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Refreshing Highland

May 7, 2015  By Matt Nicholls

Ah, spring. It’s the perfect time to retool and clean the slate for the season ahead. And for western Canadian operator Highland Helicopters, spring is also an ideal time to continue one of its most important new projects – a brand “refresh” and integration of all things Highland into one neat intellectual package.

Ah, spring. It’s the perfect time to retool and clean the slate for the season ahead. And for western Canadian operator Highland Helicopters, spring is also an ideal time to continue one of its most important new projects – a brand “refresh” and integration of all things Highland into one neat intellectual package.

Highland’s vision is to become the premium provider of helicopter transportation in this country.
(Photo courtesy of Highland Helicopters)


With 18 bases in Alberta and B.C. and a fleet of 35 light and intermediate turbine helicopters used for a variety of operations including oil and gas, forestry, mining and exploration, resource management and more, Highland has grown into one of the country’s most prolific operators. Founded in 1959, the company’s experienced crews have flown thousands of hours in a variety of demanding environments, providing clients with safe, reliable helicopter operations in a wide selection of verticals.

But despite its success and visibility within the Canadian helicopter landscape, brand integration and the development of a consistent corporate identity was identified as on opportunity for improvement, better alignment with corporate values and Highland’s strategic vision. Fortunately for Highland, change
is afoot.


I first heard about the process a few months back, just prior to the Helicopter Association of Canada (HAC) conference in Montreal. That’s when Terry Jones, Highland’s director of operations, handed me his new business card revealing a new, clean logo with a stylized slanted “H” in a circle.

It was impressive and several months later, as the snow melts across Canada and the grass turns from brown to green, Highland’s corporate rebranding is moving forward with the spring breeze, bringing with it new swag, and soon-to-be refreshed logos adorning the side of its AStars and Jet Rangers.

“The whole thing is best described as a brand refresh,” Simon Laight, Highland’s director of sales and marketing, said. “It’s somewhat of an ongoing process as opposed to doing it all at once, because that would simply cost too much. . . but we are well into the process now.”

Highland has been evaluating its corporate methodologies for approximately three years following the last economic downturn – a common occurrence in this volatile industry. The implementation of a brand refresh is simply part of that process. Highland worked closely with a third-party consultant to determine best practices and find out ways to get more rigour of how the operation works. New chief operating officer, Bruce Alexander, was part of that development, as was developing a clear vision and strategic action plan to establish the foundation for future growth.

“We always had a strategic vision, a brand, but nothing was on paper – it was kind of organic,” Laight said. “So, we wrote down our vision and core values. Our vision is to become the premium provider of helicopter transportation and specialty services in this country.

“And looking at our brand, we have very good brand recognition, quality and consistency, reliable, safety first, very visible – a ton of very positive attributes. Yet, when you started to look at our collateral there was no consistency . . . We wanted to update it, improve our consistency, and find something that better represents where Highland is today, and most importantly, where we are going, while at the same time, incorporate something that pays homage to our rich history.”

Redefining the Look
So, how did the new look come to fruition? It started with a clear vision of marrying the best from the past with the goals of the future. Of course, a heavy dose of elbow grease – a typical Highland trait – certainly helped the process along.

 Highland is not changing the colour scheme of its helicopters.
(Photo courtesy of Highland Helicopters)

“The first step was to clearly define what we wanted to do and then define that strategy to the owners,” Laight said. “It was imperative that there was alignment in the objectives with ownership and the senior management group of the company. It was clear from the outset that this was not change for change-sake, but rather taking the rich history of the company’s development and solidify and aligning the brand with the direction, plans and goals for the future.”

Next came the decision to work with an off-site creative firm to develop concepts for change. Highland contacted three creative agencies in the Vancouver area and shared the vision for enhancement – the new corporate identity the company hoped to achieve. After initial creative concepts were shared, it became apparent Red Rocket Creative Strategies captured the nuances of the corporate refresh.

 “We got three completely different approaches back – all really good,” Laight said. “It made it hard, but it also made it kind of easy because one just fell into place. Red Rocket’s approach was very practical. It was like they understood who we are and where we are going.”

Plenty of interaction was needed to ensure implementation of the refresh was carried out to Highland’s needs and specif-ications. For example, Red Rocket was convinced the Highland colour scheme of brown, yellow and orange needed a refresh as well. Ah, no. That was a non-starter for Highland management.

“They looked at our colours and thought it was really ’70s with the browns and the yellows,” Laight said. “But you can tell a Highland machine no matter where you are, so that’s not changing. However, we want to make it contemporary. We decided to start with a logo – we did not have a logo, we had multiple logos. They came up with a number of different directions and presented that to me. They designed this after interviews with a number of our people, various clients, to get an idea of what we were all about.”

Laight also spent hours mulling through rebrands of many iconic firms to glean ideas and strategies to ensure the new logo captured just the right feel. “I spent a great number of time analyzing well-known brands and showing how their logos had evolved, and showed different types of evolutions,” he said. “I looked at Pepsi, Coke, Starbucks, Delta . . . just to show the team that we are where we are.”

The New Look is Born
The new Highland logo embodies all of the elements that drive the company’s core values. It features a strong but clean “H” in a round, yellow circle, and it is slightly italicized depicting the movement of the helicopter and the circle depicts both a helicopter landing pad and the spinning of rotors in flight. It’s clean and conservative yet strong in design, indicative of the Highland corporate image. It’s a footprint that has been established for more than 55 years – strong and true.

Members of Team Highland sporting the new garb. From left Arlene Arnold, accounts receivable; Irina Rey, shipper/receiver; and Phylmore Hall, aircraft maintenance engineer. (Photo courtesy of Highland Helicopters)


“Clients and operators alike who have seen the new logo and are bold enough to comment have only had positive things to say,” Laight said. “Some have even gone as far to note that the new look is a much truer representation of what Highland is all about.

“It’s interesting, because when you think about the oil and gas industry, the expectations from the clients are higher and higher – and we want to distinguish ourselves during that first moment when someone might come into contact with us. We want them to understand right away that this is a quality company, that we are concerned about safety, that this is a company they need to be curious about and take the next step.”

While the new logo is in place, many steps still remain in the refresh process. Over the next few months, the Highland fleet will be bestowed with the new logo and the process will also include updating the bases throughout Alberta and B.C.

Uniting the Masses
So, can a new logo, a stronger corporate image and a “refreshed” brand help galvanize the internal team and give Highland the spring back in its step so to speak? According to Laight, most definitely.

Highland employees like aircraft maintenance engineer Martin Schenkel are happy to wear the new garb around the hangar. (Photo courtesy of Highland Helicopters)


Seeing employees adorn the new swag and proudly wear it at events and in the office aptly illustrates the passion and pride employees have in the operation.

 “It has been a good process, a very useful one for us,” he said. “It has been well received, and these types of changes can actually be very painful and time consuming. A lot of thought and effort went into this, so I am happy to see where we have ended up.”


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