Analysis: Local approach paid off for Liverpool

Last week the Government gave its shock announcement that Liverpool had beaten bookmakers' favourite Newcastle and Gateshead to become European Capital of Culture in 2008. Simon Ellery looks at the PR tactics used to help the city defy the odds

The man in charge of Liverpool City Council's successful bid to be the 2008 European Capital of Culture described the win as 'the rocket fuel to propel us to be one of Europe's premier cities'. Liverpool's bid leader Sir Bob Scott has reason to be excited, as the award will create an estimated 14,000 jobs, generate £2bn extra investment and bring 1.7 million extra visitors to the city.

But what did Liverpool's campaign do that the other candidates Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Oxford and Newcastle and Gateshead's joint bid didn't?

For Liverpool City Council assistant executive director of media Matt Finnegan, the answer lies in comments made by judging panel chair Sir Jeremy Isaacs on the 'enthusiasm' of the people of Liverpool.

Finnegan says that, while national communications was important, it was local PR that won the nomination. 'We recognised the judges were independently minded people. These people are not going to be swayed by well-placed articles in national newspapers,' he says.

He points out that when the judges visited, they were given open access to the city to see schools and communities, and many people came up to tell them how much they wanted Liverpool to win.

This tactic also clearly impressed Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell, who described the people of Liverpool's 'vision, passion and enthusiasm' as major factors behind the win.

Culture department spokesman Tony Sargent also underlines the pivotal role the promotion of the image of enthusiastic Liverpudlians played in securing victory. He says: '(Liverpool) seemed to have the nose in front because of the spirit from the street... The Liverpool campaign seemed to be very slick.'

But while it's a time for back slapping in Liverpool, it has been a week of solemn reflection for the losing bids, most notably in the Newcastle Gateshead Initiative PR camp, which dominated both national and international coverage.

This joint bid by the Tyneside neighbours attracted an estimated 1,000 journalists, coverage amounting to £5m worth of advertising and a billing in Newsweek International as one of the eight most creative cities in the world.

Although initiative corporate affairs manager Susan Wear fiercely defends the success of the local PR side to the campaign, saying: 'I have never been involved in a campaign that had more local-level support than this' - it is evident that Isaacs was less convinced.

In contrast with his visit to Liverpool, Isaacs actually commented on the lack of local support to initiative staff when he visited Newcastle and Gateshead. The initiative team then went off and sought to disprove the claim, but it may have been too late by then.

Wear says she is still not entirely sure why Liverpool won but, like some others involved in the losing bids, she suggests the regeneration issue played a part when she says that Liverpool 'needed it' more.

Cardiff 2008 marketing director and ex-Wales National Tourist Board head of PR Bet Davis says despite losing, one consolation for areas like Cardiff and Newcastle and Gateshead is the success in countering a myth in the 'southern media' that northern and Welsh cities lack culture.

'I have met many national newspaper journalists who have been to Wales and been gobsmacked by its new vibrancy,' says Davis.

Wear agrees: 'Three years ago, our bid was met with incredulity, now no one can believe we lost.'

For Davis, however, Liverpool's need for regeneration cash was what ultimately swayed Isaacs and the other judges.

Birmingham and West Midlands bid media relations manager Mik Barton echoes this sentiment, saying Liverpool was the most 'deserving' council of the frontrunners.

But Liverpool City Council principal news officer Richard Farnell dismisses claims that the city won because of it's need for regeneration cash.

He says: 'An important part of our strategy was not to be seen as a whinge city, or that we needed this handout from the Government.'

Former head of the press team that landed Manchester the Commonwealth games in 2002 and IPR North West secretary Roz Hughes believes it was also Liverpool's relationship with its neighbours in the North West that swung the win. She points to a banner that remains hanging outside the Granada TV offices in Manchester supporting Liverpool's bid.

'Manchester and the whole North West region really wanted Liverpool to win this,' she adds.

As with Glasgow in 1990, Liverpool is now relishing the prospect of shaking off images of a grim industrial past to embrace a new role as a European cultural powerhouse, backed by billions of pounds of investment.

Sir Bob may not be far wrong when he says the council is now running on rocket fuel.

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