Breakout The Branding For 2017

I can think of few better places than Thieving Harry’s on the corner of Humber Street to invite interested parties to come together to discuss the brand identity for 2017. With the sun streaming through the windows, it was just a shame that we had to spend three hours upstairs eating brownies and drinking Thieving Harry’s renowned coffee.  I have been invited to join the process in spite of my last blog about branding or perhaps, because of it. Either way I am glad to be included. The branding for 2017 was put out to tender and there were a number of proposals, both local and national, but only one was felt to be able to deliver on all the criteria.

So it was we spent the day with a dynamic group of visionaries and imagineers from Jaywing immersed in conversation about our fair city. Breakout exercises were the way forward and each was set up and framed, in order to tease out our knowledge about Hull. To get the group, numbering twenty or more to really think about that thing that makes us Hull. What would success look and feel like for us and visitors during 2017? freedomfireworksWe looked at qualities that might be associated with the four defined seasons of programming those being: Made In Hull, Roots and Routes Freedom and Tell the World. I can exclusively reveal that Tell The World will almost certainly taste like a Heston Blumenthal banquet, on fire, with a sense of theatre, sprinkled with popping candy and chip spice. I’m in.

This kind of brainstorming results in a steady trickle of aspirational words, phrases and ideas. Discussions around origins, deep rooted generational attitudes, our old friend community and the importance of the presence of Academic institutions that each and every year bring a sense of renewal to the city, fresh faces with fresh ideas: a new influx of people who will fall hopelessly in love with the city. Some will never leave allowing Hull to become part of their psyche. hessle_rd

There is much said too about the ‘divided city’ whether along geographical or socioeconomic lines. The question was raised whether it was even possible to create a brand identity that works across the ‘statelines’. At our table there were representives who lived and worked in all areas of the city: East, West, private sector, public sectors, council, health and welfare and creative industries. And with each new question we were brought together in a different group so over the course of the day we had worked with and heard from many different voices.

Exploring questions around audience engagement, I mentioned the surprise success of the Larkin 25 Toads. When they arrived the general response was quite negative then the mood changed and people began to love them take ownership of the little amphibian friends and were rightly dismayed when they were taken away and auctioned off.

Kaiserbilia by Anna Bean

Kaiserbilia by Anna Bean

Other times in recent months where Hull has got it right would be #Adelphi30. Brilliantly masterminded by Sowden & Sowden, the thirtieth anniversary of the live music venue resulted in a nationally recognised week long celebration of live music past and present at the renowned Adelphi Club on De Grey Street. The Adelphi is the only music venue with a bomb on its roof to remind us all about the presence of the carpark built courtesy of the Luftwaffe in WW2. We look at life with a slant, a certain humour and the brand identity has to reflect something of that innate Hull quality.

You can’t mention live music in Hull without talking about the meteoric rise of The Sesh and Humber Street Sesh: now its fourth year bigger brighter and more ambitious than ever. It is a Mecca for live music fans in the city and a great family day out.

Lincolnshire put their artists’ artwork on the side of lorries that then become traveling advertisements for tourism to the county. I would like to see flatbed lorries parking up on the estates and theatre spilling from them for free. What does work in terms of cohesion and bringing communities together is spectacle. For a fleeting moment during Freedom Festival we are united in sharing the magical transformation of the city. If that transformative feeling could be sustainable then we’d have the building blocks of legacy. I was thinking about one of my desires for 2017 and that was that people learn something new about Hull. Then I thought about the Russian Doll analogy, each time you discovered something new, that it would lead on to something else, it is a journey of discovery about place and people.

There are many things we could do with the logo and the branding, but the main thing is that we have to want to own it.  It has to be Hull. I banged on about identity in my talk at the end of May and I say again, we have to retain that sense of Hullness. This was a word and feeling that inevitably came up again and again. Hard to define and explain to an outsider, it’s something of the Hull slant on the world. The deliberate but non-maligning way that, on hearing the Turner Prize announcement, a few hours later the wonderful and spontaneous Hull response was the image of Settee of Culture (a worthy contender if you ask me) trending on social media.

Settee of Culture and me by Anna Bean

Settee of Culture and me by Anna Bean

It’s no mean task. Anyone who has spent time on the web will have seen these remarkable design faux pas where a company got it spectacularly wrong, we share and laugh at their misfortune but we need the city, the rest of the country and the world to say Hull got it right. The brand and the story behind it has to be relatable, provocative and sustainable.

The effects of 2017 is not just for the year, it has to be a platform to build a legacy for a better future for all of Hull. Which is why we were asked to imagine the Hull of 2022 and what that might look and feel like. ‘

The A63 road building work would be completed,’ I suggested. There would be a real balance struck between the desire for new building and the preservation, through sympathetic and meaningful usage of old buildings. Hull School of Art and Design would be restored to something of its former nature, where brilliant creative minds flock to study and benefit from learning in a place, that remains at the centre of the national cultural conversation. That would be a good place to be in. A place where you could say, ‘I’m from Hull,’ and  the rest of the world would say, ‘Really? I must visit again,’

There is much work to be done if we are going to dispel the myths that surround Hull. On that topic I suggested it might be a step forward if we could change the attitude of the national media towards us. Hull being the butt of the joke is far from being a thing of the past. I called for a mindset change, a shift in the way we are perceived by others. Then I was reminded that there has to be a ‘before’ story for the positive ‘after’ story to have the desired effect. The outcry when Daniel Knowles of the Economist attacked the city and then the resulting programme on R4, where he was led from place to place to be proved wrong. There-in lies the tension.

Hull likes being the underdog, it gives us something to fight against. Visitors leave Hull remarking how friendly the place is, the people, the outstanding architecture, the hospitality, the rich heritage… ‘ I had no idea it was like that, it’s really good.’ If we spend the time between now and 17 telling everyone how good Hull is that dynamic will shift. The before and after response won’t be as dramatic or monumental or can it be?

deadbodI went away from the session – the first of many different discussions at all levels – having met lots of new people from various sectors, all who are passionate about their city and all who would like to realise real benefits for their communities through the 2017 effect. Is that a thing yet, will it become a thing? Will we wear this badge on our lapel: Will we rush to buy the t-shirt: will we proudly display the banner to the visitors: love it and take it to our hearts like Dead Bod?

1 Comment

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One response to “Breakout The Branding For 2017

  1. Great article Michelle. At the risk of sounding sour-grapesy, I wonder what the criteria is for being invited to these meets; I imagine there wasn’t one of the original ‘Bondholder/City image’ originators there, or for that matter many Common Purpose graduates who have invested hundreds of hours pondering the question about Getting Hull and its unique space/time dynamic and, getting it right.
    Ultimately, brand is about changing behaviours – getting our citizen stakeholders to demand authentic updates about what is happening and not the piecemeal titbits for froth and frivolity. The most oft’ heard phrase in Hull is “I didn’t know that was on!” and, that describes a chronically, historically poor urban PR machine. It sort of perpetuates an unwelcome apathy and you can relate this to the Larkin with Toads episode mentioned in your article. At the outset there was political desire for the project, a few hours in the chamber and all of the joy had been drained out of it and that was ultimately followed by the ‘that’ll never work!’ conclusion that many, ingenious, pioneering Hull visionaries have felt. From public realm to private enterprise a colleague’s PR team showed the Hull spirit and just did it anyway, meaning they had to be purchased. Once displayed our public loved them, they became a fun destination for family and friends and, for once, mirroring the success of the plucky Liverpudians’ Lambananas – the Toads’ springing point.
    There is a saying; “build it and they’ll come” what we need is “tell us what you are dreaming of building and leave the rest to us!”


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