We lost our bid to become UK City of Culture but gained so much from taking part

Waiting in Hull with bated breath for BBC's One Show live winner's announcement, the disappointment was overwhelming when we didn't win - but, a week on, it's been therapeutic to consider the lessons learned for comms and marketing

We may have lost the bid, but the gains for Stoke-on-Trent and the comms lessons learned made it worthwhile, says Emma Rodgers
We may have lost the bid, but the gains for Stoke-on-Trent and the comms lessons learned made it worthwhile, says Emma Rodgers

Bidding shone a light on Stoke-on-Trent. So we didn’t win, but we definitely didn’t lose either. Bidding and being shortlisted to the last five in the competition has without question raised the city's profile.

The positivity has been immense and the confidence of the city has grown.

People from outside the city have said that they’re looking at Stoke-on-Trent through new eyes. People in the city are too.

As a colleague put it: "Stokies have learned to love the city and themselves again," and that genuinely is something you can’t put a price on.

It has also truly been a brilliant experience for us as a team and I’d heartily recommend that, if you have the chance, you should embrace the opportunity with a passion.

Collaboration is key

The power of Stoke-on-Trent’s campaign was maximising assets in the city. Partnerships are not new for us, but bidding took this to a new level.

Both our football clubs were involved, as were media – like our local newspaper, which has a massive social-media presence, and local radio stations; public-sector partners including our two universities; big-hitting businesses such as JCB and smaller ones, too; cultural groups; the Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent Local Enterprise Partnership; and more.

We made connections and built on these collaborations for the benefit of Stoke-on-Trent’s bid.

It gave us maximum bang for our budget and showed that when, collectively, everyone’s telling the same story, it can make a huge difference.

Get creative and push the boundaries

Our bid was literally sent into space by the World’s Strongest Man, Eddie Hall, and Stoke City FC’s Peter Crouch with the support of KMF, a brilliant local business in the area.

We used a duck mascot – reflecting our local dialect – in many different ways, including creating a 30ft inflatable and 1.2m ducks that went on water.

Getting creative went hand-in-hand with making things happen to make the bid campaign unique and memorable.

Be clear on your narrative

Bidding helped us hone our narrative as world capital of ceramics. Our unique selling point of pottery and 'making art from dirt' helped us stand apart and loomed large through everything we did.

Without clarity of narrative, honestly you may as well not bother.

Take people with you and explain the benefits

One out of two people in Stoke-on-Trent agreed that bidding was either positive or very positive to do.

By engaging regularly about the benefits of winning for the city, people felt able to understand what it meant for them.

One example of this was when we linked with Mark Gregory, chief economist for EY and a Stokie, so he could comment expertly and tangibly on the difference winning would make.

Residents, businesses, young people and the cultural sector all became ambassadors for the city’s bid and that in itself was truly an amazing thing.

Emma Rodgers is head of comms at Stoke-on-Trent City Council and was a member of the bid team to become UK City of Culture

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