How do you sell a city?
‘It’s one of those things people maybe don’t expect a council to be working on’
Good morning, readers — and welcome to Thursday’s Tribune.
Presumably, since you’ve signed up to one of the city’s hottest news organisations, you’re already pretty sold on the concept of Sheffield. If it has yet to win you over though, that might be about to change. Two weeks ago, the council awarded a London marketing firm a contract worth £140,000 to make this city “happen”. Are they, as some cynics allege, throwing money down the drain?
But first, on Monday, we reported on the new Sheffield City Goals, and it’s fair to say that it sparked a discussion. Most members who commented tended to agree with our critical coverage. “You've absolutely nailed this”, said Ed Cartledge, who felt that “it was impossible to say that any of the suggested goals were less than 100% important because they were so universally positive and lacking in specificity”. Peter B described them as “a blancmange of banality”, demonstrating the kind of flair for words we aspire to at The Tribune. Others highlighted what they felt were issues with the consultation, such as Robin Hughes, who described: “the usual closed questions about approving each goal (was anyone ever seriously expected to say “No, I disagree, we should be [a] bit more racist?”)”
But we also got some pushback. “The assassination of the City Goals begins, somewhat predictably for a city with a rich history of disgruntlement”, wrote Tom French on X. Like others, he argued that we didn’t reflect the value of the process in our write-up. “The goals may not be right yet but the process of collaboration and shared responsibility feels positive for the city”, tweeted Colin Havard. And Alexis Krachai, President of the Sheffield Chamber of Commerce (one of those involved in developing the goals) took to the comments to give us a thoughtful response. “They are so broad and ‘wordy’ because Sheffield, like many cities, faces some incredibly complex interwoven problems,” he wrote. “I’m proud to live in a city that won't compromise and wants the best for everyone. For me there is something for everyone in the goals.”
A few people also highlighted the importance of the six “stories” that the goals were organised under, as a clearer statement of what they are trying to achieve. These include “a creative & entrepreneurial Sheffield”, “a green & resilient Sheffield”, and “a Sheffield for all generations”.
We also asked for your suggestions for Sheffield City Goals. Here are a few of our favourites:
“Raise the quality and quantity of affordable housing in the city” – Celia
“Bring hate crimes to zero” – Joanna Hastings
“Get Houses Built. Get Streets Clean. Get Buses Running. Get Roads Fixed. Get Neighbourhoods Safe.” – Adam West (channelling his inner Dominic Cummings)
Read the full set of comments, and add your own views, here. You’ll have to be one of our paying subscribers to chip in though — sign up today by clicking the button below.
Editor’s note: Thanks to everyone who has signed up to The Tribune in the last few days. Our total number of paying members currently stands at 1995, just five away from our long-term goal of 2000. It might seem like a long time ago now but 1995 was a great year. Dan was revelling in the Britpop era as a sixth form pupil and still had a full head of hair. Victoria was at a slightly different stage of life, having just been born. If you could power us quickly through the slightly disappointing late 1990s and up to Millennium we’d really appreciate it. If we get there by the weekend, you could even meet us in the pub for a drink to celebrate (we’re buying).
Your Tribune briefing
NowThen magazine has presented damning evidence proving that the council did not, as it originally claimed, have to demolish Market Tavern on Exchange Street last month because its turret spontaneously collapsed. In video footage taken as the building began to be knocked down, said turret can clearly be seen, entirely intact. When presented with this undeniable proof, a council spokesperson admitted that “the demolition company was instructed in error at 11:53am” to proceed.
🏒 In November, a man was arrested on suspicion of manslaughter in connection with the death of ice hockey player Adam Johnson, who was injured during a fixture in Sheffield. Marking 100 days after this tragedy, Daily Mail sports writer Ian Herbert argues a conviction would do little to achieve justice. “The sport needs better player safety — not a manslaughter charge,” he insists.
⭐ Earlier this week, the Michelin guide hosted its annual ceremony — in Manchester — to announce which British and Irish restaurants would receive a coveted Michelin star. While none of Sheffield’s restaurants made the cut, the Star has helpfully listed all nine that can boast the lesser honour of appearing in the guide for this year. Our sister paper the Manchester Mill have also published a hilarious write-up of the ceremony, which ruffled feathers by denying its host city any new stars to show off about.
Things to do
🧵 Endless Love Creative have been hosting vibrant makers’ markets in Sheffield for the last six years. On Saturday (10am-4pm), they will return to the Showroom Workstation with over 50 stalls featuring botanicals, ceramics, clothing, jewellery, textiles, homeware, stationary, print and much more. Pre-booking a ticket is advised as the market can get busy at times and this will give you priority entry and allow for more balanced footfall throughout the day.
🎻 On Saturday, the Piccadilly Sinfonietta return to Sheffield Cathedral for a Valentine's concert. Formed in 2017, the Sinfonietta combines some of the best musical talent with virtuoso soloists and focuses on a repertoire of baroque, classical and early romantic music. Pieces played on the night will include Vivaldi's Four Seasons and Violin Concerto and Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. Tickets are priced £19-£42 and doors open at 6.45pm.
🎪 It’s All a Show: Fairground Showmen, Identity and Mental Health explores what it means to be a showman in the 21st century and the relationship between identity and mental health in the community. The exhibition, which is on at Western Bank Library until June, showcases ground-breaking research and collaborations with the NHS, the third sector and academia together with historic archive records and newly created interviews, photographs and poems.
How do you sell a city?
By Victoria Munro
Remember “Leeds Live it Love it”? I’m being facetious — of course you do. It’s the slogan that, in 2005, put the city of Leeds “on the world stage”. It cost Marketing Leeds, the council-funded agency then in charge of pitching the city as the place to be, a mere £150,000 to research and launch — the equivalent of a little more than £247,500 in today’s money. This seems a small price to pay, however, to be known worldwide as a place people both live in and love. Paris might be the “city of love,” but Leeds is the global capital of loving it.
Close to 20 years later and the website created to accompany the campaign appears to have morphed into the personal blog of Darren, a journalist, accountant and seemingly stock photo model living just outside of London. It was last updated in the summer of 2018 and one of its final posts extols the benefits of using massage equipment made in the USA. Evidently, “Leeds Live It Love It” has not quite stood the test of time.
In fact, it took only a few days after the grand launch for some of that shine to wear off. As was quickly discovered, the brilliant minds at An Agency Called England — the firm Marketing Leeds hired to come up with the slogan — had been pipped to the concept of living it and loving it by a narrow margin of two years. The slogan, minus the word ‘Leeds’, had already been put to work in 2003 as part of a campaign to promote the city of Hong Kong.
Suddenly, in some corners, that £150,000 was looking a lot less well-spent. "This is more than just sad,” wrote Labour councillor Stuart Bruce on his blog at the time. “Some of us really do live in and love Leeds and just wish people who are being paid respectable fees and salaries to do a job would do it a bit better.”
Marketing is a bit like plastic surgery: if you do a good enough job, no one should even notice your work. For example, with the exception of uncontacted tribes and lifelong residents of the more restrictive cults, most adults have probably seen the “I ❤️ NY” design, available on t-shirts, hats, fridge magnets and every other imaginable tchotchke in New York City. What they might not know is that this design is the product of a 1977 marketing campaign, commissioned by the New York State Department of Commerce, which was desperate at the time to stop the city’s high crime rates from decimating its tourist economy.
At least when plastic surgery is botched, it’s often easy to understand where the surgeon went wrong. With marketing, there are no such clear answers. After all, what — in precise, scientific terms — made “Leeds Live It Love It” a dud, when “I ❤️ NY” is still a global phenomenon after almost 50 years? The graphic designer responsible, Milton Glaser, certainly didn’t expect it to be such a hit; he scrawled the idea in crayon in the back seat of a taxi and offered it to the campaign for free. Many of the world’s most successful slogans mean almost nothing in the cold light of day; their influence on us is something incantatory and subconscious.
Sheffield Council, it seems, is desperate to see some of that dark magic come this way. As was reported by the Star two weeks ago, it recently agreed to pay the marketing firm Manasian&Co £140,000 to give it their best shot. They’ll work hand-in-hand with the council’s in-house advertising team, Marketing Sheffield, to develop a “Sheffield brand and promotion campaign”. According to the council’s chair of economic development, Cllr Martin Smith, the goal of this partnership will be less about “creating anything new” and instead concentrated on “developing our current city brand with more focussed messages to our target audiences”.
Almost immediately, this announcement raised some hackles, largely due to the fact that Manasian&Co is based in London. Sheffield Council, some complained, had passed over a number of marketing agencies staffed by actual Sheffield people in favour of handing a huge wad of cash to a group of distant southerners. Cllr Smith protested that the procurement process was “transparent” and that Manasian&Co’s pitch simply scored higher than those from eight other bidders, including some based locally, but this defence fell on deaf ears. “It’s very disappointing to see this work awarded to a London agency,” wrote marketing strategist Holly Steer on LinkedIn, “IMO, it shows a lack of confidence in Sheffield and the businesses that operate in the region.”
Can a London marketing agency be relied upon to brand Sheffield, critics asked? In my eyes, there’s a more pertinent question: can anyone?