Unveiling a new logo ranks high among communications challenges. Logos for established businesses contain emotion, which, upon a change, can spill into reaction, especially online in the era of social media outrage.
We have worked with clients in these situations to minimize controversy and maximize explanation and context. Even then, we have prepared clients for rough waters in at least the short-term in an environment where change stirs emotion and everyone feels empowered to take a turn as an art critic.
In a fragile business like media, a logo change should be handled strategically, ensuring that the organization making the change can speak for itself, carefully and deliberately to its audiences about why the change is necessary.
Gannett, owner of the Detroit Free Press and hundreds of newspapers and news websites across the country, took a different approach, at least in Detroit, among other markets nationally. The company changed the iconic Free Press logo to one mirroring its flagship, but non-local, USA Today branding, at least online. In the Detroit market, this is a jarring change, as the Olde English style, shared by the Tigers baseball team, is considered part of the regional identity.
Rather than execute what we would call a “change communications strategy,” which borrows from the fundamentals of crisis communications, corporate overlords sent a morning email to staff (just days after making a change in the executive editor’s office) and ordered the mandated move to go into effect online. In what should have been anticipated as a worst case scenario, it was brought to the public’s attention via social media posts by journalists at competing outlets, as chronicled by this item by Poynter, the nonprofit journalism educational institution.
Notably, there has been no communication from the company to the Free Press’ audience about the change. As we have written here many times before, including when Gannett ordered layoffs late last year, reducing the Free Press’ newsgathering resources without even making an effort to reassure its audiences, the corporations that run media ironically don’t practice the most core principles of PR.
Was this change the right decision? Will Gannett be able to grow revenue by piggybacking off the USA Today brand in a parochial market like Detroit? Does USA Today have stronger identity than a local brand that dates back to 1831? The future of an institution rests on the answers to those questions. This is a decision more than about font and color. It’s part of the future of a resource this community, and every community, needs, whether it’s in print, online or whatever is next. A group in a conference room in Virginia messed up the communications rollout. So often, that’s a symptom of bigger reasons for concern.