How many companies still rally round the corporate flag?
Image is everything these days. Businesses spend millions of pounds and untold hours getting it right - ensuring that everything from the logo to the annual report and accounts gives off the correct signals.
So it's odd that one of the most visible manifestations of image - a corporate flag - is given so little thought, or even disregarded as an anachronism. Given that a company standard costs little and requires fairly minimal effort to produce, isn't it time that businesses raised their eyes skywards and ran their flags up the pole?
Chris Ludlow, senior partner of corporate identity consultants Henrion, Ludlow & Schmidt, is all for that. 'A flag's got movement, it is dynamic,' he enthuses. 'It's associated with loyalty - forward into battle. You rally round a flag, both metaphorically and literally. It is generally good news.' Quite a lot of companies seem to concur. At British Petroleum the distinctive green and yellow shield flutters in the breeze. 'It helps identify the company in public,' says a spokesman.
British Aerospace also displays a banner, and with reason. Loxley Ryan, director of communications, points out that, 'We fly our flag at airshows. Most people know our logo and people can see us from a long way away.' ICI, too, shows the flag, but less proactively. 'We have done it for many years,' says a spokesman, adding that on Millbank 'there is a fairly distinct flag etiquette - most people fly flags around here'. He doesn't mention that the Houses of Parliament are just up the road.
But many are immune to flags. Marks & Spencer feels that its logo and name are sufficiently well known, and that its reputation is so secure that a flag is both unnecessary and inappropriate (although M&S is not too grand to show its Queen's Award flags). More surprisingly, limelight-loving Virgin will have no truck with corporate ensigns. 'We don't have a corporate all-together-now Virgin flag,' says a spokeswoman. 'We're not really a flag company.'
Business is likely to remain divided on this one. But those who see no purpose in flags might reflect that the three companies with the highest recognition ratings in the world - McDonald's, Coca-Cola and Disney - all fly the company pennant.