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Finding our voice: Teach First’s experience

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Hannah Essex and Rachel Esplen,Teach First …

Hannah Essex and Rachel Esplen,Teach First
Communicating core values through language and tone of voice seminar

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  • Our original brand focused on the graduate journey; their leadership development and what they could get out of an experience in the classroom (emphasised by our strapline “Learning to Lead”Whilst belief and motivation to help our primary beneficiaries – the pupils – was still strong internally – we had forgotten to communicate this externallyAs a result, awareness and understanding of who we are and why we exist amongst some of our key stakeholders was low
  • Brief into to Teach First; what is the problem and what are we doing about it?We’re here to talk to you about the process we’ve gone through to find and articulate our new brand personality. To kick things off, we’re going back a couple of years to the start of the process…
  • This was also a result of a lack of clear internal guidelines or a central comms team – our publications and communications were moving in different directions which resulted in a fragmented and often confusing appearance to outsidersPeople wondered whether our different publications, websites and overall messaging belonged to the same organisationOur branding (both visual and verbal) was distant and corporate; it didn’t put the child at the centre or invite people in to be part of our work
  • We produced clear brand guidelines, a style guide, drew up a list of trusted suppliers and centralised our comms teamWith our visual identity now more in line with the way we needed people to perceive us, we began thinking about how our messaging needed to change tooIt’s worth pointing out that since we went through the visual rebrand in 2010, our visual style has altered further to really fit with the brand personality we are about to run through with you. We’ve since updated our visual brand guidelines to ensure that we adopt more of a charity and less of a corporate feel to our materials, and that our diverse community, rather than just our teachers, are at the heart of it.
  • Leadership Team trip to India sparked a real change – we saw how Teach For India present the problem first, followed by what solution is needed, and finally how their organisation can contribute to that solutionWe took this back to Teach First and thought about how we could adopt a similar approach; we created a core message framework and worked with colleagues to encourage them to incorporate this approach in their communication and engagement with stakeholders
  • After extensive consultation we agreed on a new vision – bold and ambitious – that sets out what we believe in and what we are working towards.For other people to come on board with this vision, we knew it was vital that the way we talk about the problem and what we’re doing about it had to be bold and ambitious too. We wanted people to think that we were a bold and ambitious organisation, tackling a serious problem, to motivate them to act.Link new vision to strategy developmentsNow passing over to Rachel who is going to talk about how we went about finding and defining our new brand personality, and what work still needs to be done…
  • We worked with Neo who ran workshops for employees from communications, marketing and fundraising, to help us work out how we wanted people to feel about us as an organisationThis process led to a lot of home truths; we see ourselves as a dynamic and passionate charity with a bold, clear vision, but this doesn’t always come across in the way we communicate and represent ourselvesBecause the problem we are here to solve is complex (ed. disadvantage looks different in different places and affects people in different ways), the way we deal with it has to be complex, and the way we have been communicating this is complexWe focus too much on what we do and not why we do it – we know that if people aren’t aware of what we do and why, we won’t be able to attract people to support, fund, partner and join us, and we won’t be able to achieve the vision
  • Following the workshops with Neo, we drafted brand personality guidelines. These focused on the four personality traits we had chosen as the ones we wanted people to feel about us as a charity.We explored these in detail, relating them back to the work we do and why we do it;Bold – we make an impact with our work. So should our words. Messaging should be energetic and make people sit up and listenReal – we work in the real world of schools and business and we deal with young people’s lives and futures. Write how you would speakThought-provoking – we want to change the way people think about education and about what young people can achieve. (we can’t assume people know about or understand the problem)Optimistic – We believe we can achieve our vision – make other people believe it too by making messaging really inclusive – present solution as well as probWe provided examples so employees could see how our new brand personality might work in action
  • We presented the brand personality guidelines to the rest of the organisation at a tailored session at our Christmas offsiteEach member of our department ran a session to engage colleagues in this new and different way of communicatingThis was only an introductory session and we knew we had more work to do; some people who worked in very different departments, i.e. programme, couldn’t immediately see how this change would affect them, and others needed a lot more detail about how they could apply it to their different audienceAs a result of the feedback we are now working to create a stakeholder messaging framework so colleagues can see how they can adapt our brand personality to suit their own audiencesWe have also set up Championing Teach First sessions where employees can join us for 2 ½ hours to learn more about our brand and how to champion it in their day to day roles and make it work for them
  • We felt that employees needed more support to be able to actively and accurately champion the brand – as a result we launched our brand toolkit, based on something that our sister organisation, Teach For America, had put togetherThis provides everyone with our branded materials, guidance and resources to help support them to produce accurate, creative and consistent communicationsIt also takes away some of the strain on the central brand comms team and empowers others to see the brand as something everyone should be proud to champion
  • Our work isn’t finished. We need to constantly assess how we are using and championing our brand personality and eventually, measure the impact that it is having on raising awareness and understanding to inform future brand developmentBrand audits of online and offline content every two months to look at marketing and communications across Teach First but also to see whether our behaviour and the way we present ourselves is really in line with our personality, i.e. at events, on blogs etc. Brand audits are a good way of checking progress and re-evaluating our approach – i.e. line between consistency and flexibility. Will also help us recognise when things are going off-brand so we can put remedies in place, such as extra guidelines. This is also an opportunity to check that all of the content and materials we produce fully reflect the diversity of the communities we work with.
  • Hannah - A living example of how we are championing our new brand personality, Every Child Can is a new fundraising campaign to shine a light on the inequality in education that exists across the UK, and present our solution to it (one amazing teacher), done in a way that motivates the general public to care and put their hands in their pocketsbold – first ever fundraising campaign, not being shy of asking for moneyreal – getting the young people to tell their storiesthought-provoking – using stories to create a picture in people’s heads to motivate them to care and then actoptimistic – presenting the solution as well as the problem – the ability of a great teacher to change things


  • 1. Communicating core valuesthrough language and tone ofvoiceSeminar25 April 2013, London#CClanguage
  • 2. Finding our voice25 April 2013Hannah Essex and Rachel Esplen
  • 3. Why did our brand need to change?• In 2010, only 13% of parents, 10% of employers and 48% of teacherswere aware of Teach First.• Of these, 56% of parents, 48% of employers and 54% of teachersthought that Teach First is a government scheme.
  • 4. Working out who we wanted to be“A brand is what people say about you when you’ve left the room”
  • 5. Defining our personality• Bold, dynamic• Real, straight-talking• Thought-provoking, fresh• Optimistic, approachable
  • 6. Communicating who we want to beEducational disadvantage remains one of the most destructive andpervasive problems in the UK – perpetuating inequality and confiningthousands of young people up and down the country to a life ofunrealised potentialIf you are not given a fair chance in the classroom, you are notgiven a fair chance in life
  • 7. Next steps
  • 8. Hannah Essex, hessex@teachfirst.org.ukRachel Esplen, resplen@teachfirst.org.uk