Selby District Council – place branding for investment

Attracting and supporting business growth is a key part of Selby District Council’s corporate strategy. To help achieve this, the council needed to develop a compelling place brand to promote the benefits of the area to current and prospective businesses. Communications Manager Mike James explains how the council is telling its story to this vital audience. This case study forms part of our place branding toolkit.

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The challenge

Like many councils, attracting growth to the area is an important strategic priority. At Selby District Council we have been investing particularly heavily in this area, creating a new economic development team and framework over the past two years. As an organisation we decided to focus a large part of our growth activity on attracting businesses to the area. Our geographical location places us right in the heart of Yorkshire, in the middle of the economic hubs of Leeds, Sheffield, York and Hull. We also have fantastic road and rail connections to the rest of the UK and high quality, more affordable housing. We knew that there were lots of compelling reasons for businesses to start and grow here. We just needed to find a way to tell that story and encourages businesses in the area to reinforce the benefits.

The solution

We began by gathering insight into our audiences, looking at our current businesses and the types of organisations we wanted to attract to the area, as outlined in our economic development framework. We then brought together communicators from across our area’s biggest employers to discuss what made Selby District such a great place to do business and created a baseline for what our story should say. We involved businesses in the process from the very start. This not only helped us from a practical perspective (as a small communications team there is a limit to what you can deliver alone), it also provided us with an authentic story based on real experiences, and engaged our existing business community in the process, positioning them as advocates and owners of the content, not just contributors.

Once we had agreed our broad narrative, we distilled the story into a number of specific key messages. These focused on topics such as our rail and road connections, the affordability of our business space, the quality of life afforded by the area, and the new development opportunities that were opening up. We then identified businesses in the area who we could use as case studies to illustrate these key messages. We selected one company per key message and created stories, imagery and video content to tell those stories in an engaging way. We shared messages through traditional media channels, on social platforms, and through our local enterprise partnership (LEP) networks to widen their reach. We also gave the content we had created to the companies themselves so that they could use the collateral in their own marketing. The messages we developed as a collective reflect the stories the organisations are trying to tell their own individual audiences so it is mutually beneficial to both of us, and our partnership going forward, for everyone to be able to use the material.

The impact

It is still too early to evaluate the full impact of this work but we have already seen significant benefits in our relationships with the business community. Working in this way has created new relationships and opportunities to collaborate. Before embarking on this project I didn’t have existing relationships with the communication teams in local business. Liaison was primarily coordinated through the LEP. Now we have much more open dialogue and almost everyone I approached from the business community agreed to take part in creating Selby’s business story. It was surprisingly easy to involve people from across those organisations as they recognised the benefit that a project like this would bring to the whole area.

As a communications team this work has also helped us to better align our work to the corporate priorities of the organisation and reflect the needs of our officers and members. It’s positioned us as a more strategic service.

Why it worked / how we’re sustaining it

Support from our political and corporate leadership has been a vital part of the project’s success. It has had buy in from those key individuals which has helped us to promote a consistent message to a wide range of people. Our story also has a very clear audience which has allowed us to focus our marketing and promotions in a much more targeted way. We know that we need to think about the business benefits that Selby District brings, which helps prevent us from becoming distracted with other messages. We also have great working relationships and a range of collateral that can be used by different people in different ways which means there’s flexibility and businesses across the area can get involved without having to commit too extensive a resource.

Lessons learned

Projects like this take a great deal of time so it is important to recognise that this is a long term piece of work. It won’t provide overnight results. We also learnt that the overarching story is much more important than developing a bespoke look and feel in the way you might when doing a traditional branding project. We agreed our narrative very quickly, but it took much longer to agree how that should be visually expressed. In hindsight I would have spent less time thinking about that and focused instead on the story and key messages.

Want to know more?

For more information please contact Mike James, Communications Manager for Selby District Council