’Every day when I wake up I thank the Lord I’m Welsh,’ so sings
Cerys Matthews on the title track of Catatonia’s album International
It seems this is a sentiment shared by much of the population of
There is an almost palpable sense of pride in Welsh culture at the
moment, a feeling that it is in vigorous good health.
This positive view of Wales has extended beyond its own borders. Bands
like the Manic Street Preachers, Catatonia and Stereophonics have put
Wales on the map musically in a way that has made the old cliche of male
choirs at the coal mine appear irrelevant and anachronistic. Evergreen
entertainers like Tom Jones and Shirley Bassey, plus opera sensation
Bryn Terfel, have exulted in their Welshness to an adoring older,
audience, and a global audience at that.
Suddenly, the red dragon is hot. And Cymru is cool. The forceful
impression is that Wales is on the up.
That impression has been heightened by the establishment of the National
Assembly and this year’s Rugby World Cup (see panels). ’There’s an
atmosphere of a new Wales on the back of the turbulence of the past 20
years,’ says Shandwick Cymru director David Chapman. ’Cardiff is taking
its place as a European capital.’
Indeed, Cardiff’s staging of an EU summit earlier this year together
with the birth of the Assembly have put it on the European political
Although Cardiff is not a huge city - it has 300,000 inhabitants, just
over 10 per cent of the total Welsh population of 2.9 million - its
profile has never been higher and is continuing to grow.
’Part of the problem we’ve had in the past is that lots of people from
overseas haven’t been sure where Wales is and where it fits in with the
rest of the UK. Any country needs a vibrant capital to succeed,’ says
Quadrant PR senior partner Bill Jenkins.
Cardiff has boomed in recent years. The Cardiff Bay Development
Corporation, a Quadrant client for the past 12 years, has overseen a
massive revitalisation in the city in one of the largest redevelopment
schemes in Europe.
Some pounds 1.5 billion in public and private sector money has been
invested in regenerating 2,500 acres of city centre land, a site
stretching for eight miles along the waterfront. A once bleak, run-down
area that was known as Tiger Bay or the Docks has become the thriving
urban centre of Cardiff Bay, with the new assembly building at its
heart. Next March will see the grand opening of the Cardiff Bay Barrage,
a pounds 200 million engineering scheme. And demand from commercial and
leisure occupiers for the area is strong.
’Southern Cardiff used to be a no go area for professional people, but
now they are flooding there,’ says Mike Smith, who has been chairman of
the Wales group of the IPR for a dozen years.
Bell Pottinger Good Relations Wales managing director Noreen Bray says
Cardiff now has ’so much going on’ with investment pouring in and plenty
of new development coming out of the ground that ’it has changed beyond
recognition in the last 10 years’. Golley Slater PR MD Martin Long adds:
’The whole idea of nationhood gives more confidence.’
But confidence is one thing, actual economic success and prosperity
quite another. Wales is by no means the economic blackspot it was in the
past - and indeed is still perceived to be in some quarters.
Nevertheless, it still has its problems. Unemployment at 7.8 per cent is
higher than the 5.9 per cent level for the UK as a whole. Moreover, the
ardent pursuit of pounds 1.3 billion in EC Objective One funding, made
available to Europe’s poorer regions, illustrates that the
revivification of Wales still has a way to go.
Longat Golley Slater feels there is a pressing need to develop more of
an enterprise culture in Wales. Others believe that while Cardiff’s star
is on the rise, other parts of the principality may not be in line for
such a glittering future. Smith: ’All of the growth and development is
concentrated along the M4 Corridor, so that’s a problem,’ says
Beyond its borders, Wales still has some perception problems in need of
resolution. Welsh Development Agency media and communications director
Bet Davies confesses that: ’There’s still a perception among people I’d
expect to be better informed of Wales as a country of industrial
dereliction, high unemployment and empty pits.’
Certainly there is a lot of hi-tech production now. Far East-based
companies, in particular, have invested heavily in manufacturing
facilities. Sony, for instance, first began manufacturing in Wales 26
years ago. Today it employs 4,500 people at its plants and indirectly is
responsible for many thousands more jobs.
Yet although the commitment to Wales of Sony and companies like it is
welcomed enthusiastically, it must be said that there is some
disappointment that few corporations are prepared to move their
headquarters functions to the principality. Jenkins, for one, has hopes
that longer term the assembly will put Cardiff and its environs into
contention as a headquarters location.
Should that become the case, there would be obvious benefits for the
local PR community. Headquarters usually contain an organisation’s
marketing department, and close proximity to these is undoubtedly a
major advantage for consultancies.
For the moment, the establishment of the assembly has been a boon for
public affairs practitioners, with consultancies and in-house operations
springing up in the city. Perhaps, though, Cardiff’s sloughing off of an
historic inferiority complex will see other kinds of PR agencies setting
One hopes, however, that the lesson of the late-1980s will have been
learnt. Then, encouraged by boom times, a number of English agencies set
up shop in Wales. A few subsequently retreated licking their wounds,
finding it was not so easy to pick up business as they had hoped.
The conclusion reached in some quarters was that they had shown
insufficient commitment to the marketplace. So, for any agency now
contemplating expansion into Wales, the conclusion is clear:
half-hearted attempts to build a business are likely to come unstuck,
even in good times.
And make no mistake, these are good times. Chapman argues that there is
demand from clients both inside and outside Wales. Among those in the
first category, there is fresh confidence in ’dealing directly with
other countries.’ While for those outside looking in, there is increased
need for ’access’ to decision makers, businesses and consumers.
’There is going to be more business that is generated in Wales or has a
direct interest in Wales and so will need to work with companies that
know Wales well,’ says Citigate Wales consultant Mark Evans.
Chapman adds: ’We have clients that have come through because they want
to extend their interest into Wales. The assembly has made a big
difference. Wales suffered an inferiority complex in the past but not so
Quite how far self-determination and self-confidence will develop in
Wales cannot be predicted at this stage. But as that phrase oft applied
to devolution issues has it, the genie is now out of the bottle.
Trailing in its wake will come demands for further autonomy and
’Wales is going to follow in the wake of Scotland,’ says Smith. ’The
more Scotland flexes its muscles, the more Wales will say ’me too’.’
That may be no bad thing so far as the local economy is concerned. It is
also sure to lead to more work for consultancies in both a lobbying and
issues communication capacity as business and pressure groups seek to
realise their aims.
The launch of a Welsh edition of the Mirror newspaper further underlines
the re-flowering of national identity. As does the revival of the use of
the Welsh language, which a generation ago appeared as though it might
be in danger of dying out. Now it flourishes alongside English in the
The Western Mail recently ran an article questioning whether the ’cool
Cymru’ phenomenon was overblown and on the wane. Few, though, subscribe
to this view. A combination of devolution, the Rugby World Cup and the
’cool Cymru’ cultural wave have played a part in creating a new, more
positive image of Wales.
HTV Wales head of press and PR Mansel Jones says: ’I sense, as someone
who deals with people outside of Wales, that the perception has
improved. The view people have of us now is getting close to the right
one. It isn’t a land of coal mines anymore.’
Welsh Context managing director Huw Roberts adds: ’There’s no doubt at
all that Wales is riding high and there’s a cultural and social
dimension to that. One of the things people are trying to guard against
is that it becomes a one-city state like Ireland, where Dublin has got
That may well become a genuine problem. Yet even if it does, the up-side
is that it will prove what a long way Wales has come in a few short
years and help in laying to rest some of the hackneyed and outdated
perceptions of industrial decline that still dog its image.
RUGBY AND ITS MONUMENTAL CONTRIBUTION TO NATIONAL MORALE
On New Year’s Eve, rock giants the Manic Street Preachers will play live
to thousands of adoring fans. On the first Sunday of the new millennium
thousands of Christian worshippers will sing hymns with gusto as they
are filmed for an edition of the BBC’s Songs of Praise. What connects
these two highly disparate musical events is that they are to take place
at the same venue: the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff.
The Millennium Stadium, in all its architectural glory, was officially
opened on 26 June for the Wales versus South Africa rugby match. More
importantly, though, it was the prime venue for the Rugby World Cup,
staging the official opening of the tournament on 1 October and the
final between Australia and France on 6 November.
The new stadium cost pounds 120 million to develop, pounds 47 million of
which came from the Millennium Commission. Its grandeur could not fail
to be impressed on television viewers of the World Cup across the globe.
Among the most advanced facilities of its kind in the world, it is the
only stadium in the UK with a retractable roof. Moreover, it is able to
seat 72,000 spectators, compared to the 53,000 capacity of the old
Cardiff Arms Park stadium.
’The Rugby World Cup was the first time ever that Wales has been
projected worldwide and the fact that the stadium is state-of-the-art is
bound to have an effect,’ says Welsh Rugby Union media and PR manager
Bell Pottinger Good Relations Wales managing director Noreen Bray agrees
with Davies that the Millennium Stadium is a ’visual symbol of modern
Wales’. Its sleek and tasteful design coupled with its scale - at 93
metres high it is the tallest building in Cardiff - are a wonderful
advertisement for the reinvention that has been taking place across the
On top of this, its flexibility means it should attract all sorts of
events to the city, as its grass pitch is removable, on 7,800 pallets to
allow for major exhibitions, festivals and concerts.
WELSH LOBBYING IS STILL VERY MUCH A GROWTH INDUSTRY
To a large extent, the National Assembly for Wales is still finding its
feet. A turn-out of just 46 per cent of the electorate to vote for its
60 members was an inauspicious start, and since the assembly was
formally inaugurated by the Queen at the end of May it has failed to
capture public imagination.
The imposition by Labour of Alun Michael as First Secretary over Rhodri
Morgan, who was more popular at grass-roots level, has engendered some
cynicism, while the quality of debate within the chamber has also been
However, once matters of process have been clarified the expectation is
that the assembly will begin to become more effective in key areas.
’It isn’t true to say it’s not a legislature,’ says Welsh Context
managing director Huw Roberts. ’It just legislates at a different point
in the cycle. Its weaknesses are more to do with a lack of experience
and a lack of confidence, particularly among its officials. It’s not a
pale shadow of the Scottish model.’ Jon Townley adds: ’We will begin to
see Wales going its own way on health, education and economic
development. These are obviously the big issues.’ Townley is voluntary
sector assembly liaison officer at the Voluntary Sector Assembly Centre,
a body funded by the National Lottery Charities Board with a remit to
give advice to voluntary sector organisations. There is clearly a great
deal of interest in this quarter, as there is in the commercial sector.
Bell Pottinger, for instance, says it now has 16 clients making use of
its assembly monitoring service.
Strong interest in the assembly has seen a handful of public affairs
specialists springing up in Cardiff confident that their services will
be in ever greater demand.
GJW Cymru director Mari James, who played a prominent part in the
creation of the Assembly as vice-chair of the Yes for Wales referendum
campaign, feels that the way in which the Assembly operates presents
many opportunities for lobbyists, in particular through interaction with
its policy-making committees.
’In Wales there is much more access to policy development than in
Westminster,’ she says. ’Inclusiveness is an over-used word in Wales,
but that’s because that’s the way it is.’