Thursday, 18 December 2014

The Cork Region Brand Strategy - Assessing Opinion & Messaging

My first post on this initiative, published here and in The Place Brand Observer (TPBO) earlier this month, summarised the development of the city region brand strategy during 2013 and 2014. This work was carried out by a team led by Colliers International Destination Consulting, including Fuzion Design and PR (Cork), Location Connections (London) and Placematters.

This second post (also published in theTPBO) summarises the work undertaken to assess local opinion on the current offers and experience of the region and the messages it was communicating about them. The next post will be on the development of the agreed brand proposition for the region.

Audit: Current Perceptions on Cork Region’s Offer and Experiences

In mid-2013, the first tasks in the agreed work programme to develop a unifying and strategic brand and marketing strategy for the city region were to:
  • Assess local people’s views about the city region and its offer and experiences.
  • Assess the views of those in the business community about the economic development attributes of the region.
  • Review the current messaging and marketing being undertaken by a variety of stakeholders in order to establish what messages were being transmitted about its current offer and experiences, the extent to which there was commonality and alignment of messaging, or a lack of it and where mixed messaging existed.

Assessing Peoples Views

The team’s past experience was that local people and local groups need to be involved in the development of place brand strategies – given opportunities to voice their opinions on the place, opportunities to suggest ideas for the development of the brand and opportunities to participate in its delivery.

When the team commenced work few of the key stakeholders were able to say categorically that they fully understood what Cork people thought and felt about the place and its offer so we started the project using a simple online questionnaire using LinkedIn and Twitter which asked “What do you love about Cork? and What do you like about working in Cork?
This generated a range of very largely positive responses which identified a number of important factors which the team subsequently took into account in developing the brand proposition:

  • The scale and accessibility of the city of Cork is a really strong factor in attracting and retaining people in the region:
“The city is small, you can do it ALL on foot” / “All the suburbs are within c.15 minutes commute” / “Its size – It does not have the vast urban sprawl of Dublin, with congestion, confusion and consternation.” / “It has the intimacy of a big town with the possibility of a ‘largish’ city.” / “It offers both urban and rural in its identity of being a place which has great third level education, beautiful scenery and rich land quality.”
  • The quality of the environment of the region attracts and retains people; it’s not just about jobs and business support services:

The scenery and mountains. Cork is a nature lovers and outdoor pursuit’s paradise.” / “The amazing sights and locations in west cork. There are some stunning unspoiled beaches for really getting back to basics and great bars for tasty pub grub followed by a crisp glass of vino (or 3).  Long strand, Glandore, Rosscarbery, Clonalilty.  It has it all Surfing for my main man and heaps of fun for my little angels. West Cork for me Rocks!!!!”
  • The nature of the welcome given by Cork people and organisations to visitors and newcomers is a powerful factor in attracting and retaining people and business, one that has often been overlooked in previous city brand initiatives:
“The people are incredibly friendly, the city, though small is pretty and has everything within walking distance. It’s got a great vibe.” / “The places are great and beautiful, and they are populated by the friendliest and warmest people I have ever met. #Lovecork :-)” / “From the lovely guy who serves me my coffee in the morning to the bus drivers, taxi drivers & cashiers in M&S, they are positive, bubbly & go above & beyond.” / “Cork people…are very friendly and cheery. You can even hear it in their singing accent. I believe what makes them so friendly though is, they are so proud, and want to let everyone who’ll listen, know. Proud of their achievements, people and places, and how fantastic Cork is.

Cork City Region – Identifying Place Attributes

This work helped to identify a number of key and important attributes about the place which would influence the development of the brand proposition and its parallel messaging strategy – powerful things we would be able to say about the place and its offer, messages reflecting what local people believe and say about the place, messages which could be “proved:

The People

Friendly, their humour, their positivity, their pride in the city, their distinctive accent, their laid back character mixed with a strong work ethic and getting things done, their friendliness, their multicultural character.

Physical Attributes

The scale of the city, its accessibility, the nearness to water, the varied nature of the city, the surrounding towns and villages, the scenery and the quality of the built environment, the feel of a big town without its congestion, the ease of access to the offer.

The Experiences Offered

The atmosphere and the buzz of the place, the food offer, the pubs, the Cosmopolitan nature of the place, the culture and art offer, the range of festivals, the sports opportunities and access to a large range of outdoor activities, the great choice of things to do.
The results indicated to us just how much local people believed that Cork was BIG on the quality of life, BIG on friendly, BIG on size, BIG on access, BIG on choice, BIG on atmosphere.

It also alerted the team to the existence of a powerful menu of offers and experiences which, in different combinations according to personal or business needs and preferences, served to attract people to the place and retain them as learners, employees or as entrepreneurs wanting to start up their own businesses. This would, after much more assessment and debate, become the essence of the eventual brand proposition.

A major benefit of using social media to enable local people to express their views on the place and its attributes was that we had primed a lot of people to take an active interest in the brand development process who responded to our draft Brand Descriptor which we put online to test the brand proposition some months later.

Consultations with Sectors and Communities of Interest

To complement the social media conversation the consultancy team met with representatives of the business community in north, east, south and west Cork and with the South and east Cork Tourism Sector to hear their views on how the place worked, what constituted its offer and experience and to understand how they were promoting the region.

Alongside these meetings we worked with the Cork Chamber of Commerce and the local Enterprise Boards in the region to establish their member’s views on the strengths of the region’s economic development and business support offer. The team also conducted a number of one-to-one conversations with key stakeholders in key growth sectors – technology, biopharmaceutical, engineering, agribusiness, cultural tourism, hospitality, education, sports and development sectors. The results of these meetings were fed into our assessment of current messaging and marketing.

Assessing Formal Messaging

The third element of the initial work undertaken was to identify and assess the range of messages that agencies and groups were then promoting about their elements of the city region offer. These included messages from the City and County councils on economic development policy and resources, from higher education institutions on the learning and training offer, from the local airport, from the port authority, from the local offices of national agencies dealing with inward investment, business support and tourism, as well as messaging by individual private companies and organisations on their service offers for investors, businesses seeking to grow and for visitors.

Dee Waldron of Fuzion analysed our findings about current messaging using a Google Word Cloud tool and concluded that there was no consistency and little overlap between individual messages about the region’s current offer.

Summary: Place Brand Audit and Messaging

In summary the results of the audit indicated that formal communications about the existing offer of the city region:
  • Lacked the passion of the people who had responded to our social media conversations.
  • Were functional, not particularly engaging and largely not effectively targeted.
  • Were often not clear and not doing justice to the city.
  • Failed to capture the great stories of the place and its people elicited through social media.
  • Were largely unconnected.
  • Failed to exploit the local, regional, national and global connectivity of the region.
  • Lacked the unifying effect of an agreed brand proposition and marketing strategy.
In summary the overall messaging could be characterised as being fired by a blunderbuss when a rifle-shot was required.

More positively we concluded that Cork had a great story to tell but it was being lost in too much noise and babble; there were too many “voices of Cork” competing for the limited attention of the rest of the world and they were not agreed among each other on what was most important to say about the offer of the place. In addition, there was no agreement on priority target market audiences.

In short, Cork needed to be a lot clearer on what it offered, to who and what it stands for. Cork stakeholders needed to be more collegiate in their messaging and more united in the creation of a brand.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

The Cork City Region Brand and Marketing Strategy

This blog post was originally carried in The Place Brand Observer 

On 1 October I unveiled the brand and marketing strategy for the Cork city region in south west Ireland at the Global Cork economic conference in the city, an annual event promoting the city region to developers and investors, featuring new initiatives to build the region’s economy. 

This brand strategy is the product of twenty months hard work by a brand development team consisting of Colliers International Destination Consulting (Dublin), Fuzion Design and PR (Cork), Location Connections (London) and Placematters.

The client for the project was a public private partnership of major stakeholders in the region consisting of Cork City, Cork County, Cork Chamber of Commerce, the Port of Cork, Cork Airport, Cork Institute of Technology, University College Cork, the South West Regional Authority and Fáilte Ireland (the national tourism development body).

The objective was to reach agreement among stakeholders, informed by consultation in the community, on a galvanising vision for the development of the region that would inform the development of a brand strategy - a focussed brand proposition that would encapsulate the region’s key value propositions for existing businesses, potential investors, local and migrant workers.

The brief for the brand development team, which has evolved and expanded over the period, required it to:
  1. Assess current (2013) strategic messaging on the offer of the Cork Region.
  2. Identify who was marketing Cork and how Cork performs in various international rankings and indices.
  3. Develop a Brand Proposition for the region as a spur for its economic development.
  4. Test and refine the emerging proposition.
  5. Prepare a Brand Book for all stakeholders to market the proposition in a coordinated way – singing from the same hymn sheet!
  6. Brief stakeholder’s staff on how to make creative and effective use of the Brand Book.
  7. Provide advice on the organisation, responsibilities and work of CORK INC – a new body to manage the marketing of the brand proposition and its future development.

The key stakeholders recognised that Cork needed to:
  • Elevate awareness of its offer domestically and internationally in a Europe and Global economy of growing city regions.
  • Think and act more strategically in terms of its branding and marketing.
  • Identify and promote its global credentials as a location for business development.
  • Not rely on others to promote it – e.g. the Irish IDA.
  • Have more focussed conversations that deliver investment and business expansion for Cork.
  • Help stakeholders sing from the same hymn sheet in promoting the region’s offer and experiences.

To undertake the work the brand development team used the Placematters Brand Compass, a proprietary tool that enables places to envisage their desired future place and chart a pathway to get there and make a reality of their vision.

In summary, the assessment of current messaging about the region’s offer by key stakeholders  indicated that:

·   It lacked the passion of the people and business of the region.
·   It was functional, not engaging and largely not effectively targeted.

  • ·   The propositions were not clear and messages were not doing justice to the region.
  • ·   The region was failing to capture the great stories of the place and its people.
  • ·   Communications were not inviting potential investors to share their agenda and needs.
  • ·   There were a lot of unconnected messages.
  • ·   There was too much detail in the messages.
  • ·   Communications were failing to exploit regional, national and global connections.
  • ·   There was a great story failing to be heard because of too much noise and babble – a Tower of Babel effect.
To complement the audit of communications the team extensively used social media to solicit views and opinions on the current offer and experience of the city region. Overall the responses indicated a large sense of satisfaction with Cork as a place to live, learn and work, especially satisfaction with the quality of life, with learning and job opportunities. The team used these results to consult with a number of businesses in key sector groups and communities throughout the county of Cork to identify what people considered to be the core of the region’s economic development offer that might form a brand proposition.

The team then carried out an extensive audit of the offer and experience of the region that had been identified through the consultations and its own research – of its assets, attributes (the things it is good at) and its range of attractions, for example, its offer to inward investment companies, to expanding local businesses, to young people wanting to take courses in further and higher education, and to people considering coming to the region to work.

The results of the audit enabled the team to construct a “proofed” brand proposition for investment in the economic development capacity of the region – all propositions being identified and proved to be accurate. The essence of the proposition is that the region has the right mix of offers for people and business to make a success of their careers and their firm’s development, based on four brand pillars – an extensive economic support menu, a great quality of life, a great learning environment and a significant cultural, heritage, leisure and entertainment offer, as important to local people as it is to visitors and potential investors.

This draft proposition was then tested locally in the region, in Ireland and internationally through the Colliers International global network of offices. A summary of the draft proposition – a Brand Descriptor – was posted on the internet with a questionnaire for respondents to record their views. A significant majority of respondents validated the proposition and many suggested ways of strengthening it which was helpful in refining and finalising it.

The Cork Brand Pyramid - A summary of the brand

A Brand Book was then prepared to explain the agreed proposition to the many organisations and businesses in the region who would be individually and collectively responsible for marketing and promoting it and a copy can be downloaded at

Following the launch of the brand stakeholder’s staff were briefed on the proposition and how to make effective use of the Brand book and work is now underway to create a new organisation – CORK INC – which will be responsible for managing the promotion of the brand and its future development.

I am giving a keynote presentation on this initiative at the forthcoming Destination Branding and Marketing Conference in Macao on 4 and 5 December and a copy of my presentation will be available after the conference. Future posts on this initiative will cover the challenges the brand development team faced in fulfilling the client brief and how they built the brand strategy, stage by stage.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

The West London Corridor - Full Marks, Potentially a Very Powerful Destination Brand for the UK and Europe

I was very pleased to be invited to attend the recent Place West London conference on 25 June which was focussed on the regeneration of west London. Place West London is a partnership of local authorities, major operators, landowners and developers along the west London corridor, plus the West London Chamber, Brunel University and Heathrow Airport, - an area roughly from Hammersmith town centre out to Heathrow, taking in parts of Brent, Ealing, Hammersith and Fulham, Harrow, Hillingdon and Hounslow. 

The agenda for the day was focussed on progress with a good number of major development projects which illustrate the progress being made. The event was energetically chaired by Richard Barnes, Chairman of the West London Advisory Board, a former leader of the London Borough of Hillingdon Council.

Below I summarise the things that struck me as important during the conference from speakers contributions. If the conference were a school report I would mark west London at 8 out of 10 for progress and conclude that it was doing very well but still had potential to do better.

I was very impressed by the progress that has and continues to be made on the development and improvement of the corridor - a place which now has even greater potential than I recognised during the period 1979 to 1987 when I was Economic Development Officer and then Assistant Director of Development for the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham. 

At the end of the day I concluded that the time is now ripe for the stakeholders in Place West London to give serious consideration to work even more closely together to develop a destination development brand strategy for the corridor to capture and promote the great offer that is being created there.

Old Oak Common

The conference opened with a session on realising the vision for the development of the area of north Hammersmith known as Old Oak common.

                           Artists impression of development potential at Old oak Common
                                                          Image courtesy of

This is a major site of former and unused railway sidings and some still operational facilities, centred on the planned new Crossrail Station which is likely to also connect with the proposed High Speed 2 line north out of Euston, creating a major transport interchange which will act as a hub and driver for growth and new development in this currently quite deprived area of west London. Malcolm Scholar of the Greater London Authority told delegates that the site is now being designated as a New Opportunity Area in the Greater London Plan. It will accommodate an estimated 24,000 new residential units, 55,000 jobs, space for commercial, education, retail and open space and leisure uses; in other words the creation of a new town at the confluence of Hammersmith, Brent and north Kensington with a modern major rail interchange at its heart, directly linking the area to the Western Corridor down to Bath and Bristol, to Birmingham, to south and south east London and to east London and Essex. 

This is a rail equivalent of a major international hub airport; creating a new "Capital" for west London for which an indicative masterplan is currently being prepared to guide the development of the area which will have the benefit of a Mayoral Development Corporation to determine major planning applications in the designated area.

A couple of weeks ago I took part in a workshop organised by John Worthington of the Independent Transport Commission during which it became very apparent that this development has the potential to be a real driver for innovation in urban development and design and modern rail interchange. Business as usual, or more pertinently, design as usual will not fully realise the vision for this new centre in west London. Ambition informed by urban innovation and the highest standards of design, layout, facilities and services, will need to be the order of the day. If this can be achieved then Old Oak Common, or whatever new name it might be given, has the potential to be as important to London and the south East as the development of Canary Wharf in London's Docklands in the 1980's.

Earls Court

The next development to be reported on was the Earl's Court development of CAPCO (Capital and Counties), who are in partnership with Transport for London (TfL), creating a major mixed use development of 77 acres on the site of the former Earl's Court exhibition halls (appropriately famed in popular memory for the Ideal Home Show) and TfL's adjacent London Underground land holdings. This is probably the largest mixed-use development currently underway at the eastern end of the west London corridor and one that will significantly change the character, identity and reputation of the Earl's Court area.


                               Artists impression of proposed development at Earls Court
                                                       Image courtesy of Construction Enquirer

A key design feature of the development will be the creation of four "villages" and a high street, which together, form the overall organising principle for the development's masterplan, delivering 10.7 million sq. ft.of development comprising 8,000 residential units, 1 million sq. ft. of offices and 0.9 million sq. ft of retail, leisure, cultural and community uses and an hotel. Work is underway on the first of the villages - the Earls Court Village, a development that will significantly enhance the offer of the area and make it a destination offering facilities to the population of the wider west London corridor. The development has nor been with out controversy however, a major issue of contention to a number of local residents being the sale of public housing owned by Hammersmith and Fulham Council to the developers who have publicly stated that they will rehouse the displaced tenants in social housing.

The Hammersmith Flyunder

The next presentation to fire my imagination came from Patricia Bench, the Chief Executive of the Hammersmith Town Centre BID (Business Improvement Area) who spoke eloquently and with sincere passion about the proposal for a "Flyunder" for Hammersmith Town centre - a tunnel to replace the current flyover which effectively dismembers the town centre and cuts it in two.

                                                              Hammersmith Flyover 
                                                                 Image courtesy of TfL

                                  Artists impression of proposed Hammersmith Tunnel 
                                                         Image courtesy of

If this imaginative project can be realised, and there is now a significant level of serious interest in it from London's Mayor, the local authority and land owners, it will significantly reduce air pollution, seriously rejuvenate the economy of the immediate area and re-establish Hammersmith as a major centre in west London and reconnect it to the Thames riverside - currently a largely hidden asset. Thirty years ago when I was working on proposals for the Hammersmith Island site we would have been laughed out of court if we had suggested this as a proposal; how times change and thank goodness that they do.

Going Further West - The Berkshire Corridor

Also of great interest to me and importance to the west London corridor as it extends west into Berkshire and towards and beyond Slough, were the presentations by Tim Smith, Business Director of the Thames Valley Berkshire Local Enterprise Partnership, and Ruth Bagley, Chief Executive of Slough Borough Council. 

What Tim shared with the delegates was the significant degree to which Berkshire contributes value added to the corridor and to the UK as a whole, the scale of innovative and leading edge businesses that have been attracted to the area, in part due to Heathrow being in the corridor (and see my June post on the consequences for the corridor of Heathrow being closed), and its being able to draw on a reservoir of very talented people and institutions like Brunel University, Reading University and Royal Holloway college. Elsewhere in Europe what US consultants McKinsey has described as "The War for Talent" is becoming central to brand-led destination and investment strategies as cities and development corridors recognise that this is the new battleground for city region development. This is a battle that the Berkshire corridor is well placed to fight.

                     Architect's impression of new offices proposed for Slough Town centre
                                                              Image courtesy of architects 3D Reid

Ruth focussed on the extent to which Slough was working in innovative partnerships with private developers to secure an improvement in, and an increase of, high quality development in its town centre and areas adjacent to it, creating space for the expansion of existing businesses and the location of inward investing ones, as well as new housing, leisure and entertainment facilities, all of which will be made easier to achieve by the designation of the area as a "Simplified Planning Zone", the creation of a Local Asset Backed (development) Vehicle (LABV) and a Slough Regeneration Partnership.

Having heard these presentations I am persuaded that any destination brand strategy for the London "part" of the west London corridor could realistically be extended westwards to Slough if not to Reading, and should be given serious consideration.

Persistent Challenges

During the concluding "Question Time" style Q&A I was struck by a question put to the panel by Ian Macdonald of  Strategic Planning Associates who asked the panel to consider why, despite all of the surrounding development taking place, the White City Estate in Shepherds Bush was still a very deprived place. A representative of Westfield Shoppingtowns Limited shared a number of the initiatives the developer was taking to assist residents of the estate but I felt that these, good as they are, do not constitute a comprehensive approach to the still evident problems of the estate, whose resolution requires a more imaginative and effective approach if such areas are to benefit from the clear benefits that the scale of development is creating.

                                                   White City Estate Shepherds Bush
                                                           Image courtesy of Rightmove UK

In Conclusion

In conclusion, as I mentioned above, I believe this corridor is now developing a major offer of facilities and services for both local people and businesses and potential investors and developers, of a scale and significance to make it one of the most attractive locations for investment and development in the greater London area. And when you consider that it currently benefits from the international destination brand reputation of Heathrow, now is surely the time to capitalise on the success of development to date and that in the pipeline, by creating a powerful destination brand strategy for the corridor.

Friday, 20 June 2014

The Role of Railway Stations in Place-making

On Wednesday 18 June I attended a workshop organised by John Worthington and Bright Pryde of the Independent Transport Commission (ITC) on this topic at the offices of Space Syntax in London. The ITC is Britain's independent research charity committed to improving transport and land use policy. It is currently reviewing proposals for High Speed Rail (HSR).

                                           Ariel view of London Bridge Station redevelopment

I was pleased to be invited to participate in the workshop as I have recently been giving a lot of thought to the role of stations being improved or redeveloped as a catalyst for the regeneration of the areas surrounding them as part of my work for Team London Bridge to develop a destination brand strategy for the London bridge area in central London. In this area a central challenge is how best to realise and spread the benefits of the redevelopment of London bridge Station.

                               Proposed design for reuse of railway arches at London Bridge Station

John, a Commissioner of the ITC, set the scene for the workshop by identifiying three themes of relevance to station identity and placemaking from its work to date on HSR:

  1. The station as a gateway and focus for innovation for the city and its sub region, now a characteristic of how SNCF, the French rail company, now approaches station development.
  2. The station as a place of connection - not only to other cities and places but also as a connector of surrounding neighbourhoods within the same city.
  3. The station as a catalyst for regeneration in the surrounding neighbourhoods and along the transport corridors connected to the station.

                               Sketch of proposed improvements at den Hague Station in the Netherlands
                                             cited as a good example of railway station area renewal

In a wide ranging discussion that followed John’s scene setting I was particularly struck by the following points:

  1. Camilla Ween (an architect with Goldsteing Ween) reminded us that along the route of Crossrail  in London there were now thirty stations where development plans are being prepared to capture the value and opportunity of new station development for their surrounding areas and argued that the stakeholders in this process need to have a strong vision of what the place around the stations might become in order for this value to be realised, and that local stakeholders need to be brought together to create and share an aspiration and the benefits of joint action. She also shared that an exhibition on Crossrail station development proposals is on at the New London Architecture gallery.
  2. This led John to float the idea of the formation of "master-developers" for station area development and wondered aloud who might be best placed to take on this role - Network rail, the local authority, developers, major landowners, or some combination of them and others - or, as is the case at the Old Oak Common development in West London, a more formal development arrangement supported by the mayor of London. As you might expect there were a variety of views on who the players might be but there was agreement that some form of development partnership was required to create and capture the wider value by taking responsibility for the development and not just leaving it to chance. A good example of this kind of approach is the development of the station and surrounding area at the Hague in the Netherlands.
  3. A number of participants had experience of major station redevelopment and improvement, notably at Kings Cross and St Pancras in London  who stressed that station improvements offered opportunities to open up formerly derelict and unconnected areas for development to provide much needed facilities, services and connectivity to previously isolated areas. 
  4. Another participant reminded us that we need to be fundamentally clear about the functions of stations, particularly major termini and exchange (or hub) stations. The y have traditionally been seen as fundamentally and functionally as places to get on and off trains - full stop! Now we are discussing them as places to access the offer of surrounding areas and to become part of the offer of those areas and this is very different from the way in which they have been seen and planned in the past. 
  5. An interesting and important point that had escaped my attention to date was made by Peter Headicar, an ITC Commissioner, that outside of central London and the major metropolitan cities, the issues we were discussing  were not being considered in smaller urban settlements with the same degree of enthusiasm or seriousness and exemplified his point by reference to the difficulties of improving the station in Oxford where he lives.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

London Heathrow's Future - The Crossroads for the West London Economy

Yesterday I attended an important seminar organised by Place West London at the Heathrow Academy at London's Heathrow Airport. The focus of the meeting was what kind of future might Heathrow have as the UK's leading international hub airport and what might be the consequences for West London of the two most obvious scenarios - government support for the construction of a third runway (or the extension of one of the existing two runways) and the closure of the airport if a new one is to be constructed in the Thames estuary east of London.

What struck me most forcibly about the debate at the event was the extent to which, for the first time in my memory, people and agencies in the area affected were really beginning to examine the potential consequences for the west London area and the wider Thames valley area of the closure of Heathrow. 

I spend a large amount of my time helping places think through their future offer and experience and its usually a very positive process - helping them to envisage an improved future place and figuring out the pathway to get there and make a reality of their vision. And although a number of the speakers referred to potential options for reusing the space vacated by the airport if it should have to close, including a major slug of new housing and an education cluster, what was clear to me was the potentially devastating blighting effect on the area around the airport and further west in the Thames valley that would be created by years of running down the airport until a new estuary hub airport was completed (potentially prolonged by extensive consultation and public enquiry), the demolition of existing buildings and the new building that might take place on the site - potentially a period of up to 30 years. 

And the blight would not be confined to the built environment - it would significantly affect the economy of West London and the eastern end of the Thames Valley and potentially involve a significant movement of businesses, of population and significant levels of unemployment, especially among lower skilled workers currently employed at the airport who might not be able to, or wish to, move to work on the eastern perimeter of greater London at the estuary airport.

What was clear is that in considering their options for a third (or extended) runway at Heathrow or a second at Gatwick that the Davies commission set up by the prime minister to assess them, will have to give significant consideration to the economic, social and environmental consequences of both the impact of a new runway and of the closure of Heathrow if the estuary option is chosen.

While there was a sense of optimism from a couple of the speakers that the west London area might benefit from a significant increase in new housing and further and higher education provision on the site of Heathrow if was to close, my sense was that these benefits would be far outweighed by the negative and long term effects of closure.

In comparison, approval for the construction of a third runway at Heathrow would generate a significant level of economic benefits to the west London economy both through its construction and that of associated infrastructure, through the increased scale of operations and through jobs being created in west London and at the eastern end of the Thames valley. And a third runway would confirm Heathrow as the principal gateway to the UK and as a pre-eminent gateway to Europe, with potential economic benefits to the wider UK economy through parallel infrastructure improvements to connect the airport to Crossrail and High Speed rail connections to the UK midlands and north. 

One other thing was clear to me by the end of the afternoon and that is that when the Davies Commission delivers its recommendations to central government in 2015 then whatever government is in power needs to be decisive about its response - it chooses one option over the alternatives and agrees to implement it. What would be unfortunate is if that government procrastinates and plays for more time before biting the bullet of a hard choice. There is already some evidence that the uncertainty over Heathrow's future is reducing the attractiveness of the west London corridor to inward investors and some airlines are clearly reconsidering their operations at the airport.

And, if the decision is to opt for the estuary airport option, then a major effort will need to be made by central government to work long term (maybe up to 30 years) with Hillingdon, Hounslow and Ealing, and authorities bordering them, to fund and plan the recovery of the area on a comprehensive basis of redevelopment - one that has a major economic development driver at its heart that will generate employment and wealth as opposed to a new suburb and education centre; in other words new place-making on a grand and significant scale.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Museo Sorolla Madrid

While in Madrid last week to speak at the European Regional Airports conference I visited the Museo Sorolla, a major cultural attraction of the city, on the recommendation of my pal Charlie Jamieson, one of Scotland's leading painters and a man who recognises a great fellow "colourist" when he sees one.

An outstanding example of a "house museum" the Museo Sorolla in Madrid has preserved the atmosphere of what it was like when its celebrated occupant, Joaquin Sorolla Bastida, lived there in the early twentieth century. The artist's studio, illustrated above and below, is a very large space, full of light with an airy feeling about it even although its walls are now full of the artist's work, examples of which are shown below.

Born in Valencia in 1863, Sorolla became known in Spain as the quintessential painter of Spanish peasant dress and customs at a time when traditional dress was dying out and as a painter of life at the sea side and portraits of intimate natural family life. His work has been compared to that of Sir John Singer Sargeant and he himself recorded how much he had been influenced by the painting style of Velasquez and the Scandinavian painters "en plein air", Zorn and Kroyer. He was particularly inspired by the Valencian coastal landscape and by the landscapes of the Spanish interior, for example, around Toldeo. 

All the while he developed a very distinctive style of portraiture, often using his wife and children as his models. Latterly, towards the end of his life, he developed this style through his portraits of Spanish peasants in their traditional dress, as shown below.

For me this museum was a joy to discover and a wonderful addition to my knowledge of Madrid's cultural attractions, offering a contrast to the more formal paintings found in the Prado. I recommend you to visit it the next time you are in Madrid.. 

The Benefits of City and Regional Destination Branding - Attracting People, Investment and Airlines

Terminal 4 Madrid Barajas Airport

On Thursday 13 February I gave a presentation on this subject to the annual European Regional Airports conference in Madrid. The theme of the conference was "The Economic Impact of Airports" and, after a general scene setting by Lea Bodossian, Secretary General of the Conference, on the importance of airports to city and economic development, discussion focussed on (1) the impact of airports and (2) what cities and airports can do for airlines. 

Of most interest to me were the presentations by (1) Jean-Francois Benon, the Director of the Val d'Oise Development Agency in France on the role of Paris Charles De Gaul Airport in that agency's development strategy and, (2) Elena Mayoral Corcucuera, Director General, Madrid Barajas Airport, on the initiatives her airport is taking to integrate its development with regional development initiatives.

The brief given to me by Lea for my presentation was to stress the importance of destination branding for cities and their regions and to explore how their airports might play a key role in the development of such strategies. What follows below is a synopsis of the key points I made in my presentation.

I opened by stressing the important role that cities and their regions play in driving economic growth and that it is that growth that needs to be captured in destination branding strategies.

I then explored why brand strategy is important for the development of city regions. In summary, my argument is that they need to (1) differentiate themselves, (2) develop a recognisable identity, (3) understand that they are in competition with many other cities and regions around the world - principally for human talent, investment, tourists and visitors, and (4) take action to retain their existing people, businesses and institutions.

Then I focussed on why airports should be involved in city region brand strategy. Airports are a major driver of local economic development in terms of job generation, workforce expenditure, investment in direct business services connected with their operations and indirectly in terms of tourist and business visitors expenditure. They also have a little recognised but important role to play in that they are, like rail termini, a "brand gateway" - a place where visitors get a first "taste" of the brand offer in action and up to date information on its offer to reinforce any pre-trip research they may have undertaken. 

Airports, particularly hub airports, can showcase major elements of the city's offer, a good example being the exhibitions at Amsterdam Schipol on the offer of the Rijks Museum.

The Riks Museum "taster" exhibition at Amsterdam Schipol Airport

Airport terminals can also play a role in promoting the entertainment and commercial offers of their city. For passengers awaiting flights they can entertain them with performance excerpts from theatre, musical and dance productions currently playing in the city.  

They can also act as a showcase for the major commercial brands that the city gave birth to, for example fashion and food brands - either through exhibitions of their product range (in pop-up spaces) or actual retail outlets where the city brands can sell their product range.

Given that most of the airports represented at the conference possessed little knowledge on what's involved in city and region branding I summarised it as follows:

  • Its not about the design of logos or the composition of tag lines
  • It's being strategic about being competitive
  • It's about the place identifying it's distinctive offers and experiences
  • It's about levering their assets, attributes and attractions
  • It's being clear on their target audiences
  • It's about their ability to attract and retain human talent, investment and businesses
  • It requires an understanding of key international city competitiveness factors and how the ratings agencies compile their statistics on city and region economic performance
  • It involves their levering the attractiveness of their heritage and cultural assets, higher education institutions and research and development organisations
  • It involves them developing and maintaining the city as a quality living environment

Cities and regions which have developed powerful destination brand strategies:

  • Have clarity on the market audiences for their different assets and attractions
  • Develop powerful tailored messages for individual audiences on their offers and experiences
  • Tell their target audiences compelling and powerful stories about their offer and about who is already operating successfully there
  • Assemble brand propositions of value for each of their target audiences
  • Clearly communicate how those propositions can be accessed and delivered
  • Are consistent in their messaging with all stakeholders singing from the same hymn sheet
  • Recognise that you cannot tell everyone, everywhere, everything about your offer all of the time

Cork and Kerry Mountains

To illustrate these points I presented a case study on the initiative being taken in Ireland to develop a destination brand for the Cork Region in the south west of the island. This initiative is being led by Cork City Council and Cork County Council with the active involvement of a number of key stakeholders including Cork Airport, the Port of Cork, Cork Chamber of Commerce, University College Cork, the Cork Institute of Technology and Failte Ireland, the Irish tourism development body.

The impetus for this initiative came from a recognition by a number of these stakeholders that the existing marketing of the Cork region offer and experience was confusing, uncoordinated and lacking a common focus - principally agreement on what constituted the region's destination brand and a focussed brand proposition.

To remedy this and develop a destination brand proposition and a strategic marketing plan to promote it the stakeholders appointed Colliers Ireland (Dublin), Placematters and Fuzion PR (Cork and Dublin). Our work programme consisted of:
  • Assessment of current marketing and messaging about the region
  • Identification of the region's  assets, attributes, attractions and ambitions
  • Development of a brand proposition 
  • Market testing of the brand proposition 
  • Brand refinement following testing
  • Brand briefing for key stakeholders on the agreed proposition
  • Advice on brand management and implementation
Considerable progress has been made and the agreed initial brand proposition is about to be tested in a number of target markets over the coming months.

A copy of my slide presentation can be downloaded from the home page of my web site at

Further information on the Airports Regions conference can be found at www.airport

Friday, 17 January 2014

The Georgians Revealed

I've just been to see "The Georgians Revealed Exhibition" at the British Library in London - which runs until mid-March.

I first became aware of the Georgian's through their architecture when I was an undergraduate town planning student and have learned more about them over the years from literature (Jane Austen to Patrick O'Brien, Dan Leno, Fanny Burney and Beau Brummel), film (the Madness of King George), TV (Flashman) and visits to Bath, the Brighton Pavilion, the New Town in Edinburgh and histories and novels of the Napoleonic wars. 

Even so I was not expecting to discover so much more about the ordinary, OK mainly middle class, people of the Georgian period as was on display in this great exhibition. It really brought home to me how places and developments reflect and are a reflection of the impact of war, peace, the development of trade, manufactures and products, changers in consumer tastes and behaviours. It is town planning and urban development brought to life through the perspective of the people who designed and built Georgian towns and cities, the grand mansions of the aristocracy and the speculative developments of squares and multiple occupation buildings; through the design, manufacture and use of a host of products that made living more comfortable for those with the means to afford them; through the growing awareness among some of the well to do of the rise of poverty and the need for private if not public care to alleviate it (the Foundlings Hospital at Coram Fields in London for example); and through the growth of a consumer society and the introduction of new types of shops to serve it, for example early interior decoration materials and furniture suppliers.

And the exhibition catalogue is a treasure chest of detailed information on urban development, place making and biography of the movers, shakers, innovators, gossips, rakes, criminals and creatives of the period; well worth the purchase price of £20.00.

Go see it!

Rediscovering Lambs Conduit Street in London

Yesterday I rediscovered Lamb's Conduit St in Central London. It's been about twenty years since I was last there and it was reassuring that the Lamb, a great Young's pub, was still there and serving a great pint. This was always a street that was a magnet for independent small shops and it does not disappoint today with a good range of clothing retailers, restaurants, bookshops, groceries and vintners. It's well worth a visit and I could see why it was considered for a great street ward by the UK Academy of Urbanism.