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