Minneapolis Police Turn to Branding to Burnish Reputation

'Compassionate' Pitch, New Squad Cars Lure Record Number of Minority Recruits

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- Cheer up, agencies. Sure, financial institutions, automakers and retailers are all cutting back these days, but one new category of business may be entering the marketing fray: police departments.

The Minneapolis Police Department last year hired Kazoo Branding, a local firm, to help clean up its image in an effort to improve minority recruiting -- and it got a brand makeover in the process, complete with new slogan and redesigned squad cars.

New recruitment materials carry the tagline 'Be looked up to' in an effort to emphasize service.
New recruitment materials carry the tagline 'Be looked up to' in an effort to emphasize service.
"As a branding guy, you get an opportunity to work on a lot of different things," said Kazoo account director Tom Dupont, whose small firm typically works with the likes of Hormel Foods, Pillsbury, Cargill and Pizza Hut. "But this was really something else."

Started with a brief
Like any other assignment, it started with a brief: Police officials wanted the department's diversity to better reflect the population it served, a task complicated by the department's less-than-pristine reputation within minority communities owing to a history of police-brutality complaints and, in 2007, a racial-discrimination complaint filed by five high-ranking officers. So the department asked Kazoo to find out what motivated minority recruits to enlist, and to help the department exude more of whatever that was.

Mr. Dupont attended roll calls at every precinct, polling as many officers as possible about what had motivated them to join the force. The answers -- to serve and protect, of course -- were expected, but it was clear, he said, that younger officers and minority officers tended to be more motivated by the service aspects of the job, while older officers may have been more drawn to the action-hero nature of police work.

So Kazoo set out to create recruitment materials that emphasized service. But when the rank-and-file got wind of a new emphasis on "compassion" in department communications, a fairly rough pushback ensued, particularly among officers Mr. Dupont described as "grizzled veterans."

"I'm used to dealing with business people, who are politicians," he said. "Cops are not politicians." Added Minneapolis Police Chief Tim Dolan: "If cops think something is silly or frilly, they let you know."

Ultimately, the officers and Mr. Dupont in the end reconciled their differences and agreed that a more diverse force was likely a safer one as well, and that a greater emphasis on service in communications could help achieve that.

'Serve with compassion'
They ultimately settled on a new slogan for the force, "To protect with courage, to serve with compassion," and a new tagline, "Be looked up to," that adorned a series of recruiting posters, reminiscent of old Hollywood lobby-theater prints, which showed officers lending a hand in various settings. A greater emphasis was placed on distributing those materials ub schools, universities, colleges, churches, job fairs and community centers, where they might connect with potential minority applicants.

The squad cars got redesigned, too, swapping a Spartan blue stripe for a more traditional black-and-white, with the new slogan, of course.

All of that may sound superficial but for the return on investment: This year's recruiting class is 50% minority, the highest percentage in department history. "We're very pleased with the work [Kazoo] did," said Chief Dolan. "I'd endorse this process for any police department."

It's not entirely clear that every officer agrees, however. Mr. Dupont shared an e-mail from a deputy chief explaining a department transfer of an officer he had worked closely with at the MPD: "BTW, Holly will be transferring from recruitment into our Assault Unit as an investigator. She said she couldn't take the stress of dealing with all those marketing folks."

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