When the agency transforms the customer – and the other way around
Thursday, 25 September, 2014
At Gravity, we develop companies – and the people working in the companies – through communication. We assist in identifying the purpose of their brand and making it meaningful to others. Often, the development is actually leading to a transformation of the customer’s business. And sometimes it even develops and transforms us.
We believe that meaningful communication moves mountains. That is our declared purpose as strategists, consultants, and communicators and it is the preliminary culmination of our own development from Masters to Gravity.
A milestone in our development
A project that we carried out in 2012 with Kolding Municipality became an important milestone in our own development. Then our company was still called Masters, and we focused mainly on identifying, formulating, and visualizing the right messages to the right target groups. We realized, however, that in reality we were often doing much more than that. We assisted our customers in identifying their meaningful purpose and developing their business and communication in the right direction. That’s our foundation today and here you can read about one of the projects that made us realize that.
It all started with a strategy in Kolding and ended in a new national agenda.
A Kolding strategy that caught the ears of our Parliament
Even the best strategy may be derailed, if nobody understands it. Or bothers to read it. That’s why the Department of Social and Health Services of Kolding Municipality chose to seek sparring and advice concerning its new welfare strategy from at that time Masters. The final result was quite different from what was expected and resonated both in the Danish Parliament and the national media.
Money was not the driving force behind the opinion of the politicians and the bureaucrats, led by Lars Rasmussen, Head of the Department of Social and Health Services, and Birte Muhs, Head of Development, that the welfare system to some degree was out of control. They thought that the system was often more harmful than beneficial to the citizens and that welfare had become more about citizens’ entitlements than their needs.
Four sentences summarize the essence of the self-esteem strategy of Kolding Municipality and explain what self-esteem is and why it is worth more than welfare.
The debate on welfare needed a lift to a new level
Distribution of various services had become automatic at high costs. And what was worse according to Lars Rasmussen and Birte Muhs, people had become institutionalized and society in general weakened. Kolding Municipality wanted a shift in paradigm and lift the debate about tomorrow’s welfare to a new level.
The Municipality wanted its citizens to assume responsibility for their own lives to a greater extent and to get by without assistance from the Municipality. Not to save money but out of respect for the individual human being.
The message was strong but unclear
The Department of Social and Health Services had worked long and hard to formulate their approach into a strategy, but the message appeared not to be totally clear. It was actually rather unclear, Lars Rasmussen and Birte Muhs thought. Add to this that any discussion of changes to the welfare system is a politically hot potato. So there were many good reasons to be extremely careful when formulating the strategy. It had to be meaningful to have any effect. They needed to present the issues so clearly that everybody realized that something had to be done.
“We chose Masters because we had put many resources into the development of the new welfare strategy as we still called it at the time. We wanted to communicate it so that both employees and citizens understood it and could relate to it,” Birte Muhs, Head of Development, explains.
Is it possible to omit the word Welfare from a strategy on welfare?
Masters chose a more fundamental approach than just editing the strategy for two reasons.
“We had a clear sense that people were sick and tired of the word ‘welfare’. The debate on the welfare society was going nowhere, and the word itself had negative connotations. It was our assessment that to create any interest in this subject, we needed to reinvent the terminology,” says Søren Schnedler, CEO at Gravity.
When communication moves not just messages
The second reason was provided by Kolding Municipality in a letter to a caseworker in the department from a mother with a disabled child.
I would first like to thank you for the many rejections … Thank you for a good and professional handling of our case and for having seen me as a resourceful parent who can handle it on her own. And for giving me what I needed, not what I asked for.
“During the process at Masters, the idea to use the strategy more like a concrete tool was introduced. The sentence Self-esteem is more than Welfare was a precise reflection of the approach described by the mother in her letter and which we also apply to municipal services and to assisting citizens,” Birte Muhs, Head of Development, explains and continues:
“To me, it is a very good example showing that communication can be used for much more than just delivering a message. It can be used for sparring and development of a strategy and to set the stage for changes to both attitudes and behavior.”
Clear requirements to Kolding’s strategy on self-esteem had to be met. The employees should be able to understand and use it, and it should be noted and discussed by the parliamentarians in our Parliament. Both requirements were met.
Welfare became self-esteem and Masters became Gravity
Some time after the completion of the strategy on self-esteem Søren Schnedler, CEO at Gravity, sat next to a social worker from Kolding Municipality during an event. He asked her whether she had heard about the strategy and was able to use it.
“Yes, it is quite fantastic. We use it every day, you know,” was the answer. The internal integration had succeeded.
The second goal of the strategy was to change the point of departure of the public debate on tomorrow’s society. The expression Self-esteem is more than Welfare transformed the strategy of Kolding Municipality. And it also assisted in the transformation of Masters to Gravity.
During the process it became clear to us that we to a high degree move mountains with communication. When we identify the purpose of a brand, a company, or – as was the case in Kolding – a strategy and succeed in making it meaningful to others, then we are no longer an advertising agency. Then we are strategic sparring partners creating transformation through communication. That’s the way, we perceive ourselves. And that’s how we approach our customers and their challenges.
Illustration in the daily newspaper Politiken
Self-esteem lives on
A comprehensive article in the magazine Ugebrevet Mandag Morgen placed the strategy of self-esteem of the municipality squarely on the public agenda. The expression Self-esteem is more than Welfare was repeated in an essay by Margrethe Vestager, Minister of Economic Affairs and the Interior at the time, Erik Nielsen, President of Local Government Denmark, and Bent Hansen, President of Danish Regions. Latest, KMD has sent out invitations to a conference with the title “Self-esteem is more than Welfare.” And yes, of course you may use the expression. That was exactly my intention.
The declaration in the preface of the self-esteem strategy, signed by all members of two political committees in Kolding Municipality.