Your organisation’s reputation is determined by your behaviour

27 June 2023

In episode 4 of the Public Brands series: Jantien Eising from RDW (National Road Administration) and Maureen Wiersma from the CJIB (Central Judicial Collection Agency) on brand- and reputation thinking in the public sector.


Jantien Eising is from Friesland and has spent most of her career at the RDW (formerly the National Road Traffic Agency). She has been a Communication Manager since 2002. She works at the head office in Zoetermeer.  

Maureen Wiersma, on the other hand, has only been a Communication Manager at the Central Judicial Collection Agency (CJIB) in Leeuwarden since 2022. Before that, she held communication positions at the province of Friesland, the municipalities of Lelystad, Almere and Smallingerland and at UMCG Ambulance Care.  

In the fourth episode of the series 'Publieke Merken' (Public Brands) from iO and Adformatie, Eising and Wiersma discuss brands, competences, and the limitations of and the changes in public communication. 

Does the term "brand" ever come up in your team meetings? Do you ever talk about the CJIB brand or the RDW brand? 

Jantien Eising: Contrary to the previous interviewees we never talk about the brand. What we do talk about is reputation, but mainly as a result of our services. We want to make it as good, simple and accessible as possible.  

Satisfied citizens and companies are the goal, and that’s also the biggest driving factor for your reputation. Various studies show that 75% of your reputation is determined by the behaviour of the people in your organisation, the behaviour of the organisation itself. I also recognise that; you are judged on what you do as an organisation.  

With communication you still have the remaining 25% to launch messages, to support, to strengthen, to influence et cetera. That is of course only a very small part compared to behaviour. Because we are public service providers, our main goal is to make things right for everyone in society.  

They have no choice, they have to come to us. If you sell a car, you can choose betweena lot of different brands, then it is also important to position your brand as strongly as possible. With us they don't have a choice, they have to go to the RDW. That means you have to do the best you can. You have to support that with your communication, so we do. 

Maureen Wiersma: Coincidentally, we are currently working on realising our brand pillars, whereby we have subdivided our core values. Looking at which target group belongs which and assessing how accountable we are to those core values. We have the same problem as Jantien: you have to deal with us, you have no choice. We are not an organisation that presents itself in a very large campaign and says: come to us, because we have something unique to offer you. In fact, we are known as a nasty organisation. So we are looking more with our brand at how we can meet society and are much more involved in being a reliable government institution. 

“People have no choice, they have to come to us. So our main goal is to do it well'

Do you carry out research on how you are perceived?

Jantien: We do customer satisfaction surveys, which also includes an image component: how do people value us as an organisation, how do people value our services and which competencies do people associate with us, for example our core competencies of service, reliability and agility. We score an average of 7.6 on our services. I can't say how that compares to other government organisations.  

In any case, we have been at this level for quite some time. We do a major customer satisfaction survey every two years and last time we were also around this figure. The time before it was slightly lower, but above 7. This is what we focus on. Incidentally, we also measure satisfaction immediately after purchasing services, analyse customer journeys, et cetera. 

Of course we also have to deal with competition when it comes to the labour market. That is where you present your organisation so of course you want to be visible there. We have a stong employee value proposition. The pillars and competencies of organisations that Maureen spoke about are more ingrained in our entire RDW strategy. This is not just something for the communication department. 

Maureen: We are currently focusing more on customer surveys in order to ultimately be able to work much more employee journey oriented. We also look at the neighbours such as DUO, Tax Authorities and RDW. How do they use customer research and what can we learn from it?  

I think it’s nice to hear that the brand pillars are ingrained in your organisation. We're not there yet. We have a strategic framework that we will use to develop brand pillars so that we can ultimately define a clear corporate story and a strategy for external communication. How we want to be perceived requires an approach to both the internal and the external situation, so that we can ultimately say: this is us, this is what we stand for. 

I also want to achieve good scores on RDW services. But emotion plays a major role at the CJIB. Can you give our services a good score if you have received a fine? Fast and easy payment isn’t regarded as a positive point at that moment, I suspect.  

On the other hand, we also do some great things like entering payment arrangements with people who are having a hard time, and fortunately we also hear that in our personal conversations. When I look on Twitter, I also see that people approach the fines with humour: "Oh, I received a Christmas card from the CJIB." 

Are there other public organisations with a strong brand identity in your experience, that you look at with a little jealousy because they are strong public brands? 

Maureen: I myself am a big fan of the clarity of the communications from the Belastingdienst (Tax and Customs Administration). They tell it like it is. They can't make it more fun, but they try to make it easier. That is an old slogan, but they do confirm our feeling: it’s unpleasant and sometimes it’s difficult to pay the tax, but it has to be done. I think that's a nice approach. I also have a lot of appreciation for the UWV, working emphatically with their internal values, which is a nice approach. 

Jantien: I had written down exactly the same organisations. The Tax and Customs Administration is so iconic, and the UWV appeals to me mainly because of what they have done internally. I understood that with the help of actors, they simulated certain customer situations for employees so they could experience the impact of their behaviour. I think it's great that they did it that way. 

‘We have the environment that tells our story’

Is it pure coincidence that you mention the Tax and Customs Administration? While that is one of the few large public organisations that has conducted an advertising campaign for many years, with a very strong statement.

Jantien: It says something about the power of brand communication in combination with good service, I think. At the time, I think brand communication was combined with the introduction of the online tax return. Everyone has an opinion about tax, I think, because its unavoidable and of course we live in a constitutional state and good things are done with that money, but it's never going to be fun.  

That statement has been very powerful. In that respect, we have it much easier at RDW. The car is an essential item for people. People are more involved in an everyday sense, of course it has to be safe, and it has to be clean and that sort of thing. So you’re already a lot more involved with the experience of those kinds of people. 

Maureen: I find this so interesting. It comes from general attitudes towards public brands. Think, for example, of the first government corona campaigns, which were mainly based on fear: we have to vaccinate, because you can get sick or possibly worse. Typical government language: you must, you do, you go. Now we have that new campaign with the neighbourhood supermarket from a storytelling perspective. They focus on human connections and our responsibility to each other.  

In my opinion, this is a good sign that the government has listened carefully to the sentiment of the people. I also want to move in that direction with the CJIB. Telling stories of the things we do, telling stories of people who come into contact with us. Then we do not need a long-term advertising campaign. We already have the perfect environment to tell our story. 

Jantien: We look carefully at communication opportunities. For example, with a concrete call-to-action. Last year, tractors and other agricultural vehicles had to be registered. That's an opportunity present your organisation. But always in combination with something else, never just for the brand, that is not the choice we make. But of course, you always want attach your brand to essential communication campaigns in major projects. 

Brand campaigns for commercial brands. What do you find interesting about brand communication and what do you find inspiring examples? 

Maureen: I do think that brands that use emotion and storytelling, like those supermarket chain commercials, especially during the holidays or single campaigns, it can give you goosebumps. That appeals to people, that touches you. I personally think that's a great approach. But that doesn’t always fit with the CJIB. Although it would be great to do that sometime by the way. 

Jantien: Christmas time is a great time to watch commercials in that regard. A supermarket chain, for example, in which a father embraces his son's boyfriend. It is fascinating to see how these major brands deal with social themes. Just by watching the commercials you can see what's going on in the world. They are always influenced by what is going on in society. 

Maureen: Yes, and at the same time it can also cause irritation if a brand raises a subject and tries to appeal to certain target groups motivated only by commercial interests. Then you’re talking about purpose washing, and you’re only do this for your brand and not because it is your actual purpose. 

Jantien: I think that as a brand you also make yourself particularly vulnerable when you get involved in social themes. Your organisation’s behaviour is the foundation of your brand and its credibility. Think of organisations that say they are protecting the environment, but at the same time continue to destroy it. Of course it doesn't work like that, people see straight through it. 

Maureen: Also look at the fuss around the Jumbo advertisement. 

Jantien: I really don't understand it at all. Surely not just anyone would have been involved in this. How can you miss that and why would you do this? 

Maureen: I don't think they missed it, they’re just playing into it tactically. They got a lot of attention. Their brand got a lot of attention. Even if it is negative. Did you stop shopping at Jumbo because of the builders dancing? I don’t think so. 

Jantien: That's why it's nice to make the conscious choice to work for the government. That just doesn't happen. 

Maureen: Yes, and you are contributing to society, which I think is very nice. 

What are the main influencers of your reputation score? 

Jantien: Some big, some small. For example, the way our people, when they’re checking whether an APK inspection has been carried out properly deal with engineers.  This naturally creates a relationship between the people in the garage and the inspector. That is just one small example, but these are important drivers at an individual level.  

Then we have the large manufacturers, where we do type approval. A lot depends on them. Another influencing factor is how issues that concern us are treated in the press. For example, the diesel affair, how do you respond to that as an organisation? Are you credible? Are you taking the right steps? Our concerns are always safety, sustainability, legal certainty and mobility. That's our mission. We always ask ourselves: are we clearly acting in line with our mission? 

We are also linked to a ministry, so a lot depends on how they present us to the outside world. Complicated mechanisms can play a role there because the minister’s interests can change and there is always a lot is going on in politics. We want to go for the honest, open story. Society has a right to that. The most important driver is the people in your organisation. On a macro level, but also in a more political-administrative context. And the most important thing is of course is that your products and services simply have to be good. That's the foundation. 

Maureen: Our employees have a lot of influence on our reputation. At the moment the labour market is very competitive. When our employees are positive about us and our work, we are more attractive to potential new employees. In addition, the way in which we fulfill our primary task is very important for our reputation. When people contact our information centre, good service is essential. We are a people-centred organisation that  offers tailor-made solutions to, for example, people that need to make payment arrangements. 

We are also linked to a ministry, in this case the Ministry of Justice and Security. Cooperation is very important. For example, we coordinate the implementation of sentences in our country from AICE. This covers imprisonment, community service and traffic fines. 

Jantien: Maureen, did you know that we have been working with you for a number of years to promote socially responsible enforcement? That might be nice to share.  

The CJIB is the first in line to issue fines for violations. If there is no response, the RDW takes over. We noticed that people did not respond to their fines and therefore had to deal with fine after fine after fine. Until finally, in a number of cases, they were arrested by the police in dawn raids because of their failure to pay. Then we sat down with the parties from the enforcement chain and said: there is something going wrong here with these people, we have to look into this, we are going to contact them to ask why they allow their fines to stack up like this. Because you end up with people with large debts and other problems which is not ideal.  

We contacted them to try to stop the accumulation of fines and to make alternative payment arrangements. I think that is a good example of how a government organisation can pay attention to the human dimension. These are important drivers for your reputation. 

Specialism used to work in silos, but now we work much more integrally and that reinforces the message

Do you feel in recent years that new competencies have been needed in your team to do what you need to do? Due to changes in the media landscape, through professional development, etc. Do you see changes in the skills of the people who come to work in your teams?

Maureen: Yeah sure, whether it's at the CJIB or other government agencies, I’ve definitely seen that changing. During this time you also have to develop along with your target groups. Your environment is changing, you have to respond to that.  

At first Facebook was the means, everything had to be done via Facebook. Now Facebook is out of date and we have to look again at new possibilities on e.g. TikTok. Does the CJIB want to be active on that platform? Is it important for our service? Is our target group there? From a communication point of view, you have to be much more social media aware.  

I am sure we need that kind of expertise. But also monitoring. Then you are also including corporate communication. How do we use our internal communication? Who are we, what drives us? And that of course includes external communication: how do you want to do that, and do you have sufficient budget? 

I definitely see skill changes taking place. When I worked in Almere, we were a generalist department. Everyone was a communications consultant or employee. Then there was a need for specialists. One did internal communication, the other marketing and so we all specialised a bit more. I personally think that is a better development, you can then focus much more on a subject and specialise in it.  

On the practical side we have to adhere to public sector pay scales at the CJIB. I can't just rename a job title. I have communication advisors and employees, I cannot just add content creators or internal branding specialists. 

Jantien: We also bring in other competencies. We have always had advisers and specialists and we still have advisers who advise across the board. We also have specialists in our newsroom, where all channels are provided with content, both internally and externally. We also monitor the socials and try to influence what is happening.  

People have started working together across their specialisms. In the past, the magazine maker did everything with his magazine, on an island, but now everyone in the newsroom produces content for all channels. That works better because you work in a more integrated way and that strengthens your message.  

Sensitivity to the outside world, but also within the organisation, is important. What is happening now, but also how should we respond, what should we do? That's still a challenge. We outsource it now because it is a lot of work. That's why. Especially when it touches on socially and politically sensitive matters. We want to keep a close eye on what is being written and said about this specific subject. Then you also want to be able to analyse it and that is also complicated in these times. 

Jantien: We are not specifically looking for people with or without a public communications background. We notice that people who come from the car world, who have worked for car magazines, for example, go to the RDW. We have a lot of people who have some connection to the car world. 

Maureen: I don't look for government experience, I make selections on personal characteristics. I am more concerned with whether you are organisationally sensitive and whether you have experience advising management, whether that is commercial or for the government. If you have that, I think that's enough, you don't have to have worked for a government organisation for me.  

I always ask: how well can you deal with delays? Because with a government it can sometimes take a little longer before you can turn your idea into reality. You have to be very patient. You don't get that at a commercial company, everything goes a bit faster there. Everything is a bit quieter with us. Not that you work less hard, because you may work harder, but everything moves more slowly. 

Where do you get your inspiration from? What inspires you in your work? 

Maureen: I am a member of Logeion myself, they also have a magazine that I read. I am also a book addict, so I buy a lot of books. I don't read novels because fiction doesn't really appeal to me. I'm like reading textbooks. I just finished the book Communicating with focus by Renate Verloop and Aart Paardekooper and Happy Change by Bea Aarnoutse. Now I'm reading Super failing by Frank Deuring. My interests are more in the field of communication, behaviour and behavioural change than branding. 

Jantien: I get my inspiration from a lot of different places. Professional literature so that I can keep up with the latest knowledge about professional developments in the field. Another nice thing is that we have a RDW book club. We read books on our site together . The last book we read was 'Dieselgate' by Peter Teffer. It describes how this issue has evolved and how it works in Europe. It was very insightful and educational.  

We hold development and professionalisation projects with the department from time to time, dealing with a number of matters. We analyse our tasks and roles in order to have clarity about who does what. Before you know it you are doing a lot, but we also have to work efficiently. We have held knowledge sessions on internal communication, but also behavioural change, an increasingly important aspect. You get such good inspiration from that to take back into your MT. You get it from the outside, you get it from your colleagues. We have so much knowledge. 

Maureen: We are also starting knowledge sessions this year. If everything goes according to plan, we will have a workshop with Betteke van Ruler about the communication framework in March. A nice method that the team can benefit from a lot. And when I'm not singing along with the music in the car, I also listen a lot to Ben Tiggelaar's podcast. 

Do you have a final message that you want to share? 

Maureen: I do want to say in the context of the old slogan of the tax authorities that 'the CJIB is more than you see and more fun than you think'. 

Jantien: Then we also have one: 'RDW, Working on the Mobility of Tomorrow'. 

Daan Goote
Daan Goote
Client Lead & Consultant behaviour and psychology

Daan Goote is a psychologist and consultant in the field of (public) communication and marketing. He applies knowledge and learnings from behavioural science. 'People are not as rational as they think' is by far the most important insight.

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