So the tweets have hit the fan this week over that eternal angst of the sector – ‘why does nobody like us?’. Colin Wiles, as ever, makes a solid set of points. We’re not a failed brand, people do like us, we provide a good product. Similar thoughts are echoed by Speye, who in turn notes the dysfunctional and splintered nature of the sector and the bodies that represent it. It does somewhat remind me of the Judean People’s Front ala Monty Python.
Teenage-esk self doubt aside for me the point needs to be made that we are still piss poor at promoting the our work beyond the sector. The product itself is good (by and large). The selling of it, not so much. In my interactions with some of the greater good the great and the good I put forward the case that we either need to change the nature of the beast or get better at highlighting the good work it does. Labels matter little if your product is good but your PR men/women/goats are asleep at the wheel.
Part of the solution to this lies at the feet of our professional bodies. The NHF (Judean People’s Front) and CIH (The People’s Front of Judea). How many times have they been doing the sofa rounds on morning tv? How many appearances have they had on question time? I appreciate a lot of hard work goes on in the background but frankly the general public doesn’t give a flying fuck about that. We need a much bigger, bolder and visible presence. As Peter Hall has previously noted we need to go beyond just talking to ourselves.
Being loud works. Part of the reason UKIP was so popular for the European elections was because Nigel Farage said things stupidly, but regularly. He’s got the old English chap routine nailed down and like Boris ‘gaffaw hurrmph’ Johnson people like them because they have a certain style and personality. More importantly their ‘brands’ are known. None of that boring, bland comms malark eh Nick Aitkin? (for an interesting counter point on this subject see Rob Jefferson’s blog In defence of #ukhousing comms).
Like it or loath it we are still pretty unknown outside of the sector. I was born and raised in Worcester we have had no council housing for years. All social housing in the county is owned by social landlords. Yet most still refer to it as council housing. I have lost count of the times I’ve had the conversation explaining this fact, even to those living in social housing. If we can’t even get our brand right with our own customers we can’t hope to sway public opinion.
So it is not so much that the brand social housing is broken, just that it has never been properly marketed. Half-truths and gossip have run amok in the absence of solid propaganda. Case and point Orbit and the Apni Hawelli housing scheme PR incident.
A guest speaker I saw last year made a very good, if slightly disheartening point. It was on the subject of branding, customer satisfaction and profitability. He highlighted Ryanair and Virgin Airways, noting that one was consistently slammed for poor service and satisfaction levels, the other was the darling of the sector. One was recording record profits whilst the other struggled to break even. Guess which was which? Sometimes being good at your job is not enough. If people want a rival’s product they will buy it.
We provide a better product, it is cheaper, more secure and in the long run provides a greater public good than our rivals in the private sector. We need to ensure the public knows this, can benefit from this and ultimately buys into the idea of social housing as much as the need for it.