Five minutes with…Ellie Orton, Chief Executive of NHS Charities Together

Five minutes with…Ellie Orton, Chief Executive of NHS Charities Together
Published: 17 February 2020

NHS Charities Together is the new name for the Association of NHS Charities. In this edition of 'Five minutes with...' Berwick Partners’ Hannah Wade, an Associate Partner in our Not-for-Profit practice, spoke to Ellie about the decision to rebrand a respected membership organisation. Ellie discussed her leadership through the process and how she avoided various pitfalls, managed expectations and utilised quick wins, all of which has led to a successful rebrand that has opened up opportunities for the organisation and its members.

How did you come to a decision to rebrand?

We came to the decision to rebrand after putting together a new vision and strategy shortly after I started as Chief Executive. As part of this process, it became clear that members of the association wanted a brand that was much more public-facing. The aim has been to raise the profile of NHS charities and the understanding of what NHS charities are amongst the NHS and the public. The ‘Association of NHS Charities’ didn’t feel like a very ‘public-facing’ brand.

The term ‘NHS Charities Together’ had been used during the campaign for the 70th birthday of the NHS and a lot of our members came to us to say that they liked the name and thought it would work well for us. As an external brand, ‘NHS Charities Together’ was already better-known than the Association name was. It had a small social media presence, as well as its own logo, so we didn’t need to do any work on that. Therefore, we managed to get the brand licence from the Department of Health quite easily as ‘NHS Charities Together’ had already been used for a successful campaign.

How does your new brand reflect your mission and values?

Understanding and creating our mission and values was our starting point, together with our new vision for NHS charities to be the nation’s biggest independent supporters of health and well-being. We wanted to have that collectiveness reflected in the name.

The new branding was not about our own profile; it was about creating something that reflected all of the NHS charities, so that we could point back to our members as a B2B organisation, talk about the collective, and show the appetite for, and value of, our members working together. Coming together and sharing best practice is one of the things which our members say is best about our membership. They are not competitive; they happily share ideas and initiatives as well as enjoying being together and networking. Our members highly value each other and their collectiveness, therefore, it was important to reflect this in the new brand ‘NHS Charities Together’.

What are the key ingredients to a successful rebrand?

Starting with the vision, mission and values – it was key for us to find a brand that reflects this. We also ensured that we consulted and listened to key stakeholders. For us, our key stakeholders were not only our members, but also the NHS nationally and other external partners. We needed to have an understanding of what the name says to the wider public. ‘NHS Charities Together’ does what it says on the tin, and that for us, has been the simplest measure of success.

The other thing for us was what our brand looked like in terms of the colours. We were slightly dictated by ‘NHS blue’ in terms of what we could and couldn’t use. This was to ensure that the brands could be used together in national campaigns from the Department of Health; we had to work with NHS brand guidelines so that the logo would sit well amongst the NHS nation brand. We feel we achieved this successfully.

What were the main challenges you faced during the rebranding process?

Bringing everyone with us. Many of our members really wanted to do this and all our external stakeholders ‘got it’. However, there were one or two people who were influential within the Board who liked the original name of the Association, as well as the old way of doing things, and they were worried that we weren’t bringing everyone with us. The key to overcoming that challenge was undertaking a good consultation, and because we’d received such good feedback, we were able to demonstrate we could take everyone with us on this journey of change.

We then had the challenge of getting a brand licence from the DHSC (Department of Health & Social Care), which took five months. Finally, it was just the practicalities, of getting the finances agreed. Thankfully, we had an individual sponsor who came out of nowhere as we didn’t have a budget to put behind the rebrand.

One of the hardest things was knowing that we were going to rebrand and rename, and that we’d got the branding right and approved, but still using the old brand until the launch and managing the transition from one to the other. Due to ‘NHS Charities Together’ being used previously for a campaign the year before, we were operating under two brands for about a year to 18 months. Some people will still talk about the Association even though we launched the new brand in September 2019.

How have you ensured that your rebrand is future-proofed?

Ensuring the colours work with other national NHS brands is important. I think the logo will get a re-spruce at some point rather than the name, because it was pulled together very, very quickly for the 70th birthday celebrations, but we feel that the name ‘NHS Charities Together’ is pretty future-proof.

How will you measure the success of your rebrand and what measures do you have in place?

It was a strategic objective to raise the profile of NHS charities, and therefore the top measure will be the reality of whether we have raised the profile of NHS charities as a collective as an external brand.

We work with JC Decaux as an external advertising agency. They began working with us in January 2019, running a survey for us with the public that asked members of the public the following questions:

  •  ‘Have you ever heard of NHS charities?’ If so, ‘can you name one?’
  • ‘Would you consider fundraising for them?’

From the feedback, we know that two out of three adults really did not understand what an NHS charity was. We know the charities that they have heard of because they were named, so we can use the partnership with JC Decaux to re-measure awareness again of NHS Charities and our own brand.

What should other charities bear in mind when considering a rebrand?

My top three questions would be:

  • Does your rebrand show your values?
  • Does it clearly point to who you are and what you do?
  • Does it aesthetically work with you other organisations that you work closely with?

For us, we needed to work alongside the NHS brand and the Association brand, but we don’t want our brand to be so striking that it takes away from our members’ brands. Make sure you can do it manageably, working with what you have. Don’t be afraid of letting it evolve. Don’t try and over complicate it.

As CEO, what have you learned about yourself in this role?

I’ve learned how important it is to bring everyone together, internally and externally, so that you can listen and learn, and understand what is important and what is not. This was key on our journey so that everyone was fully supportive and knew what was happening.

Not rushing into the process was really important. As CEO, I could have just said ‘right, we are rebranding now’, but asking questions of members and listening to people about when and how we could do it, bringing on their ideas, was key to the success. I think the biggest thing I learnt and the biggest growth for me, and not just through the rebrand, is managing upwards. As CEO, you have a Board that you need to look after, which can include managing a range of different expectations and priorities.

Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently?

I think that we did much more than we could possibly have hoped of doing given the resources we had available. I look back on, not just the rebrand, but the whole of 2019, and what we delivered during the year is phenomenal. It includes our first nationwide campaign, a rebrand, moving to an incorporated charitable company, membership growth, team changes and growth, as well as a full suite of member events and services. It was a high- achieving year, and it was successful because of our brilliant team, our very supportive board of trustees and committed membership. I am very proud of what we all achieved together and also very proud to be working under the banner of NHS Charities Together – putting our members, who collectively give a £1million a day to the NHS, front and centre.

For more information, please contact Hannah Wade who is an Associate Partner in the Not for Profit practice.

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