In January 2013, FE Week was first to report that the merged Lewisham and Southwark colleges, in South London, would be renaming to Lesoco. And just over two months ago, we exclusively revealed the cost — and unpopularity — of the £290k new brand. Ioan Morgan explains why the merged college is called Lesoco no more.
You can change the signs, the logos and the title on your website — but you have only succeeded in changing the name in practical terms if you have convinced the public to refer to you by your new title.
As interim principal, I found that Lesoco had many issues around identity. The name just wasn’t working for us. It was just too obscure.
That said, there was some logic to the name. It draws on the original merged college’s title. Some would argue it has a trendy feel — like Soho in London, or Tribeca in New York — and that this would inspire our potential customers by projecting an image which is non-stodgy, aspirational and even “cool”.
Cool, perhaps, but clearly not popular with learners, stakeholders and staff.
It was described variously as unintelligible, obscure, confusing, pretentious and as the manifestation of a corporate mid-life crisis. Apart from that, people really liked it.
Of course, if the college had a multi-million pound budget to educate potential customers — as Norwich Union did in the transition to Aviva, or Arthur Anderson to Accenture — it might, just possibly, have worked.
Even then, it would be hard to see that the novelty of the new title would compensate for losing the reference to the locations we serve.
It is now possible to mention the name of the college to a cab driver without being met by a blank face
Unlike Aviva and Accenture, we are not a national or international business. Our location is everything to us and, of course, it is everything to our communities. In addition, we enjoy enormous support from the local boroughs.
In any case, we weren’t going to spend that sort of money. If we did, and if we wanted to improve the college’s image, we’d have done better spending the money on paint.
So the decision was made to revert to Lewisham Southwark College, which we did in steps. First by extending the Lesoco logo so the old name was kept alive until we had formal permission for the change from the Secretary of State. Second by beginning a rebrand of all our materials once permission was forthcoming, and this we are now doing.
Quietly and confidently, we are reverting back to a title almost identical to the original Lewisham and Southwark College. In doing do, we recapture the credibility we previously enjoyed from being associated with two colleges with pedigree which preceded our merger.
On a practical level, it is now possible to mention the name of the college to a cab driver without being met by a blank face. You know a rebranding exercise has failed if you can’t get a cab to the college without resorting to its previous, original title before the driver knows what you’re talking about.
It would have been easy — although foolhardy — to keep up the pretence that we believed in our new “trendy” title. This would have enabled us to save face and to escape some criticism. It is a small price to pay for making the right decision.
The challenge now is to ensure the new name reflects a brand that is a promise of community relevance, employability and student-centred values.
FE Week saw the issue with the new title, sometimes that’s the push we need for change.
Of all of the announcements I’ve made to staff, none has been welcomed with more enthusiasm than when I told them that we were scrapping the Lesoco name.
You might argue there’s more to worry about than just the college’s name, but actually I think there’s something much deeper here.
The college is going through a period of change and improvement, and there are challenges ahead — but we still want to celebrate the best of our past.
We have staff who are proud to associate themselves with the college and we have many supporters and partners in the communities we serve who feel the same way.