Wednesday, 7 April 2010


Time for change?

'Rebranding' is a marketing term. It means a process whereby a company, organisation, public body etc changes the name or image of itself or of one or all of its products. Some remarkable successes are claimed from this – and some dreadful disasters experienced.

Charities may 'rebrand', again for all sorts of reasons. In England, the then Spastics Society spent years agonising over its name and trying to finds a new one, in order to distance itself from what it saw as becoming a pejorative term and to match a different social role. Eventually it chose 'Scope', for reasons best known. Others find their solution to the renaming problem through adopting initials or acronyms, such as in the case of the Spastics Society of Hong Kong, now simply SAHK.

In some cases rebranding amounts to no more than adoption of a new logo or trending up the website. In some cases, though, it involves major organisational restructuring and/or significant changes in what the organisation aims to do.

Emily Ford's rather rambling article in the latest issue of Third Sector illustrates something of this:

Its parting shot, though, is telling:

Ultimately, branding is no sticking plaster for deeper strategic problems.

Size matters?

Emily Ford's article concentrates on large charities, organisations that are in effect big businesses with lots of management and seemingly also slots of money to spend on infrastructural issues such as branding and rebranding. No Conductive Education charity is so placed, being often instead hard pushed to fund its bread-and-butter practical activities. Can one therefore project down the arguments about rebranding, whether they are valid or otherwise, to this world of little organisations?

Or is there here, like in biology and physics, a scale effect, meaning that certain processes just do not work below a certain size? Certainly, some CE centres in the UK prefer to think not. For example, 'Chief Executives' preside over tiny service-delivery organisations that have no other 'executives' to be chief of, even as primus inter pares. The words are there, but not the actual form that they should signify. In the US greater realism seems to prevail, 'Center Manager' being usually grand enough (perhaps Center Managers should rebrand themselves!).

Whether aping their bigger brethren, however, or in response to inherent forces within their own scale of operation, smaller charities do rename themselves. Thus the Hornsey Centre, established a long time ago for a rather different function, became the Hornsey Centre for for Children Learning Cerebral Palsy, then changed to being called became the Hornsey Centre for Children with Cerebral Palsy, and has recently changed again to the London Centre for Cerebral Palsy, These changes have in part at least reflected changes in function (even though the centre also now caters for adults and for children with 'dyspraxia'). Other centres change their 'image' (names, logos, graphic styles etc.) without substantive change in what they do – while others evolve what they do though keep the image as token of continuity.

Brand 'Conductive Education': a paradox

The field of Conductive Education is a mass of paradoxes, so much so that they may go unnoticed and publicly unremarked, part of the wall-paper!

One of the most obvious paradoxes is between on the one hand the very wdely experienced benefits of Conductive Education, its theoretical plausibility, and the extraordinary subjective changes that it can bring about in personal and family lif,  – and on theother, the persistent failure of academic research to demonstrate any convincing advantage to this approach. As a rider one might add a further paradox, within people's propensity to interpret this as a reflection upon Conductive Education rather that as a failure of this research and, to be honest, the people who undertake and advocate it. A second rider might point to the paradox of continually urging and arranging more of the same, with the inevitable same outcome. A third might be that some of this advocacy comes foot-shootingly from within the conductive movement itself.

When it comes to marketing Conductive Education there is another  unresolved paradox – one might consider it a contradiction – that is similarly long-standing and unresolved. It comes in the very name, the 'brand' of Conductive Education.
  • On the one hand, as anyone who has tried to 'sell' Conductive Education will tell you, the very name can pose a terrible handicap. This is the case whether one is trying to sell the ideas or the activities involved, to would-be users, service-providers, decision-makers, media people, potential supporters of funders. Why, it is so often asked, can't you find another name? At the substantive level, yes of course ''Conductive Education' is an awkward misnomer and we should all be a lot better off trying to argue the case on the basis of upbringing and pedagogy, so here too is a reason to get rid of this awkward term. More: over the last twenty-odd years, deservedly or not, Conductive Education has picked up a lot of bad luggage and associations. Mention of the term may be enough to make members of existing professions, and organisations to join with disability-rights activists and inclusionists to bristle at the very idea. All in all, small wonder that some CE organisations play down Conductive Education in their publicity and perhaps a 'brand consultant', could they afford one, would advise the same.
  • On the other hand, whatever some people may think, understand the term or not, like it or loath everything that it stands for – Conductive Education does represent what a lot of people want. The want it very much, and are willing to go to considerable personal inconvenience and expense to achieve it. They may be parents of disabled children who have heard that Conductive Education would be the best thing going for their child, or they may be people who run institutions and consider that 'offering Conductive Education' might confer kudos or competitive edge. In either case they might not have much idea of what Conductive Education might be and what they achieve might amount to conductive upbringing or pedagogy to at most only a debatable level. Even so, Conductive Education, whatever has been for more than twenty years has been a virtually self-marketing product or commodity, with people continuing to buy it around the world, often sight-unseen and the experience of many previous customers notwithstanding. What amazing brand-recognition, market-penetration and brand-loyalty to build upon. What would your brand consultant recommend now?
There's the paradox. How individuals, institutions and marketers come to particular resolutions of this may depend less upon objective evaluation that on how well they are acquainted with the market. The contradiction is an objective one and inherent to the social reality of the conductive movement

.The same considerations might also be applied to the term 'conductor'!!


Conductive Education is, after all, about change! It always has been but particularly now, around the world, people and institutions are having to adapt and alter what they want and what they do. Within this, another paradox comes with the question 'What should we call it?'

In 1945, in Budapest, András Pető began practising in ways that together soon manifest some of the characteristics of what is now called Conductive Education. Since then there have been two major rebrandings:

  • In 1956, also in Budapest, András Pető himself made the first big rebranding in the history of Conductive Education. Publicly he declared – Konduktív mozgásterápia mint gyógypedagógia. In English this (nearly) means 'Conductive movement therapy as special pedagogy'.

  • In 1968, in London, very shortly after his death,  Esther Cotton,, made the second big rebranding, introducing the English term 'Conductive Education' and moving from a gyógypedagógia to something quite different.
In both theses changes the same question question arises as in any rebranding exercise, big or small, in whatever sector it occurs. How far does rebranding smply respond to or reflect reality, and how far does it play a role in shaping what people withh think and do in practice from now on?

Who knows?


Ford, E, (2010) Charity rebranding: a change of vision and strategy, Third Sector, 6 April


  1. Thank you , Rony.

    In the above article I described Emily Ford's article, pehaps rather harshly, as 'rambling'. I am very aware that my own article that chimed in response to hers has turned out even more so! And though I did just touch upon the 'conductor' brand I reined myself in without even mentioning conductors, 'CE' and 'Pető', or logos, registration and trade marks.

    Perhaps there is something inherent to the very topic!
    Certainly, in other contexts, questions of 'brands'
    and 'rebranding' do seems to have power to befuddle wherever they are raised, and this goes for Conductive Education as much as anywhere else.

    I therefore look forward to any further light that others might like to shed...


  2. Just to add to this, it seems that the FCE has redone/rebranded its website - - and have changed it into a job site. Very strange.