And the winner is... after months of hard work your heart is in your mouth. You know this decision could change your life and thousands of others too. And the winner is... not you. One comms person was in that boat. But she is still smiling. A week on, this is what she learned.
by Emma Rodgers
Stoke-on-Trent bid to become UK City of Culture in 2021. Waiting in Hull with bated breath for BBC’s One Show live winner’s announcement, the disappointment was overwhelming when we didn’t win. A week on and it’s been therapeutic to consider the lessons learnt for communications and marketing.
Bidding shone a light on Stoke-on-Trent
So we didn’t win but we definitely didn’t lose either. Bidding and being shortlisted to the last five in the competition has without question raised the profile of Stoke-on-Trent. The positivity has been immense and the confidence of the city has grown. People from outside the city have said that they’re looking at Stoke-on-Trent through new eyes. People in the city are too. As a colleague put it “Stokies have learnt to love the city and themselves again" and that genuinely is something you can’t put a price on.
Collaboration is key
The power of Stoke-on-Trent’s campaign was maximising assets in the city. Partnerships are not new for us but bidding took this to a new level. Both our football clubs, media like our local newspaper who have a massive social media presence and our local radio stations, public sector partners, big hitting businesses such as JCB and smaller ones too, cultural groups, the Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent Local Enterprise Partnership and more were all involved. We made connections and build on these collaborations for the benefit of Stoke-on-Trent’s bid. It gave us maximum bang for the budget that we had and showed that when collectively everyone’s telling the same story, it can make a huge difference.
Get creative and push the boundaries
Our bid was literally sent into space by the World’s Strongest Man Eddie Hall and Stoke City FC’s Peter Crouch with the support of KMF, a brilliant local business in the area. We used a duck mascot – reflecting our local dialect - in many different ways including creating a huge 30ft inflatable and 1.2m ducks that went on water. Getting creative while making things happen went hand-in-hand to make the bid campaign unique and memorable.
Be clear on your narrative
Bidding helped us hone our narrative as World capital of ceramics. Our unique selling point of pottery and ‘making art from dirt’ helped us stand apart and loomed large through everything we did. Without clarity of narrative, then honestly you may as well not bother.
Take people with you and explain the benefits
One out of two people agreed in Stoke-on-Trent that bidding was either a positive or very positive to do. By engaging regularly about the benefits of winning for the city, people felt able to understand what it meant for them. One example of this was when we linked with Mark Gregory, Chief Economist for EY and a Stokie, so he could comment expertly and tangibly on the difference winning would make. Residents, businesses, young people and the cultural sector all became ambassadors for the city’s bid and that in itself was truly an amazing thing.
It helped us develop too
Bidding for city of culture was both exhilarating and exhausting. But through it all, we learnt so much. Our communications and marketing skills were fine-tuned, we learnt new skills too. Video was absolutely crucial in the campaign and the role of social media was indisputable. We became more confident and tried and tested approaches so we learnt what worked and what didn’t. That learning was without doubt a brilliant professional experience for us both as a team and individuals. I’d heartily recommend that if you have the chance, embrace the opportunity with a passion.
I’ve never been more proud of the communications team and the contribution they made nor of the wider #TeamStoke who have really shown what can be done together.
Emma Rodgers is head of communications at Stoke-on-Trent City Council and was part of Stoke-on-Trent’s bid team. She is also vice chair ofLGcommunications.