Eye on Edinburgh

By The Drum, Administrator

March 22, 2006 | 9 min read

For sale: One capital city. Several hundred years on the clock, but well looked after. Nice restaurants and bars. Impressive architecture. Equipped with its own parliament. Open to sensible offers. These days it seems like everyone’s trying to sell their city on the international market. Over the past couple of years Scotland’s larger cities have all chimed in with new marketing slogans designed to raise their profile and help them to attract both tourists and those all-important business investors. Last year Edinburgh joined the party with its new ‘Inspiring Capital’ strapline, a move heavily scrutinised by the Scottish marketing community.

In terms of tourism, Edinburgh clearly has a strong foothold. Aside from the city’s year-round historical and cultural attractions, The Edinburgh International Festival, Film Festival and Festival Fringe have all been established on the world stage for years.

However, in terms of its reputation as a centre for business, is the city doing all it can to promote itself to potential investors? The Drum approached several marketing companies based in the capital to find out.

As a starting point, it’s important to understand what makes Edinburgh a strong location for business. Companies based in the capital are keen to extol its virtues, and one of the main selling points of the city appears to be its creative reputation. Russell Dean, managing director of Riverside Design, states: “I think Edinburgh’s creative industry is a centre of excellence. Scottish people have a reputation for being innovative, creative and intelligent and that’s backed by the number of strong creative companies in the capital.

“As a city it’s booming. There are good jobs, which is always a good way to attract people from outside. The city’s business sectors are strong, from the established ones such as the drinks industry and tourism through to the emerging industries such as biotechnology.”

“The city has grown-up over recent years,” says Nick Ramshaw, chief executive of Elmwood Edinburgh. “The population is now drawn from a much broader mix of nationalities, races and cultures and this has helped improve the retail and entertainment offers, and gone some way to eroding some of the old school conservatism which holds the place back at times.”

Another advantage Edinburgh seems to have over rival cities is its size. Despite being the Scottish capital, Edinburgh is a relatively compact city; something the city’s professionals believe gives it an edge in the business stakes.

Linda Bruce, a director of Platform PR, remarks: “I think the great thing about Edinburgh is it’s quite a small city in terms of networking. People know people. It’s quite a compact business community, which is good for marketing and PR because everybody knows everybody else.”

“There’s a good infrastructure in terms of the communications and travel links with other cities in the world,” adds Karen Playfair, marketing manager of Eastern Exhibition and Display. “But I think if you compare Edinburgh to London it’s a lot easier to do business here because of the size of the city.”

However Edinburgh’s main selling point for business people is perceived to be the same as for tourists, i.e. the city itself.

McKinstrie Wilde managing director Aird McKinstrie explains: “Looking around the UK, there are places that are attractive for different reasons, but if you’re looking for somewhere that has a balance, where you can have a spacious townhouse in the city centre but can jump in the car and be at the beach in 20 minutes and then back to world-class entertainment in the city that evening, Edinburgh is the place to be. It’s really that domestic style that makes it attractive for business.”

Clearly the city has a lot going for it, but no matter how many positive sides Edinburgh may have, they are less than useless if nobody knows about them. When Glasgow launched its ‘Scotland with Style’ campaign the advertising and PR activity was fairly high profile. In contrast, Edinburgh’s marketing seems to be lower key.

Simon Farrell, managing director of Tayburn, says: “I’ve not actually seen the ‘Inspiring Capital’ identity very much. There doesn’t seem to be any visibility. I travel a lot to Manchester and London, and if they were to target businesspeople you’d think they would target those areas, but I haven’t seen anything.”

“I think for both the business and tourist visitor ‘Inspiring Capital’ is a good catch-all phrase,” comments McKinstrie. “We still depend on the natural and historic things that the city has to be inspiring, however.

“In terms of why do businesses invest or relocate here there is an element of us relying on the old town being famous and spectacularly beautiful as compared with a lot of other city centres. But we don’t do enough to put the infrastructure together, the transport system being a case in point. They don’t have a tied together approach.”

There is a feeling that, while Edinburgh has many strong selling points, there are also some issues that could cause problems when branding the city as a business centre.

“I think Edinburgh traditionally has always had the sort of tartan, castle and shortbread image that attracts people to the city anyway. It needs to work harder at being a more modern city, a business city,” says Dean.

“I think transport and the high house prices are the main key problem areas,” states Campbell Laird, managing director of Three Brand Design. “The biggest issue is going to be that more and more businesses are basing themselves outside of the city centre. You can see more and more companies migrating from the centre.”

Meanwhile, Giles Etherington, creative director at Ten Alps MTD, believes that the city has more to face up to than its housing prices. For a city with so much going for it, Edinburgh can be a little negative about itself. Etherington says: “What has struck me since moving up here is that everyone here’s a little bit down on Scotland. It’s not a perception I had before I moved here. The perception is that it’s all a bit doom and gloom. It’s self-perpetuating, and clients might look at everyone thinking that way, become convinced of it themselves and go elsewhere. We need to talk about the positive things and not just the negative things all the time.”

Which beggars the question: if Edinburgh’s main problem is that it doesn’t shout loudly enough about its strengths, then what can be done to change that?

“I think it comes down to it being in our own hands,” remarks Ewan Gillies, operations director at Media Vision. “We are always trying to grow our business, not necessarily in Scotland, but in England and elsewhere. I don’t see why any company across the spectrum shouldn’t go to the wider market. If you want to tell people what you’re doing in Edinburgh there’s no better way than bringing business into Edinburgh.”

Three Brand’s Laird is in favour of promoting the city’s superior quality of life. He says: “I think in any campaign targeting businesspeople you would want to play up the quality of life, which I think is much higher than any other city in the UK or Ireland. It’s also very accessible for businesses and there’s a great workforce here. There’s a lifestyle here that you might only dream about in London or Manchester.

“I think some of the tourism campaigns have summed this up very, very well. It’s a positive environment, and international city and a city of culture.”

“I think if I was creating an ad campaign it would be selling the fact that it’s a great cultural city, and that breeds creativity,” says Etherington. “There’s a lot to do here, both in terms of history and modern stuff, and that attracts creative people. It has become a place where a lot of creative people live and work, much more so than most other cities. The creativity is here, both in the architecture and the people.”

Others believe that promoting Edinburgh outside of the city should begin with promoting it inside. Ian Dommett, managing director of Golley Slater North, explains: “I think city straplines can be hugely glib, for example there have been ones in the past such as ‘Leeds Leads’ and ‘Hull’s Not Dull’. If you look at the classic ‘I Love New York’, everyone could wear it with pride. The trick is to make it look like the message has come from the people of the city, rather than a local development council. The message should come from the people or out of the style of the city. Most councils don’t have much of an idea about what the style of their city is about.”

David Black, creative director of Digital Face, agrees. He says: “Edinburgh has been working hard to attract modern companies, such as biotechnology businesses. The failing is that it hasn’t worked to promote that to the people, either inside or outside of the city.

“If I was putting together a campaign the first thing I’d do is promote these messages to the city, so that when people visit the city they are meeting people that are enthusiastic about it and have a very clear understanding of the brand.”

Despite problems with its transport and overpriced housing, Edinburgh clearly has a lot to shout about on both the UK and international stages. However, it’s a competitive market out there, with cities throughout the world all hawking their wares. As the world gets smaller, it’s vital that the city shouts loud enough to make itself heard.

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