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19 Nov 2013

Four cities, one prize. How do you solve that problem, Maria?

Posted on November 19, 2013 by

Some of Britain’s biggest stars of stage and screen have been helping four cities audition to become the UK’s second City of Culture.

The 2017 award will be announced tomorrow (Wednesday 20 November), with the winner chosen from a shortlist of Leicester, Swansea, Dundee and Hull.

Movie legend Lord ‘Dickie’ Attenborough is supporting Leicester’s bid, while Welsh actor Michael Sheen has got behind Swansea’s campaign. Their fellow thespian, Brian Cox, is an ambassador for Dundee, his birthplace, while Hull-born Sir Tom Courtenay is backing the East Yorkshire city.

No doubt the announcement tomorrow by Culture Secretary Maria Miller will be based solely on artistic and cultural credentials, but what if it was judged on the respective cities’ PR efforts? Who would win then?

Let’s take Dundee first. Its bid encouraged local people to suggest what a City of Culture should encompass.  Dundee hasn’t had massive social media support, but the ‘We Dundee’ branding did give the campaign a strong identity. And the Scottish print and broadcast media have flown the flag for the city on a regular basis.

The big PR issue for Dundee is one not of its own making. The Scottish independence referendum could leave the judges in the potentially embarrassing position of having a UK City of Culture which isn’t actually part of the UK. Will they be prepared to take that risk?

Leicester, meanwhile, stressed its ethnic as well as cultural mix, and involved all sections of its community in promoting the bid. That’s bound to go down well with the judges. It also had a lot of celebrity support, from Sir Terry Wogan to Kasabian. There have been numerous events designed to generate positive media coverage, and the city even created its own official bid song to add a fresh PR twist.

Where Leicester could have done better is in social media. The bid team has been prolific on both Twitter and Facebook, but much of the content is identical between the two, and across both platforms they have managed fewer than 5,000 followers/likes. They missed a trick by not having a campaign hashtag, and they didn’t translate all that celebrity and cross-community support onto YouTube.

Bookies’ favourite (just) Swansea Bay had the worst of the dedicated 2017 websites (Hull doesn’t have one), although the site’s Culture Map was a nice way to demonstrate the breadth of cultural opportunities across the area.

Swansea had hashtags galore, and as well as the standard Twitter and Facebook pages it also made use of Vimeo and Instagram – just not very well. Why the bid team chose Vimeo, rather than YouTube, is anyone’s guess. Swansea has had strong local media support, although nationally it’s had the odd criticism that the bid is, technically, not by a single city.

Hull’s bid was led by the council and the city sought to get local people behind the bid by making the most of social media. The campaign had Twitter and Facebook pages, two hashtags, videos on YouTube and image galleries on both Instagram and Flickr. Phew!

The Hull Twitter page has more than 5,000 followers and there’s been some good engagement via #HullYes, but its YouTube channel could have been much better. And while the other cities have been talking themselves up, Hull appears to have gone out of its way to make it appear to be nothing special, nothing to shout about. All very Hull, very Yorkshire, but reinforcing perceptions, rather than changing them, hardly seems a vote-winner.

In PR terms, each of the four bids has its strengths and weaknesses, and there’s little to separate them, but for the mix of community involvement, creativity and online engagement, my vote would have to go to Leicester. Which all but guarantees one of the others will win.

Tweets from @AberfieldPR

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