Why that new municipal council logo isn’t a waste of taxpayer money

WHY DO COUNCILS NEED GOOD LOGOS?

A disproportionate amount of my attention on this blog goes towards municipal logo design. That is local authorities, councils, mayoral offices and other government funded setups who run logo projects. Many of the projects I cover have experienced some difficulty during their inception, from finalised designs that end up being exceedingly close to other designs (or directly stolen) to questions and queries over the costs involved, the money for which is almost always taxpayer cash.

It’s important to say here that we say logo for shorthand of branding. For the logo takes the front line in a raft of design elements any council, or any entity for that matter, presents. When we see in the press outrage at costs spent on logos, the publication rarely puts the focus on the whole project and likes to score points by suggesting that the full cost was spent on the logo alone. They’ll have a quote somewhere down the bottom from the authority or designer describing in brief the work carried out for the cost, but the headline won’t mention that.

1. SEE WHERE YOUR TAX MONEY IS BEING SPENT

Your local council or municipal authority wears lots of hats, from bin collection to welfare payments, parks and recreation to planning applications and parking facilities. They spend a great deal of money doing this. It feels right to me therefore that when they’re carrying out these services, they let you know it’s them that’s doing it. If you never saw a council van or town hall, you might think where all your hard earned tax cash is going. See loads about all carrying out varied roles, or receiving letters with council headed paper, then you can be confident that the elected officials aren’t simply sitting in some council chamber squandering your pounds on expenses.

My local council, Amber Valley (who have a pretty poor logo) has a contractor carry out the recycling collection, Veolia Environmental, I know it’s them not because I follow contracts awarded by the council, but because it’s plastered on their lorries and the badge appears on the binmen’s uniforms.

So in the same way it’s important for Veolia Environmental to let you know it’s them doing the job, it’s right that the council do too.

The added advantage for councils is that by letting the public see what they are up to can help affirm the money they spend. If you never saw a council van or town hall, you might think where all your hard earned tax cash is going. See loads about all carrying out varied roles, or receiving letters with council headed paper, then you can be confident that the elected officials aren’t simply sitting in some council chamber squandering your pounds on expenses.

2. COMPETING WITH COMMERCIAL MARKETING

In many sectors the jobs a local council does are simply the jobs local councils do, no one else offers them, even if these essential services are sub contracted, they’re still the things only really councils get involved in. But in other areas, things like sports facilities, recreational spaces, museums and libraries or car parking, your council is essentially competing with commercial entities to encourage you to spend your time or money utilising their services.

Take the public park. Your local municipal town or borough council spends a good deal of money on keeping public parks in good order, litter free and with free or cheap sports and play facilities. In 2014 my local authority spent £149,000 on one park alone.

But parks compete with commercial leisure activities, it’s a sunny day, do we pop to the local park for some fun and games or do we head to an historical property for a mooch around their impressive gardens? Taking that example specifically in my area we’ve a number of big historic properties, 3 run by the charity the National Trust and one a family run commercial enterprise, Chatsworth House. Chatsworth have the idea of families visiting old houses thing in the bag. They do it so right, with a petting farm, adventure playground, vast garden with mazes and paddling pools and endless space to walk in forests or rivers or over hills. As well as the house. Most of which you pay handsomely and separately for.

Crossley Park in Ripley by comparison, which the £149K was spent on, has a play park, grass, a bandstand and a a new wet play area. It’s all free to use at the point of contact.

For Amber Valley to justify that spending, people need to use it. To encourage people to use it, they have to let people know it exists. To let people know it exists they have to compete in marketing the service with the likes of Chatsworth. To compete they need a brand and a marketing budget that is on a level field with the big commercial guys.

3. BUSINESS INVESTMENT

We work in a global environment, specialist enclaves still exist where the workforce are trained and specialised within certain roles. Derby for example has well trained engineers within the local workforce as well as highly qualified immigrants from across the country and world, who flock to Rolls Royce despite it’s location (no offence).

Outside of these special enclaves many industries can site themselves anywhere in the world. Local authorities work hard to persuade big employers to open up in their areas though offers of subsidy or aid in planning and employment services. Some of this is carried out nationally, but local authorities play a big role in tempting commercial companies to build on their land.

Presenting a professional, future thinking council, willing to invest in it’s constituents can be aided endlessly by having the right brand, giving confidence to large companies that the people running this authority are the kind of people they can work with.

SUMMARY

The point of this article really is to try and describe just why a local council might wish to invest in a bit of good branding. To help folks understand that despite the acute issue affecting them that the council should have used the money on, logo design isn’t a waste of taxpayer money.

There are ways that a council logo project could be a waste of money, be it simply a bad design solution or should they overspend, but the automatic response from press and public need not be one of hate and outrage.

I’d like to cover those elements a little more in future posts, which I will link to when I have done so!



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LogoCurio.us is a website sharing opinion on logo design and branding.

Kieran Harrod is a freelance designer based in the United Kingdom. more…

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I’d be delighted to receive your recommendations for brands and logos to review. All submissions should provide a link to a portfolio page or case study with multiple images. The more information you can provide, the more likely a brand will be reviewed.

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