The Brand of “We” Versus the Brand of “Me”

Part One – the Brand of “We”

I believe that the U.S. Coast Guard is truly forward thinking when it comes to its real-time communications strategy, its open and visionary social media policy and its willingness to be nimble and adaptable as the news media climate evolves.  As a proud public affairs reservist and a public relations/social media strategist in my civilian life, I often struggle with the fact that the Coast Guard’s brand and communications strategy don’t always mesh.  In all fairness, as a reservist, I don’t always have insight into the daily communication from headquarters or the field units.

We're in this together...
We’re in this together…

Why should each of us care about a cohesive, consistent brand and communications strategy for the Coast Guard?

Because it is so critical that we consider how we as a branch of the military want to be portrayed in the media and in the public eye. This is how we build taxpayer trust, support from our elected officials and confidence from our partner organizations.  We could not do our jobs every day without these three things.

An organization’s brand is often conveyed in values or feelings.  For the Coast Guard, the emphasis appears to be on tradition, security, guardianship and in our amazing ability to save lives in the most trying of circumstances.  I know many of our official press releases have “1790. A tradition of excellence.” at the bottom of the page.  I believe this statement is intended to convey some of the Coast Guard’s brand values.

Working hard to save lives...

An organization’s key messages and overarching communications strategy – in a perfect world – should tie back to the brand and the aforementioned brand values.  While the Coast Guard is adept at releasing time-sensitive news to the media and general public, we communicators often lose messaging focus as we compete with the frenzied pace of a 24-hour news cycle.  I’ll be honest – it’s tough to consider our brand when a high-stakes case is getting lots of attention from the media and the blogosphere.

However, if we’re inconsistent, the public must be even more confused with who we are…take a look:

What does the Coast Guard do?

The good news is that we have the beginning framework in place to build out a more robust communications strategy.  This plan should be complete with clear messaging that ties back to our overall brand.  We have able communicators (everyone in the Coast Guard is a spokesperson – not just the public affairs specialists!) who must go through regular public affairs training at the unit level.  The Coast Guard also has an open policy when it comes to spokesperson duties and social media usage.

So, what are my suggested next steps?

  • Define a mechanism for receiving feedback from all ranks and rates within the Coast Guard and how each of us tells collective story.  It would be fun to kick off this effort with a virtual town hall, which would serve as an online, real-time forum for feedback.  Let’s get everyone excited about participating and sharing their vision for the Coast Guard!
  • Build a clearly defined communications strategy that maps back to the Coast Guard’s overall brand, while still maintaining relevance to our target audiences.  We should also be conducting a brand check every so often to ensure our values are in alignment.
  • Communicate the key messages to the units and provide updated public affairs guidance to everyone, as we must all take responsibility for portraying a positive image of who we are and what we do.
  • Ensure consistency of the brand and key messages in press releases, in the look and feel for official websites (I ask you to compare the public affairs sites from three different Coast Guard districts and ask if they appear to be from the same government agency) and in social media channels such as Twitter, Facebook and the official blog – Coast Guard Compass.
Our communications efforts must be in sync...
Our communications efforts must be in sync…

Ultimately, in this era when budgets are tight and some public agencies are reducing services, we must understand that we exist solely to serve the public.  It is critical that we all are able to clearly and consistently share our story as America’s guardians.  The Coast Guard performs the most amazing feats each and every day – we all have a stake in how that good work is communicated.

I’d welcome your feedback and stay tuned for part two – the Brand of “Me.”

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