'We Are Staffordshire’ was built on a mission to ignite a collective pride in Staffordshire’s people and for that pride to put the county on the map as THE place to live, work, visit and study. Louisa Shaw, Place Brand Manager, provides further insight.
Staffordshire is a large county made up of stunning natural landscapes, punctuated by historic market towns and situated alongside a post-industrial city. Past perceptions gathered of the county have shown it to be ‘asset rich’ but low profile,, with a lack of identity; situated in the middle of the UK and sandwiched between the two regional cities of Birmingham and Manchester.
By harnessing the county’s greatest assets – it’s treasures and its people – during the past two years our place marketing delivery vehicle, We Are Staffordshire, has developed and delivered upon a clear strategy to put Staffordshire’s story on the regional, national and global stage.
From its inception, collaboration has been central to We Are Staffordshire’s place-making activity, activating a brand and vision that everyone can stand behind and feel part of.
To understand the initial perceptions of Staffordshire, a specialist place marketing agency, thinkingplace, were commissioned in late 2019 to canvas key stakeholders across the county and beyond. This not only helped to provide clarity on our challenges and opportunities, but ultimately informed our structure for what was to become We Are Staffordshire’s bold new narrative, brand and strategy.
Our approach centred around the Staffordshire Story: bringing together different organisations and brands, each with their own priorities and sense of identity, together under one overarching vision.
With a 100 per cent capital investment over a three-year pilot period by Staffordshire County Council, We Are Staffordshire was born in late 2020; a time of huge challenges for local authorities, faced with a global pandemic. Yet Staffordshire’s leadership saw the work as an opportunity to drive post-COVID recovery; to try something new, and allocated funding to support the work.
A Place Brand Manager was appointed with a mission to bring the county’s place brand to life and in April 2021, a new place marketing strategy was developed, harnessing Staffordshire’s greatest assets: its businesses, attractions and people. We had a clear vision for the work to be place and private sector led and secured representation from businesses large and small including JCB, the National Memorial Arboretum, Keele and Staffordshire University, in addition to innovative SMEs such as Woolcool (winner of a Queen’s Enterprise Award for Sustainability).
We Are Staffordshire developed a programme of bold and unique activities that brought our county’s visitor economy, investment and district and borough partners together as a collective, under one unified brand and voice. We ‘learned by doing’ as we navigated the reopening of the UK post-COVID, trying new approaches and building lasting relationships.
Focus was given to key priorities: Fostering collaboration at the heart of all we do; Staffordshire focused engagement to win local hearts and minds, and marketing our county beyond its borders to raise awareness, and put our county on the map.
The mission in establishing We Are Staffordshire was to:
- Develop an overarching vision, strategy and place brand for Staffordshire that everyone could believe in
- Collaborate with teams delivering inward investment, increased visitor economy, skills and education/research to further support prosperity in Staffordshire, through delivery of value-add events and profile-raising activities
- Raise positive awareness of and instil pride in the Staffordshire ‘place brand’ inside and beyond Staffordshire’s borders by using the voice of stakeholder partners as ‘ambassadors’ in all Staffordshire has to offer
- Engage, make connections with, and influence target stakeholders at a national level to amplify Staffordshire’s voice and influence around key local priorities
A multi-channel marketing approach was adopted, including:
- Both hosting and taking a presence at virtual and physical events, including quarterly ambassador events hosted across the county, strategic roundtables, and thought leadership
- Sponsorship of a number of partner awards and events
- The launch of a Staffordshire ambassador network, bringing together a salesforce for Staffordshire who could share the Staffordshire Story inside and beyond the county’s borders
- A library of vibrant and inspiring marketing collateral tied to bold campaigns
- Ongoing communications engagement through digital and social media channels – including a bespoke ‘ambassador portal’ containing a library of branded assets for partners to use
The collaborative nature of We Are Staffordshire’s work has demonstrated that a ‘better together’ approach can and does deliver impact.
The development of Staffordshire’s Ambassador Network has been a central pillar in the strategic vision for We Are Staffordshire to instil pride, inspiration and confidence in Staffordshire businesses. The network now has more than 170 members and over 10 events have been held across Staffordshire, with up to 80 attendees at each event.
Delivering events beyond Staffordshire’s borders, including a round table on Staffordshire’s visitor economy recovery at the House of Commons and a marketplace featuring 20 Staffordshire businesses, has helped to increase the county’s profile nationally. Speaking engagements for We Are Staffordshire and members of its Ambassador Network, including business leaders and University Vice-Chancellors have given Staffordshire a voice on the national stage. Circa 20 speaking engagements have been secured over the past two years.
Staffordshire’s first Investment Prospectus was launched in early 2022, developed in collaboration with the county’s eight districts and boroughs, selling Staffordshire’s wider offer as a place to live, work, visit and study – rather than simply a development proposition. This was launched at international investment event, MIPIM in Cannes (March 2022) and showcased at UKREiiF in Leeds in May 2023, with 15+ meetings taking place to discuss Staffordshire investment at the event, and positive relationships taken forward.
While reaching out beyond borders has been instrumental in increasing awareness of Staffordshire, working within the county on events such as Staffordshire Day and a Christmas shop-local campaign has continued to build on excellent relationships with local businesses, attractions and our district and borough partners as one extended team.
A real testament to how far We Are Staffordshire has come in such a short time was being recognised and shortlisted in two categories in the prestigious City Nation Place Global Awards: Place Brand of the Year and Best Communications Strategy: Place Brand. This shortlist included a number of countries and only one UK city. A fantastic achievement so early in the journey.
Opportunities and challenges
Where previously, a collection of competing brands and activities operated in silos, investment, place and tourism promotion are now becoming increasingly aligned. There are opportunities to continue to drive this forward, along with relationships with Staffordshire’s districts and boroughs and our wider skills and culture/heritage teams, as the placemaking journey for We Are Staffordshire continues to develop, to shape its long-term vision.
Engaging and recruiting more ambassadors and harder to reach groups within the county will play a crucial role in our future plans to ensure that the work is inclusive and representative of the county’s population. Building on current relationships and collaborative approaches will help us to reach more audiences – always a challenge with a large county geography.
Success achieved to date in establishing Staffordshire’s identity, raising awareness and being recognised by City Nation Place provides a solid foundation, but maintaining momentum and continuing to deliver at pace will be crucial to ensuring our continued value and impact is felt by partners and the wider world.
And that brings us onto our impact: whilst measuring the ROI of place marketing activity is not easy, it is crucial. KPIs, clearly aligned to the mission and core objectives, will allow interrogation and understanding of the activities that deliver results, whilst local and national perception surveys will also provide the opportunity to assess how views are changing in the medium to longer term.
The launch of our place brand was the catalyst for change, amplifying our voice and influence beyond expectation. It’s an exciting time for We Are Staffordshire, as the three-year pilot evolves into a long-term delivery vehicle for the county’s place-based vision, encompassing and supporting our visitor economy, investment, skills and cultural teams.
Our vision strategy beyond March 2024 has already been met with approval of our Place Board and county leadership, ensuring that Staffordshire is positioned for success. And with the exploration of a Staffordshire film office underway, plus our latest campaign: A Place to Thrive, showcasing Staffordshire as a wonderful place to call home due to launch in April 2023, we’re delivering at pace and driving forward with our mission.
We are a young, vibrant and evolving place brand, with a track record of delivery. Watch this space for what comes next.
Want to know more?
Contact Louisa Shaw, Place Brand Manager, We Are Staffordshire [email protected]