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City of Wolverhampton – developing a strategy to tell a city’s story

With traditional industries making way for new opportunities, the city of Wolverhampton has a new story to tell. Simon Jones, account director for Westco and Ian Fegan, Head of Communications, explain how they worked together with their partners to develop a place marketing strategy to articulate that narrative and attract investment. By Simon Jones, Account Director for Westco and Ian Fegan, Head of Communications, Wolverhampton City Council.

The challenge

Wolverhampton is turning a new chapter. It’s a growing city of opportunity and a place that is moving on from the decline of more traditional manufacturing industries. It’s an exciting time but ensuring its success relies on attracting further investment and galvanising the support of the whole community. To achieve that we needed to develop a clear strategy that outlined what we would do and how we would make best use of all the assets that the city already has.

The solution

 We decided to divide our place marketing strategy into a number of distinct, practical steps which we believe would work well for all places interested in embarking on a place marketing project:

  1. Place audit

We conducted research into the current perceptions of the city with local and national businesses. We also ran focus groups with the wider community, and more targeted groups (such as young people) to better understand perceptions of the city and the barriers and drivers to economic opportunity. During this phase we also engaged staff by holding workshops with our economic development senior managers to help them to set measurable objectives for this work and identify key target audiences. We also ran workshops with the council and partnership groups to identify the area’s assets. This went way beyond transport links and connectivity. It looked at everything that contributes to the quality of life of people in Wolverhampton including culture, art, sport, community pride, amenities and enterprise.

  1. Governance

We made sure that our strategy looked specifically at whether the council and its partners had the right internal mechanisms in place to achieve and drive this work. This meant recommending setting up a Growth Board that brought all the key participants together to provide oversight and governance to the work and ensure accountability.

  1. Brand purpose

Once our research phase had finished we looked at the results and used it to develop a brand purpose – an outline of the key reasons why businesses should relocate to an area. At this stage we also began identifying potential ambassadors and advocates across the council, its partners, stakeholders and the community who we could use to help us tell this story.

  1. Narrative

With our overarching purpose clear, we developed these messages into a narrative which brought all the strengths of the area together and articulated them in a simple and engaging story. We made sure that as well as ringing true with our audiences, the story also delivered an emotional connection.

  1. Brand creation

At this stage Wolverhampton started to bring the story to life with photography and imagery. As you can see, while the visuals are a vital part of the story, they’re not the starting point. Brand guidelines so that there was consistency and clarity about how the story should be told.

  1. Place influence

We worked closely with policy teams to think about what policy asks we could identify to help unlock further growth and ensure that the ambitions of the place marketing strategy could be realised. The asks will be different for all places but could include things like investment in infrastructure or developing brownfield sites. Engaging policy and public affairs colleagues helped us to better establish how we were looking to influence and allowed us to develop the networks and relationships that enabled us to put out business case in front of the right people.

  1. Marketing strategy

At the end of all of this work we looked at implementing a marketing strategy which had clear objectives and worked with different audiences. It’s vital that corporate communications play a key role in this work to ensure that the right channels are used to cascade your message, reach your target audiences and celebrate your people and place.

The impact

The work is helping Wolverhampton consolidate its economic offer and start to reach new audiences through a new-found confidence about the city’s future and the role it can play in helping businesses succeed as well as ensuring that the people living in the city are the principle beneficiaries of growth.

Why it worked / how we’re sustaining it

Working in this strategic way enabled us to focus on outcomes and order our activity in a sensible, logical order. By starting with research it also ensured that the work we have delivered is rooted in insight.

Lessons learned

Perhaps the biggest lesson, and advice for others, would be the need for place marketing to be positioned as a key strategic communications and organisational issue. It should not sit in a silo and be focused on flashy website, nice imagery or bullet points about transport links. It should be positioned as a corporate priority, involve colleagues and stakeholders across the council and its partners and have a clear outcome – in this case, the need to attract tangible investment to achieve our ambitions for the people who live in, work and visit Wolverhampton. 

Want to know more?

For more information please contact Simon Jones on 020 7641 5242