Branding has its place – but it’s helpful to know a Govt agency’s purpose

The headline on a press statement from the Government refers to the launch of a “new forestry scholarship”. This no doubt recognises that most of those who read it prefer to communicate in English,

The first sentence of the statement similarly says a new forestry scholarship has been launched at National Fieldays today by Forestry Ministers Shane Jones and Meka Whaitiri.

The new scholarship aims to grow the capability of the forestry sector and increase the number of women and Māori in the industry.

Then the statement adopts a practice that has the effect of obscuring what a department or programme actually does in favour of “branding” by giving it a Maori name:

“The new scholarship – Ngā Karapihi Uru Rākau – provides $8,000 a year to Māori and female students enrolling in either a Bachelor of Forestry Science or Bachelor of Engineering (Hons) in Forest Engineering at the University of Canterbury,” Shane Jones said.

“It also provides a paid internship with Te Uru Rākau (Forestry New Zealand) and other forestry employers.

“Four scholarships will be awarded for the 2019 academic year, and this will increase to a total of 18 over the next three years.

Similarly, when the government re-established a forestry service, it chose the name Te Uru Rakau. Jones talks of “branding” when discussing his aspirations for the agency.

When a new agency was established to incorporate Child, Youth and Family with bits of the Ministry of Social Development, the name chosen was bi-lingual  – Oranga Tamariki—Ministry for Children. This partly disguises the agency’s client base and mission in preference for restructuring and rebranding one of the previous government’s social welfare programmes.

State-owned enterprise Landcorp Farming got into the branding business a year or so ago when it launched Pamu (meaning “to farm” in Maori) as part of a strategy intended to better connect with its customers.

Landcorp bosses wanted to go further and rename the SOE Pamu but this was rebuffed by State-Owned Enterprises Minister Todd McClay

The company was initially called Land Corporation when it was set up as an SOE from the Department of Lands and Survey in 1987. The name was changed to Landcorp Farming in 2001.

In September 2014 company bosses wrote to McClay and Finance Minister Bill English asking to change its name to Pamu Farms of New Zealand, to better reflect a strategy of moving away from producing large volumes of mass agricultural commodities in favour of developing more specialised high-value contracts.

Chair Traci Houpapa wrote in a September 2014 letter to ministers requesting approval for the name change:

“The (Landcorp) name implies land ownership and corporate farming, neither element of which is popular nor is consistent with the image Landcorp is seeking to develop.”

But Landcorp – ahem – does farm vast amounts of land owned by the state on a corporate scale. Doesn’t it?

The aim clearly was to obscure things and win popularity by creating an “image”.

Landcorp had assessed more than 700 options before settling on Pamu and it believed the new name was simple, clear, and reflected the company’s position as the largest farmer in New Zealand, according to Houpapa.

“It is authentic to New Zealand and to the company, yet speaks to a fresh, new approach to farming,” she said.

“It is conservative on one hand, yet courageous on the other.”

Really? One unfamiliar four-letter word does all that?

The sceptics in the Treasury questioned the value of changing the company’s name and the value to be gained from such a change compared with the cost and resources needed to implement the change.

But don’t rule out a revisiting of the decision now we have a government with different ideas about the merits of branding with Maori words.

 

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