10 mins

Making the ultimate in Britishness truly global

By Steve Cook

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In what will be a mini-series of case studies, we outline the wide-ranging challenges, the strategic platforms, the innovative initiatives and the deep-rooted development of brand and culture that over 3 intensive years we defined and activated in one of the world’s leading (and oldest) professional institutions.

The mission was simple – to use the position of Global Head of Brand to grow RICS into the internationally recognized mark of property professionalism worldwide.

In this timeframe and because of this work, the following results were achieved:

  • RICS became the most media quoted institution in the world
  • Membership increased by 40%
  • Membership fees increased by 70% (thus reversing a negative cost per membership)
  • Member demographics changed from an 80-20 split in favour of UK members to a 60-40 split in favour of international members
  • Lowered the average age of members from 50 to 35, thereby securing a younger and more vibrant member base and future-facing member involvement
  • Created a commercial enterprise (RICS Books) that achieved annual revenues of £7m+ pa
  • Created joint membership affiliations with over 25 national surveyor organizations
  • Introduced via partnership agreements RICS courses into over 30 Universities around the world
  • Perhaps most importantly, the work created a necessary culture shift away from the rather stuffy and bureaucratic way of thinking that one might expect from a 250-year-old, British, Royal Institution, into a forward facing and internationally focused one.

None of the other successes could have been achieved without this.

Part One – the challenge

It’s difficult enough for a Brand Strategist to create profound, organization-wide progress in any environment, because of the marginalized, and totally wrong, view of brand held by many.

In the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), whilst leadership, unusually, created the role with the right understanding and intent, many people in the organization still viewed brand in the wrong way – “Ah, you’re the logocops” was a phrase we heard a lot in the first few months.

The challenge was compounded by the gulf between our given mission and three significant barriers – 1) that RICS was 250 years old, resistant to change and was the epitome of ‘Royal’ Britishness, 2) that Surveyors and Surveying was a highly misunderstood and marginalized profession; to most people “Surveyors, they are Estate Agents aren’t they?” and 3) that, as an Institution, RICS was governed by impenetrable member committees and had a powerful Fellow and Member base that considered membership as access to a social club as much as a career mark of professionalism.

For most members, RICS was literally a badge, a mark of quality and a gateway to gratuities. As a result, the overarching membership view was that the organization served them and that all they needed to do was commit to Chartered training and CPD, abide by the rules and regulations and pay membership fees.

In reality, surveying encapsulates over 270 recognized professions covering all areas of land, property and the built environment. Professions as diverse as art and antique dealing to deep sea oil exploration and historic battlefield mapping to global corporate portfolio management all come under surveying. RICS members – Chartered Surveyors – across all professions, were and are the best in their areas of expertise and the 37 professional faculties within RICS generated and generate truly world-leading research, reports and knowledge provision. RICS is impartial and can comment on and contribute to any initiative, anywhere in the world with impartiality – to Governments, populations, property developers and owners. As nations created their bids, applications and construction/infrastructure strategies for the 2012 Olympics, RICS was advising everyone of them (but we still, privately, went to Trafalgar Square and cheered when GB won!!!).

But (there’s always a but) …

At the time of our engagement, RICS had 170,000 members. 80% of members were UK based and 65% were over 40 years old. RICS had representation in 5 world regions but no affiliations with in-country national Surveyor Institutions. RICS did have a strong international reputation and was advising over 50 national governments on various aspects of policy for land use, property and the built environment, however, this reputation was not transferring into a recognition from Surveyors that Chartered status was available to them, that it was aspirational or that it would provide them with increased credibility and better career development.

In the UK, although RICS had strong regional bases and was affiliated with several Universities and many employer businesses, not enough of these were ensuring that students or new employees were taking up RICS membership. Although the RICS logo was recognized as a mark of quality by the public, employers and surveyors alike, the public only associated RICS with residential surveying and estate agency. As a result, there was very little recognition of the breadth and depth of surveyor involvement in their daily lives. There was even less understanding that RICS played a significant advisory role (and lobbied Government for change) in many key areas of their lives – urban development, housing policy, education and healthcare, transport, workplace, recreation and green spaces, environmental policy, wealth creation – even the Antiques Roadshow! As a result, there was little recognition from most surveying professions that RICS membership was valuable to them.

For many members, RICS was seen as a necessary evil. Many begrudged paying a membership fee at all and most saw that this should be their only contribution to the Institution – “It serves me, I’m the customer”. As a result, RICS had fallen into the trap of trying to give members more for their money. This extended from simple things like free drinks in the members bar to fundamental things like free access to empirical research, knowledge bases, events and data.

For some time, how to please the membership had become the driving mission of the institution. It had extended to the point that the cost of membership to RICS almost equalled the membership fee income itself and in some cases exceeded it. In addition, although RICS was highly regarded for the quality of its knowledge, insights, research and commentary, this was generated by a tiny fraction, less than 5%, of the total member base. As the Institution’s reputation relied in no small part on the ongoing generation of this world-leading work, a wider pool of active membership talent was required.

As can be seen, RICS faced many challenges, many of them interlinked and all of them potential barriers to the successful realization of our mission and the progress of the Institution.

We decided that the best strategic approach was to address all of these issues in parallel by establishing a number of core strategies and initiatives, supported by collaborative teams from across the organization, advocated by both the operational leadership and member committees and all underpinned by brand strategy.

Part Two of this case study will describe the strategies adopted and outline how organization-wide understanding of and support for brand was created.

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