There’s a lot written about brands – positioning, attributes, equity. But sometimes brands are so badly damaged they need a whole extra level of expert care and attention. And when the damaged brand is a place, its people deserve better.
by our PANEL WRITER Jon Harrison
Hungerford, Dunblane, Lockerbie.
Once a town becomes infamous for something horrific, it’s hard to then shake off that association in the public’s minds.
Rotherham possibly faces the toughest challenge of all. The towns listed above were victims to single acts of terror and there’s nothing they could do about it other than pick up the pieces.
Rotherham is a different case, sustained, predatory violence towards up to as many as 1,400 young girls and the view is that the perpetrators were allowed to get away with it because the authorities turned a blind eye out of a fear of upsetting communities.
That is a stench that won’t go away too easily and engenders very little sympathy from the rest of the country.
To get to the point, not speaking up is not acceptable.
I was born and brought up in Rotherham, my family all still live there and as a season ticket holder at the Millers, I visit quite regularly.
The people of Yorkshire are famous for speaking their mind.
Bluntness is worn as a badge of pride, so how is it that a culture of politeness and silence allowed all this to happen?
Remember, this isn’t like the ‘Operation Yewtree’ historic cases where some misguided people wrongly argue that it was different times.
Six have been convicted and sentenced so far, with hopefully many more to follow.
This means that the headlines will continue and the film crews will drive up from London to find the grimmest shots they can for some months to come. And when similar cases are uncovered in other towns, Rotherham will still be referred back to.
None of this will help the beleaguered town get back on it’s feet.
Experts and psychologists talk of healing and openness. It’s all about honesty and holding people to account in order to ensure the atrocities never happen again.
In essence, speak up and say what they think.
That horse has sadly bolted though and will at best only heal internal wounds and attempt to reconnect warring communities.
If the town were a company, branding experts would be queuing up telling them to change their name to something modern sounding and presenting options of new logos (all in lower case of course). This isn’t an option when you’re a town with a strong sense of pride (even if a little eroded) with over a thousand years of history.
Still reeling economically from the closure of old industries such as steel and coal, why would anyone now choose to invest, open or relocate a business to a town with such a tarnished reputation? The future is in danger of being very bleak.
We’re used to tackling tough briefs. The old mid-Staffs NHS trust and the Police Federation of Northern Ireland are just two recent challenges we’ve undertaken. On both occasions, we engendered an emotional positioning, asking people to think differently.
Rotherham would need a far bigger idea though in order for people to have something else spring to mind when they hear the name (and I’m talking about something more than a couple of local champions and even bigger than the football club winning the Premier League).
In 1963, John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas and for almost two decades this is what the city was famous for. Then in 1978, a man never afraid of expressing an opinion burst on our screens. Step forward JR Ewing. Suddenly, when people mentioned Dallas, they thought more of Southfork Ranch than they did the Book Depository and a grassy knoll.
So, here’s my plea to big thinking TV execs, stop running the place down and find a way to big it up. There’s plenty of people in the town willing to don a cowboy hat and shoulder pads if it helps give the rest of the nation something else to talk about.