The boss of a branding agency that overcame worldwide opposition to win a major, six-figure United Nations’ tender has revealed how he did it.
Ross Thornley, founder and strategic director of RT Brand Communications, headquartered in Wimborne, and colleagues spent 14 months rebranding the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) organisation.
RT Brand was challenged to increase the placement of volunteers mobilised annually by the UNV and instill a greater sense of pride and belonging in the volunteers themselves.
The UNV, founded in 1970, based in Bonn, Germany and overseen by the United Nations Development Programme, was facing a situation in which volunteerism potential was considered to be under-utilised – as disclosed in its Strategic Framework Report of 2014.
The report’s findings needed turning into action, with brand repositioning recognised as an area that could better support the UNV – active in 130 countries every year and with field units in 86 nations – in meeting its challenges.
RT Brand worked directly with Jennifer Stapper, Chief of UNV Communications, on a comprehensive plan of research, development and delivery throughout 2015 and 2016.
Ross said: “We began by comprehensively auditing all the huge amount of existing UNV material, from official reports produced in HQ to newsletters created in the field.
“A brand audit is a health check process designed to identify and deal with areas for improvement. It creates a benchmark of where the brand and communications materials stand in the current situation.”
This included workshops for initially sceptical staff, surveys, field work, desk research, pilot projects and meetings with top level UNV management.
Ross added: “It’s an opportunity to externally assess what a brand stands for, how it is perceived, the gaps in terms of future ambitions and the extent of the knowledge and skills needed to successfully implement any changes.
“We had a fresh approach and were not handicapped by ‘baggage’. We approached senior people directly and avoided the protocol-led way of working by which little is often achieved.
“We found examples of good practice as well as communication materials that were often long, formal in tone and inconsistent in style, thus sending out mixed messages.”
From that RT, founded in 2000 and employing 16 people, created a strategic ‘one-pager’ document to clarify and capture the overall purpose, outcomes and success criteria, providing a summary reference throughout the year.
That led to the delivery of a series of ‘communication principles’ setting out the need for UNV collective clarity and consistency as well as identifying areas in which the UNV could significantly improve brand strength.
Meanwhile, the creative team at RT was tasked to explore how the identity could be more modern, clearer and convey a much greater sense of confidence and bring solidarity to the community of volunteers.
The solution was a revised identity applicable in any language, simple colours and an emphasis on the volunteers as the heart of the organisation.
Ross, who led the project with collaborative, creative and strategic vision from colleagues, said: “We wanted to make the UNV simple, clarified and articulated. We looked at gaps between what they are doing and where the market needs them to be today.
“We wanted to change mindsets and perception internally and then externally. We gave them an opportunity to do something they wanted to do – a larger agency may not have been able to do this so well.”
The RT team created a short, four-minute video to explain the changes and followed this with the creation of a suite of brand tools to help the UNV communications team roll-out the project.
These included: a Brand Book, clarifying the communication messages; Brand Guidelines, a ‘how to use’ document setting out the visuals, styles and best practice and an online Communications Toolkit with a set of logo files, assets and templates. The full project roll-out is due by the end of the year.
Jennifer Stapper, Chief of UNV Communications, said: “We needed an agency that would understand how we worked and would appreciate that what we wanted to achieve was different from that of a commercial business.
“The RT team has gone to great lengths to get to know UNV in terms of our structure and culture as well as what we do.
“Their rigorous approach throughout the project has been fundamental to the success of managing complex stakeholders and supporting the internal changes needed to make many key decisions.
“The use of video throughout this project has made a real difference to how it was received. Not only does it give us an engaging way to share key stages of the project internally, but it reminds everyone of how formats such as video give us opportunities to communicate more powerfully.”
RT has now been recommended for other projects, including going to Bonn to make further videos and environment graphics, on the back of the UNV work.
Ross added: “What this project demonstrates is the strategic role of brand repositioning for a global organisation.
“Evolving a brand in this way is much more than refreshing a visual identity and handing it over. It requires a deep understanding of the challenges, the future opportunities and the gaps to resolve and creates an internal shift in mind-set, confidence and collective belief in a better future.
“It provides a whole set of brand tools to manage those changes and clear strategies to involve all the people who will collectively ensure the future success. Brand management doesn’t just sit with the professionals involved inside and outside an organisation.
“It is achieved through a positive shared understanding of why changes have been made and providing everyone with the guidance and support that they need to implement it successfully.
“Our aim was to make the volunteers proud, capture their imagination and emphasise the worth of volunteers – finding gems that exist, but are diluted in all the noise and content – and with this we were successful.”
The newly-launched UNV website can be found at www.unv.org