The Department of Homeland Security was only a month old, and already it had an image problem.
It was April 2003, and Susan Neely, a close aide to DHS Secretary Tom Ridge, decided the gargantuan new conglomeration of 22 federal agencies had to stand for something more than multicolored threat levels. It needed an identity -- not the "flavor of the day in terms of brand chic," as Neely put it, but something meant to last.
So she called in the branders.
Neely hired Landor Associates, the same company that invented the FedEx name and the BP sunflower, and together they began to rebrand a behemoth Landor described in a confidential briefing as a "disparate organization with a lack of focus." They developed a new DHS typeface (Joanna, with modifications) and color scheme (cool gray, red and hints of "punched-up" blue). They debated new uniforms for its armies of agents and focus-group-tested a new seal designed to convey "strength" and "gravitas." The department even got its own lapel pin, which was given to all 180,000 of its employees -- with Ridge's signature -- to celebrate its "brand launch" that June.
"It's got to have its own story," Neely explained.
Nearly three years after it was created in the largest government reorganization since the Department of Defense, DHS does have a story, but so far it is one of haphazard design, bureaucratic warfare and unfulfilled promises. The department's first significant test -- its response to Hurricane Katrina in August -- exposed a troubled organization where preparedness was more slogan than mission.