News Feature

By The Drum, Administrator

July 29, 2005 | 5 min read

Almost a week after the atrocities in central London, and the bombers were identified as being from the Leeds area. It was a revelation, which at a time of inevitable shock and concern throughout the country, landed like a sucker punch on both communities and cities.

Whereas the events in London, as tragic and awful as they were, managed to galvanise a sense of resilience among the people in the city, the impact on Leeds was less positive. While the perpetrators could so easily have been from another part of the country, the fact of the matter is that they weren’t and it is Leeds, thats name is now attached to these stories in the worst possible way.

So how damaging is this to ‘Leeds, the brand’ – a brand which is to be launched in September by An Agency Called England (following Thompson’s departure from the proceedings)?

Someone who believes the long-term affects will be very little is Chris Goodwin, managing director at Principles Agency. “I don’t think it will have any impact on Leeds in a financial capacity, or on the city itself,” he says, “I really don’t wish to belittle the tragic events in London, but I think something like Leeds United dropping out of the Premier League probably had a bigger impact on the brand of the city. The bombings were a very isolated incident and I think people forget things [like where the bombers were from] very easily. I don’t think what happened will affect the way people, particularly those who live here, view the city and the opinions they had before it happened.”

Love’s managing director, Alistair Sim, agrees. “I fail to see how the extremist actions of a tiny minority of people can be related to or affect the branding,” he states. “These people could have been based anywhere, so I think city branding has very little to do with it.”

A slightly more sceptical Julie Hanson, joint managing director at Leeds-based Brahm, said: “It’s definitely damaged the city because it’s terrible news. However, I do think that people are sensible enough to realise this kind of story is not necessarily unique to Leeds. It could so easily have been a Manchester or a Birmingham. In the long-run, I don’t think it will have that big an impact.”

However, Martin Carr, managing director at Manchester-based True North, believes the current media coverage is having a negative impact on the city. “What’s at the forefront of everyone’s minds ‘about Leeds’ at the moment? Unfortunately it’s probably not going to be grittiness, hard work, straight-talking, Harvey Nichols or well-balanced multi-culturalism. It’s going to be suicide bombers.”

With that in mind, is September the ideal time to launch a new brand for Leeds? One man who knows what it’s like to launch a brand for a region while under pressure from negative media coverage is Michael Slack, managing director at Nottingham-based Purple Circle. He said: “I feel for the people handling the Leeds branding project. Something like this does have a negative affect. When we were branding Nottinghamshire, there was the Danielle Beccan shooting, which dominated the news pages and fuelled debates about Nottingham’s ‘gun problem’.

“I think in situations like this, there’s a sort of black and white way of looking at it,” he adds. “On the one hand, people will think there are bigger problems than the branding of the city, that it’s a bit frivolous. On the other, there’s an argument that the branding becomes more important; that against the negative news, there’s a brand, which is highlighting the positive things the city has to offer and a city like Leeds has a lot of positives to talk about.”

Carr argues: “It wouldn\'t take a genius to think hard about the timing of the launch of any new work aimed at changing perceptions, encouraging visits, spend or inward investment. But, unless the team have decided on a brand that, in this new light, has obvious negative connotations I doubt that they’ll find themselves heading back to the drawing board. They\'ll just have to wait a while.”

Despite no longer working on the account, Phil Dean, managing director at Thompson, has strong views about the branding issues at the moment. “It’s absolutely essential that any branding that is now launched is not glib and superficial,” he says. “It has to be managed very carefully, but strong brand positioning can combat something like this. If it’s not managed carefully, these events could try and define the city.”

So what of the new branding agency? Ian Winterbottom, business development director at An Agency Called England, believes while “nobody would ever have wanted the London things to have happened,” it’s possible for Leeds to benefit in the long run. “There’s absolutely no way that Leeds would have been on the radar of people in America or around the world but it’s suddenly in the news. Okay, it’s not for the right reasons, but it’s possible that we can use this newfound presence to promote everything that’s fantastic about Leeds.”

Winterbottom is not the only one to see the potential to manipulate the story to the city’s benefit. “If they\'re skilled, they may want to use the new ‘brand Leeds’ within the city as a rallying-call, a standard for people to unite behind, show civic pride and a determination that these bastards won’t get the better of them,” concludes Carr. “That may send a strong message out to the rest of the country, and beyond, about the real nature of the city and its people.”

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