Establishing a brand for your agency is easier than it sounds
Strong branding establishes a law enforcement agency as a credible and trustworthy source of information
Law enforcement agencies often think that branding isn’t necessary or important as a government agency. After all, we’re not trying to increase profits or sell anything in a traditional sense.
We are, however, selling ourselves to our community. We want our community to know how we can assist them, how they can assist us and what we do as an agency.
Many law enforcement agencies may be using their social media as a tool to disseminate important information during a breaking news situation. While this is a helpful step, wrapping that information in strong branding can help us establish ourselves as a credible and trustworthy source to which citizens can turn for information.
Branding helps tell your agency’s story
Branding can also help tell your story by providing an agency with a personality, which is the way it conveys itself. Through strong visuals and clear communication guidelines, branding can help deliver important information to citizens and help them better understand those that serve them. Is an agency clean and professional, or fearsome and withholding?
Branding is able to communicate more than just words or visuals alone and instead draws them together cohesively to communicate accurately and give citizens a feeling about a department. It allows you to be recognizable to your community across multiple media channels – from social media to printed flyers and anything in between.
Brand development for Pasco Sheriff’s Office
The Pasco Sheriff’s Office (PSO) didn’t have a well-established brand a few years ago. Our website didn’t look similar to our social media. There was no clear definition of how to use logos or what fonts would work best in a particular application. Printed materials had varied looks across the agency and our social media strategy operated on an outdated understanding of each platform’s algorithms.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 anything, was important news on our social media. By 2020, PSO’s social media followers were declining and we decided to take an in-depth look at our communications strategy.
Getting started on branding may seem like a daunting task, but in reality, many of the visual brand elements are likely within easy reach. 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 building off existing features and defining guardrails for use.
Visual branding at the Pasco Sheriff’s Office is based on our most easily recognizable figure: our patrol cars. Most of our citizens have seen a patrol car on a call for service, at a gas station or in a neighbor’s driveway, if they live near a deputy. It’s an obvious symbol of our agency and something most community members have seen and quickly recognize as PSO. Because of this, we used similar colors, fonts and overall appearance from patrol cars to build our visual brand. A distinct green stripe on a white base dominates most of PSO’s branded pieces, tying together the car’s visual appearance with 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 various units. Pick a single logo with the agency’s name included and use this consistently for any forward-facing pieces, like social media or printed materials. When selecting colors, chose two or three at most. White or black should account for at least one of these colors since they are easy to use in many applications. Lastly, select a font that is clean, easy to read, professional and accessible. To ensure a brand is used agency-wide, agency members must have access to it. Choosing a font that is available on multiple applications, computers and programs offers a path of low resistance to implementation.
Brand story informs communications strategy
To establish your brand story and tone, it is 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 to whom do we answer.
With these answers, we established a new social media structure, brand guidance and writing guardrails, as well as the PSO Strategic Communications Guide. This guide prioritized three pillars of our communications strategy:
- Educate citizens on PSO’s operations, ways they can get information from PSO and more.
- Inform citizens on what PSO is doing in their community, or answer the question, “why are all these police cars on my street?”
- Positively impact residents’ perception of PSO and law enforcement, because if we aren’t our greatest advocate, who is?
We also determined that if a potential social media post, printed piece or another item to be distributed publicly did not fit into one of these pillars, then we didn’t post it or produce it. Not only did this help us determine what was most relevant to post, but it assisted in managing our workload as well. It also prioritized sharing helpful information with our citizens and aided in transparency. This, in turn, established a brand for our agency that was transparent, forthcoming and helpful to our residents, as well as easily recognizable as PSO visually.
With the adoption of a strategic communications guide, we set guardrails for what to post on social media as well to ensure all posts fell within our brand. We ensured that all posts were accompanied by a strong visual element that related to the Pasco Sheriff’s Office like a car, PSO member, K-9 or building.
In addition to strong visuals, we also made sure that we explained what that visual element did for the community. For instance, when we posted a photo of a helicopter, we used that as an opportunity to explain that our aviation unit performed proactive patrols, just like our deputies in patrol cars did. An assumption in our county was that the helicopter only flew when searching for a criminal.
In line with these pillars, we wrote adaptable scripts for our most common posts, such as missing people, road closures and attempts to identify suspects. While each case is unique, having a ready-made script available can aid in getting accurate information to our citizens quickly. A script contains a consistent place for certain information, like a description of a suspect, area of the county this is affecting and more. The script also contains ways to get information to our investigators accurately, such as calling dispatch or reporting tips through an online system. Furthermore, it gives citizens a consistent style of post to help them differentiate between educational posts and more informative or newsworthy posts.
We paired these scripts with a distinct graphic, known affectionately at PSO as the “Alert Tahoe,” or a photo of our Chevrolet Tahoe patrol car with lights activated that we only employ for the purposes of conveying news to our citizens. The Alert Tahoe graphic includes PSO’s 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 post is important information.
Brand consistency increases citizen trust
Consistency with how a brand is used is imperative. While clearly defining elements to use is a great first step, laying out clear rules on how and when to use (or not use) each element is just as important as selecting them. This is where having a brand and style guide comes into play. Ensuring that the selected brand elements are presented legibly, clearly and in the proper shape and color every time it’s used establishes consistency in branding, and allows your citizens to easily recognize your brand, and know that whatever is branded is coming directly from a trusted source: you.
Defining your pillars ensures that you’re meeting key touchpoints with each post or product. Putting these guidelines together is a document that allows you to not only keep track of your brand’s navigation, but it can also be easily distributed to your agency.
Branding is often the heart of what you communicate and how it is communicated. This doesn’t require a large monetary investment. However, the time invested in developing well-established and clear guidelines is well worth the cost. Developing a brand that reflects who you are and what you do can aid in communicating with your citizens and building 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.