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Scotland the brand

By The Drum, Administrator

April 20, 2006 | 11 min read

Aberdeen is a unique city. Due to its heightened off-shore interests it can often be seen to survive in an economic micro-climate of its own, unaffected by trends felt by the rest of the country. Aberdeen is often the opposite of Scotland’s other cities, with bustling week days making way for weekends with the air of a ghost town.

But that is set to change.

At the end of last year, a public/private consortium representing the city and its surrounding hinterland announced the launch of a new brand for the region – Aberdeen City & Shire.

The area has not had a branding campaign for a considerable time, and following the recent revitalisation of both the Edinburgh and Glasgow brands, it became clear that Aberdeen needed to put something in place to differentiate it against its competitors and enable it to compete in a 21st century market place.

Research showed that the low profile of Aberdeen and its surrounding areas was leading to a lack of confidence in the minds of its target audience. It also revealed a high interdependence between the city and its surrounding areas, which has resulted in the brand and the ensuing campaign taking a regional approach, which is certainly different to Glasgow and Edinburgh’s tactics. Therefore, it was important that one regional name be adopted for a new, consistent approach to building the reputation of the area.

“The balance between a thriving city and a varied countryside was seen as our main strength. One could not exist without the other,“ says Kate Dean, chair of Aberdeen City and Shire Economic Forum (ACSEF). “We are coming from a position of real strength. Usually, areas tend to embark on branding exercises when they are already in a crisis situation - think I Love New York and Glasgow’s Miles Better.

“Aberdeen City and Shire is a prosperous region which, thanks to the revitalisation of the North Sea, is experiencing one of its most buoyant and optimistic periods. However, we must grasp the opportunities that this presents us to plan for and ensure our long-term economic success. We need to build on our international links, continue to develop our strong business base, attract and retain a highly skilled workforce, build sustainable and inclusive communities for the future.

“We admit that it is more difficult to galvanise and mobilise people when the economy is doing well but we need to make sure that we are planning for the future and that everyone buys into that future.”

Hotchilli was one of the first design studios in the region to adopt the brand for a commercial project and its MD, Stewart Buchanan, feels that while not everyone will be inspired by the new City & Shire branding, those who it affects should do their best to make sure that it works.

“It is early days and the new City & Shire brand is very much in its infancy, it will take all partners working together for it to work. The design and communication businesses in the region can play a vital role in this. We daily advise all our clients on visual communication issues and I see it as our job to make them aware of the regional branding and to adopt the identity or suitable components and use it when and where they can.

“Whether you like it or not, this is what we have and we should do our level best to make Aberdeen City & Shire a success. We were the first studio in the region to use the City & Shire branding on commercial projects and as with any new brand, especially for a region where there are multi-partners, it will always be difficult at the start. However once we got started we found that we could use the branding easily and to great effect.”

The Aberdeen City & Shire brand, was quick to attract controversy, however – especially from local creative teams - when The Economic Forum tasked with creating the new city logo appointed London-based branding specialists Corporate Edge, following a round of tendering.

However, Zoe Corsi, managing director of Big Partnership – which has just been appointed to implement a PR campaign for Aberdeen City & Shire – says, “Corporate Edge has a wealth of expertise and a proven track record in the area of regional branding, and they tendered a creative, research-based and well-structured proposal. There is also an advantage in using an agency outside the area – the regional identity campaign is largely about how we are perceived outside the region, and it was felt that an agency from outside the area was able to give us more accurate feedback and a truer picture.”

Ian Dunlop, VisitScotland’s area director for Aberdeen & Grampian, also believes that the appointment had its positives. “The new regional identity will have a good fit with the national ‘Live It - Visit Scotland’ brand,” says Dunlop. “It has been a great help that the team from Corporate Edge, who developed these regional brand proposals, were also heavily involved in developing the Scotland brand. Many features of the character of Aberdeen City and Shire are Scotland's characteristics. The brand blends the two but also draws out the distinctive and unique characteristics which make Aberdeen City and Shire such a unique destination.”

Others in the area were not so happy about the high-profile job being delivered from London but, at the end of the day, believe that the time for complaining has passed and everyone should now concentrate on making the new brand work. “The original tender was advertised in the usual ways and everyone had the chance of responding and pitching,” says Hotchilli’s Buchanan. “I know many agencies who had plenty to say and complained bitterly about Corporate Edge winning, but did they submit a tender? Sometimes the best is not always local. I am not saying that I’m happy about the work going out of the area and even out of Scotland, but I don’t think that we should spend time and energy complaining.”

“We were given the opportunity to tender for this work but declined,” admits Derek Stewart, managing director of The Big Picture. “Corporate Edge have an excellent track record, but regardless of whoever was successful, it was always going to be a bit of a poison chalice – as, historically, public sector initiatives such as this tend to be.

“We do applaud the local authorities for recognising the need to communicate the region effectively. But is this the right solution – strategically and creatively? Will it have any effect on our business? For us the answer is no. We'll continue to focus on growing our company and reputation through building networks and stimulating positive conversations.

“Where we are geographically is not central to our offer – it's a lifestyle decision that we're based here. We work with clients locally, nationally and internationally – and we'll keep on doing that our way. As we do, then the quality of what we do will contribute to enhancing the reputation of the region.

“We believe, in the long-term, this is the best way for a city, region or country to establish a positioning and reputation of quality – through the excellence of its pre-eminent organisations.”

Now that the brand has been launched, Corsi believes this is what Aberdeen City & Shire is now concentrating its efforts on.

“The whole exercise is so much more than a logo and strap-line – it’s about the way the image of the region is projected in pictures, the written and spoken word, and in spirit,” he says. “It’s still very early days into this campaign, with a major launch to businesses taking place at the end of April – however the feedback from companies is already very encouraging, with huge support from organisations involved in the original project team such as Aberdeen Airport, The University of Aberdeen, Grampian TV, Aberdeen Journals, Shell and First plc. Just recently, Eastern Airways and the John Lewis Partnership have adopted the brand in unique ways with the branding of an aircraft and the decoration of a show window.

“To be effective it’s important that the brand is taken to the hearts not only of the people who live in the region, but also the companies who do business here. It’s therefore important that companies recognise how it can play a part in their own marketing campaigns and the cumulative benefits that will accrue if the majority get behind the brand. By all working together we will be able to change the perception of the region, and encourage more immediate recognition of the many benefits in living and working in Aberdeen City & Shire. We have already held a series of workshop and seminars for design agencies and PR practitioners in the region – it’s obviously crucial that they recognise the benefits so that they incorporate it into the work that they are doing for their own clients. There has been some criticism that the brand is uninspiring and a bit of a damp squib but it was important that we listened to the brand research and developed something with which people could identify and be comfortable with. We are quite understated in this region but by taking a consistent, quality, optimistic brand, we must all play a part in selling the area and talking up the great things we have to offer.”

As Corsi predicts, not everyone is keen to embrace the new concept of City & Shire. Stewart Fallowfield, head of design at Aberdeen’s Fifth Ring, says: “They have created a brand mark or logo which, apart from being over-complicated and dated in its appearance, reminds me of Wandsworth Borough’s version created in the late 80s, which featured a blue-green background with key building silhouettes and the line ‘a brighter borough’. Creating a brand requires a lot more than sticking a logo on everything.

“I think the work done for Glasgow demonstrates a successful model that we can all learn from. There will always be dissenters but it appears to have a lot of ‘buy-in’ from the locals, something I fear will not happen here.

“There is enormous creative energy in the city across all the business sectors, but to build a successful brand needs a consistent and coherent blend of vision, culture and image. I feel there may be more work to do before we start sticking logos on everything and calling it a brand.”

Fallowfield’s colleague Peter Lyall, head of brand & strategy development at Fifth Ring, continues: “The great cities of the world are just that. They have had to work at their global image, irrespective of the size of the city or the world importance of the country. Assuming that there is a communications plan, then it has to be executed. It’s early days... so let’s judge the campaign in 12 months.”

The imminent arrival of Donald Trump to the region, potentially to launch a world-class golfing resort, has certainly captured the imagination of those in the area.

“It’s a real example of what the partners wanted to achieve by a collaborative approach to promoting the region,” says Corsi. “The Trump development is expected to be a major catalyst in attracting other high profile businesses and people to the area. Trump says he scoured the world for the perfect site, viewing more than 200, before he found the site at Balmedie, which he says is ‘incomparable’ – and there are many other unique aspects about the region which are currently overlooked.”

“Aberdeen City & Shire needs to pull up its socks,” concludes Buchanan, “and we all need to start working together if the region is expected to compete on a global scale. Both public and private sectors need to pull together to make it work and this is now happening. We have had too many ‘nearly there's’ so we should all get with it and allow it to develop grow and expand.”

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