Content Brand of the Week: Milwaukee Police, the cops using content to clean up the streets –and their image

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Cops with a custom content channel – they’re not using it to promote those confiscated evidence auctions they have in the US, are they?

No they’re not selling anything – at least not in the e-commerce sense. The Milwaukee Police News site is actually a great example of how content can be used with goals other than the strictly commercial in mind.

So it’s not about customer ‘retention’?

No – they’ve got handcuffs for that. They’ve added content to their communications armoury in the hope of boosting their public image, as part of a wider re-branding that includes a stunning new paint-job for the force’s cars.

Let me guess – crooked cops, a drugs bust gone wrong, mysterious disappearances of key witnesses?

Don’t get too excited, this isn’t The Wire. The MPD’s stated aim is actually a bit more benign: to show what the department “is really accomplishing in the community”. In particular, they want to tackle what they view as misrepresentation by the mainstream press. Hence, this is not a replacement for the department’s main website, but a news-focused microsite run by the officers themselves – providing a platform to engage the public directly and to shout about the positive work they feel is often overlooked (or misconstrued). As they put it, somewhat intimidatingly, “We’ll correct the news stories that got it wrong, and we’ll highlight the ones that got it right.”

Basically they want to be seen as more Bad Boys II, less Keystone Cops?

Precisely. The sleek design, featuring parallax scrolling and bold 3D visual imagery, portrays the MPD’s officers as effective, steadfast and above all heroic crime-fighters, and invites the public to dig deeper through smart interactive content including up-to-date crime reports, statistics, and ‘most wanted’ lists.

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It all sounds fine and dandy to me, officer. Any (speed) bumps along the way?

While the site looks fantastic on the surface, it could be accused of being a bit thin on the kind of functionality that Milwaukee citizens may really need. If you want to report a crime or pay off a parking ticket the links at the foot of the page all route through to the MPD’s official site, which remains an exercise in bureaucratic ugliness, making the slick new PR-focused site something of a one-way messaging medium – and possibly even an obstacle for those with an urgent or pressing purpose.

So the new Milwaukee PD website is actually obstructing the course of justice?

Some might argue that. Nevertheless we think the redesign, and the use of original content by Milwaukee cops to ‘own their story’, is a great idea that is – for the most part – well executed (as recognised by various plaudits and awards). Instead of relying on the press to portray its people in – often negative – stories, the MPD has created a site people actually want to visit (unlike most local or national government sites),  providing information in a strategic, social and entertaining way to get its message across. But only time will tell how successful the strategy is in terms of re-branding the force in the eyes of the community.

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Freeze, punk! (and check out the MPD news site here)

Where next?
Previous content brands of the week
See our work

Author: George Wright Theohari

Branding | Content | Design. We develop and deliver beautifully effective communications across print, digital and film.

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