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‘Distinctly Birmingham’ brand is behind latest marketing strategy

‘Distinctly Birmingham’ brand is behind latest marketing strategy

🕔10.Jun 2013

rotundaHow best to sell Birmingham as a place to do business, invest in, study and visit has featured prominently on city council agendas for upwards of two decades.

Thousands, if not tens of thousands, of words must have been written about the subject.

Efforts to beef up the sales pitch normally begin with an admission that, for some unfathomable reason, the UK’s second largest city is failing to get its message across as a great place to live when compared with the mountain of positive publicity seemingly effortlessly generated by the likes of Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds and Glasgow.

The apparent self-deprecation of Brummies, not caring to blow their own trumpet and treating triumph and disaster with equal disinterest, is usually trotted out as one reason for under-performing on the marketing stakes.

The question of how best to bang the drum may be given a new lease of life by a comprehensive European and International Strategy for Birmingham drawn up by the city council.

The document, featuring the brand name Distinctly Birmingham, certainly bears the hallmark of the city’s Labour leader Sir Albert Bore and is nothing less than a radical attempt to get all stakeholders united behind an effective marketing campaign.

In fact, the plan is about rather more than simply promoting Birmingham.

It makes the point several times that the challenge is to concentrate on the economic potential of the entire Greater Birmingham conurbation, which we can take to mean a larger area than the Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP.

Forty-five organisations make up “Team Birmingham”, charged with ensuring the strategy is delivered, including the obvious names such as Marketing Birmingham and GBSLEP, the universities, chamber of commerce, the NEC Group and Airport, as well as accountants Ernst and Young, various hotels, the CBSO, Birmingham Royal Ballet and community groups.

Sir Albert underlines the importance in these difficult economic times of enhancing Birmingham’s profile, reputation and influence way beyond Europe and, crucially, into a wider global marketplace.

He says: “in particular, we need to raise our game in emerging economies such as China, South Asia and South America as well as established economies such as North America.

“Birmingham has a real opportunity to maximise its access to growth markets for its economic advantage and not to lose out to more aggressive nations and cities.”

The document is highly critical of past attempts to sell Birmingham on the world stage, and by implication rubbishes the efforts of Conservative council leader Mike Whitby who between 2004 and 2012 spent a considerable amount of time jetting across the globe to the United States, China and India in efforts to secure inward investment. With the notable exception of Chinese investment in MG at Longbridge, little else was actually achieved.

The strategy paper states: “We have, arguably, been set back in the past by a lack of co-ordination, a lack of prioritisation, and the absence of a strategic approach when it comes to both the way the city collectively makes the most of opportunities and activity overseas, and the way the city handles opportunities and visits from overseas interests.

“The city council believes these challenges can be overcome through a more strategic programme of international engagement created via a city-wide international strategy.”

How, though, is this strategy to be delivered, and is there really much chance that the results will be an improvement on past attempts to market Birmingham?

The answer is that delivery of the strategy will depend on several committees. Overseeing the marketing push will be a “high-level” International Committee chaired by Sir Albert and consisting of representatives from Birmingham businesses, education, communities and other key sectors.

The International Committee will set strategy and meet twice a year, while at the sharp end a number of Area Focussed Associations will be formed to focus on improving trade and social links with North and South America, China and the Far East, Europe and the Commonwealth.

These Associations, according to the strategy document, will bring together all key stakeholders with a specific geographical interest and “facilitate the better joining up and co-ordination of the aims and actions outlined in the strategy”.

The committee structure and sheer number of organisations involved could hardly provide a sharper contrast to Cllr Whitby’s heroic single-handed and often chaotic efforts to promote Birmingham around the world. Predictably, Conservative and Liberal Democrat councillors have greeted the new strategy with a warning that the plan is bound to produce a useless talking shop where no one is in charge and nothing ever gets done.

Sir Albert, as is his custom, simply ignored the Tory and Lib Dem claims at a city council cabinet meeting, which lasted all of 15 minutes and most certainly could not be described as a talking shop.


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