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Insights Why public service providers are more susceptible to poor brand reputation and how to avoid this

Nicky Chute
Nicky Chute
Head of Marketing

06 Feb 2024

3 minute read

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There is nothing new about governments at every level acquiring services from outside suppliers. It’s a simple case of whether work is best done carried out by public servants or contractors and can be informed by numerous and well calculated business choices including, cost, timeliness, experience, expertise, quality and efficiency.

What also likely won’t come as a shock is that businesses providing a service to the public have now become accountable to the end-user - the general taxpaying public - and not just their immediate clients (aka government). 

In today's interconnected world, the reputation of public service provider firms in the UK holds a significant weight, influencing public trust, credibility, and naturally their ability to win or retain contracts. Poor brand reputation can have far-reaching consequences, affecting not only the organisation itself but also the communities it serves. 

In this article, we’ll explore the detrimental effects of poor brand reputation for public service providers and discuss how effective marketing strategies can be employed to combat some of these issues.

The effects of bad brand reputation

One huge factor to consider when it comes to brand reputation is trust. Public service organisations depend on the trust of the citizens they serve. Ultimately spending the budget from a government contract is seen by many as directly spending the taxpayer’s money. This often means that everyone has an opinion. 

We know that the scope of services can be vast - from healthcare, immigration, defence, transport, and education to waste collection - and touch millions of lives. That’s why transparency, customer relationship interfaces, personalisation, and protection of privacy and security amongst others, are all paramount. As a result, any negative experience or PR can lead to poor brand reputation, eroding trust and leading to scepticism and decreased confidence in the organisation's ability to deliver on its promises. This loss of trust can result in decreased cooperation from the public and a reluctance to use or engage those public services.

Another factor the public services sector needs to consider is attracting talent into the industry. Firms need a talented and dedicated workforce to fulfil their obligations effectively. So having a bad brand reputation won’t help matters. Potential employees are almost certainly going to be discouraged from joining an organisation with a poor reputation, making it difficult to secure the best candidates, further adding to wider issues the sector faces. A culture of excellence, training and development, expertise and of course strong values and ethics - are all major factors for potential employees.

Perhaps most importantly, organisations need to remember that their reputation can have a make or break impact on government contracts being renewed. 

Furthermore, poor brand reputation can attract unwanted legal and regulatory attention. Allegations of wrongdoing or mismanagement can lead to investigations, audits, and increased oversight, all of which can be costly, time-consuming, and detrimental to an organisation's efficiency.

How brand and marketing can help

So, the question is, how can marketing help? 

The first step in resolving bad brand reputation is to have an awareness of your brand reputation in the first place. Conducting a comprehensive brand audit is vital in understanding the current brand landscape and its perception. If there are any issues identified, then unearthing the root causes of the negative perception will be key, so gathering feedback from stakeholders, conducting surveys, and monitoring social media and news coverage is a great way to do this. This data will serve as the foundation for developing a targeted marketing strategy.

In some circumstances, reviewing your brand strategy and how this is brought to life can help with the public's perception of your organisation. The goal is to highlight the organisation's purpose, values, commitment to ESG and the community, and the positive impact it has on people's lives. This may or may not also include refreshing your visual identity or adopting a new messaging strategy.

Something that all public services firms need to remember is the importance of open and honest communication with their employees and their end-users; this is essential in rebuilding trust. Public sector organisations should be transparent about their actions, challenges and efforts to improve. This can be done through regular updates via the power of social media, press releases, community events etc, so as to convey a sense of responsibility and a commitment to being a force for good. In return, listening to the concerns and needs of the public and acting upon them demonstrates a genuine commitment to improvement.

However, as mentioned above, we need to focus on your employees and not just on the end-user. At the end of the day, they should be your brand ambassadors! Investing in training and engagement processes can have a profound impact; staff who understand the organisation's mission and values and are motivated to convey a positive image can be powerful advocates. 

And finally, like with anything in marketing, everything we do needs to be measurable to some degree so we can ensure the effectiveness of these marketing efforts. Whether you monitor public sentiment, engagement metrics, or use other key performance indicators, like social media metrics, to gauge progress, it’s important to adjust your strategy as needed to address evolving concerns and expectations as they arise, or even better – before. 

We all know that poor brand reputation can have profound negative effects but this is especially so within public sector firms in the UK – from eroding public trust to hindering funding and talent acquisition. However, with a strategic and well-executed brand and marketing approach, these issues can be resolved. Rebuilding positive brand reputation involves many factors, but a combination of messaging, transparent communication, community engagement, and leveraging digital marketing can be key when executed in the right way. 

It’s important to remember that it's a long-term effort that requires dedication and a commitment to change, but the benefits of a restored brand reputation are well worth the investment. By restoring trust and credibility, public service providers can better serve their communities and fulfil their vital missions.

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