It is ten years since the Post Office advertised on television. And
even then, the commercials were re-runs of two year-old spots.
Deborah Maxwell, the company's head of brand marketing, is in a hurry to
put right this decade of neglect. Within a year of joining the company,
Maxwell has secured a pounds 15 million marketing budget - a pounds 9
million increase on previous years - and appointed Publicis to
reposition the brand.
'Publicis was the one agency that pushed us beyond the comfort zone,'
she says. 'It didn't just suggest we present a collective happy face.
People are usually afraid of rocking the boat, but Publicis wanted to
change things and it made us look professional.'
It is not an easy task, as Maxwell, who joined after one year at the
Woolwich and seven years at the AA, is the first to admit. 'We are all
things to all men, and different audiences want different things. That
makes it difficult.'
Publicis, Maxwell says, has come up with a catch-all endline that will
be revealed when the new campaign goes on air in the second week of
Advertising will be 'product-based but brand-led' and will focus on a
Internally, the Post Office has come a long way in the past ten
It offers travel insurance, currency exchange, cashpoints (in
conjunction with Alliance & Leicester) and online options. Yet, despite
the changes, your average pensioner still feels at home every time they
pop along to collect their benefits.
In truth, the advances have been a nod to changes rather than a Post
Office counter revolution.
Maxwell's long-term role is to make sure that, once the Government
starts paying benefits directly into recipients' bank accounts in 2003,
people still find a reason to go to the Post Office.
Picking up a driving licence application or sending the odd parcel will
not be enough to keep the 18,000 branches in business, and the existing
level of 28 million customers a week will be hard to sustain. In fact,
unless drastic action is taken, Maxwell expects the number of customers
to drop by 40 per cent overnight.
Universal Bank, a basic banking offering which is being developed with
the Government and banking partners, should help to keep customers
coming in. The final name for the bank is expected to be the Post Office
Card Account, which should also help to raise awareness of the overall
'Our problem is that we have never behaved like a brand; we've behaved
like a government institution,' Maxwell says. 'We've always under-rated
Her vision for the Post Office is ambitious - she wants to be up there
with Tesco as one of the UK's top ten brands within five years - but
with spontaneous awareness of the Post Office at just 3 per cent, she
has a long way to go.
'We are taken for granted,' Maxwell adds, 'but we are at the heart of
the community and people would be lost without us. I always say that we
are like the pavement - you don't really notice it's there but if it
disappeared, it would be unpleasant. We have to make people remember we
are there and make them think again.'
The recent rebranding of the Post Office's parent company as Consignia
will, she is convinced, help her goal in the long term.
Before the move, there were two operations using the name Post Office,
but now the situation is much clearer: Consignia is one big corporation
with three divisions - Parcelforce, Royal Mail and Post Office
'It's fabulous for us,' Maxwell says. 'Now there is only one consumer
brand called the Post Office.'
However, that one brand is still hard to govern when many of your
branches are stuck at the back of convenience stores. Maxwell wants to
build on the trust that consumers have in the Post Office, which handles
pounds 140 billion of their cash every year.
'Banks and travel agents are closing,' she points out, 'so people will
trust us to carry on with those services.' But Post Offices are also
closing - at what she calls the 'normal attrition rate' of 200 branches
The closures are usually due to a postmaster or postmistress retiring
and not being able to find anyone to carry on the business.
It is just this sort of sleepy non-image that the Post Office needs to
confront with its advertising. Even the dynamic Maxwell has to be
realistic about the speed at which she can change things. 'This is our
warm-up year,' she says, 'but new and different things are coming.'