Healthy lifestyle creates buzz

The Home Counties in the South East of England have historically been affluent areas of the UK. Sandbanks on the south coast is the fourth most expensive place in the world, with more millionaires than ­Roman Abramovich's phone book.

But with the global economy grinding to a standstill, it was no surprise to hear in January that ­recession had reached the land of the super-rich. The repossession of two Sandbanks homes made national news headlines.

Although this small area is clearly not representative of the South of England as a whole, it is an indicator of how the region is faring through some of the toughest trading years on record.

Ret­ailers in the region are holding their own, with footfall in some of the biggest shopping centres remaining steady in the face of the worst recession to hit the high street in decades. Having to fight for every customer, retailers are increasingly looking for more sophisticated means of driving traffic to stores.

However, the priority for businesses is not to compromise long-term brand value for the sake of short-term gains. The challenge for PR professionals is how to communicate price reassurance and value for money without eroding years of hard-earned brand equity.

This is new territory for many businesses and it is questioning brand loyalty like never before, as consumers focus on price and getting more for their pound. Clients are ­demanding PR agencies that are focused on delivering results.

But the south coast is seeing some positive effects of the current climate. The weak pound and concerns about job security are prompting many people to stay closer to home for their summer holidays. Coastal towns in the ­region, including Bournemouth, one of the top tourism destinations in the UK, are beginning to enjoy a revival that is set to continue throughout 2009.

This opportunity is being maximised by the town, with a new surf reef being built at Bournemouth beach. With ­increasing fragmentation of regional media, key influencers are no longer tied to print ­media, but span a broad range of communications media. Bournemouth Council’s team has successfully used multimedia channels to satisfy the increasing demand for ­information about the project and raise awareness of the tourist destination.

It is this type of healthy outdoor lifestyle that helps attract talent from London-based agencies – people who have made the choice to improve their quality of life. We also have access to a rich pool of young talent on our doorstep from Bournemouth University, which has one of the leading PR undergraduate courses in the UK.

The fantastic lifestyle offered by living in this region – miles of beautiful sandy beaches and the New Forest on the doorstep – helps shape the app­roach to business and creates a positive work-life balance. The lifestyle ­inspires the passion and energy required to help us maintain a relentless pursuit of results for our clients.  The wealth of talent and panoramic viewpoints provide a clear understanding of the key strategic platforms for building brand credibility, without being constrained by the London perspective.

Arguably, with top-class transport links, agencies in the south coast region are better placed to service national and international clients than their London counterparts.

Being based in the capital is no longer important; what’s more valuable is recognising a true passion for understanding brands and a desire to drive businesses forward. And that’s what the lifestyle in the South del­ivers in bucketloads.
So why would anyone still want to live in London?

Views in brief

Who is the in-house PR person to watch in your region?
Jo Mountain, resort PR and development manager at Bournemouth Council. She is doing a fantastic job raising the profile of the new surf reef at Boscombe.

What’s the best communications campaign you’ve seen recently?
Dorset County Council’s ‘Being Part of the Pride’ campaign is developing an internal brand advocacy programme to deliver business benefits. It aims to increase the incidence of positive referrals to external audiences. In difficult economic times, motivating and reassuring staff is more important than ever and the campaign harnesses the power of word-of-mouth communications.

Natalie Minter is head of client services at McKenna Townsend PR

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