Behind the GREAT campaign's success

Since its launch, the GREAT Campaign has created a wealth of world-class place marketing campaigns - but what's the secret to their success? Before Andy Pike, Director of the GREAT Britain & Northern Ireland Campaign, joins us at City Nation Place UK, we caught up with him to understand more about the strategy and vision behind the campaign.

The GREAT campaign is very outward facing, and many citizens will only see the campaign when they’re travelling through British airports. How do you engage citizens in your vision?

The GREAT campaign is indeed outward facing. It was designed to show the world that the United Kingdom is the most creative place on the planet and used as a hard working campaign to encourage people to visit, trade and invest as well as study in our country. More recently we have focussed on using the campaign to talk about the UK more broadly and to continue to attract talent to our shores. The limited amount of use we have put the campaign to within the UK has centred on areas like encouraging exports, and as you correctly observe, our highly successful airports campaign. People who see our imagery at airports all over the country tell us that they find it uplifting. But of course the hard purpose is to show to the many visitors we welcome to this country, the incredible offer the UK has.

Ten years ago, London hosted the 2012 Olympics which was the impetus for the GREAT Campaign’s conception. What role do events have in shaping narratives about the UK?

The UK and indeed the world has of course been through the most extraordinarily challenging few years.  We are going to need our resilience still. Against that, we have shown again and again in this country that we know how to pull off a joyous event! Witness the sheer excitement, world beating achievements, welcome, and jubilation that the GREAT city of Birmingham put on for the recent Commonwealth Games. This builds on a wonderful year of celebration of Her Majesty’s Platinum Jubilee - watched by millions of people around the world. We look forward now to an exhilarating UK presence at the Qatar World Cup, the Rugby World Cup in Paris next year, to be followed by the Paris Olympics where we will have a UK House. The Osaka Expo will follow not long after. But how could I forget that the UK will be the proud hosts of Eurovision next year.  As I have said, we know how to put on a party!  But we have a special responsibility around this as we do justice to the brave people of Ukraine who we are proud to call partners and friends.

I’ve seen that as part of your recent ‘Great Calling’ campaign that you worked with a number of British icons to combat stereotypes around the UK. The GREAT Campaign has long been applauded for its innovative partnerships with the private sector as well – what’s the key to a successful ambassadorial partnership with your private sector?

Every market has a slightly different view of the UK, but there are always UK icons and partners that resonate everywhere.

In the US in particular, certain stereotypes can pervade about the UK being overly traditional and the quality of our food.  Our GREAT Calling USA campaign challenged Americans to see things differently by showing what modern, dynamic and diverse British culture looks like. We did this by drawing on fantastic partners that fly the flag for modern Britain.  We worked with the English Premier League, Nadiya Hussain, Bompas & Parr, Sofar Sounds, Gordon Ramsay, Dina Asher-Smith, Katherine Jenkins and even Joan Collins to tell that story and to challenge perceptions.

We have a fantastic network of GREAT Ambassadors who give their time for free to promote the UK. We take the time to understand where their passions and business interests lie and provide them with a platform to tell an authentic story about their home country.  The real power comes in the breadth and variety of our Ambassadors and the impact of them all speaking with one voice.

The other thing that stood out from the campaign was that you placed a series of iconic red telephone boxes around New York as part of a competition to win tickets to the UK. What did you learn from the activation that you would keep in mind for future campaigns?

The GREAT campaign challenges audiences to see things differently and to celebrate diverse perspectives.  We therefore wanted to take an iconic and well-loved piece of UK design and to put a twist on that. Phone boxes appeared across New York and anyone who answered their call won tickets to a series of unusual British cultural events.

The timing in March for this was perfect as Manhattan emerged from a long winter of restrictions and the phone boxes gathered queues and crowds wherever they went. After a protracted period of digital events, live activity created real organic buzz and engagement across social media as well as media coverage. We knew that if we reminded Americans of the more surprising and unexpected side of the UK, then this directly converts into flights booked as well as trade and education enquiries.

What’s next for the GREAT campaign?

GREAT has come hot off the blocks as we emerge from COVID. It continues to return multiples of the investment we put in for the UK, is in rude health and is unique in the world as far as we know. It’s also the longest running campaign of its kind and brings together the work of 22 Departments and other governmental bodies. GREAT aspires to deliver for the country world-class marketing and PR, as well as the heft and reputation of the UK which continues to score highly in all rankings of global soft power. Like all good campaigns it can not stand still. So we will work hard to bring the very best of what our country has to offer to the world.

As you’ll be joining us for the final judging of our 2022 City Nation Place Awards later this month, what would you be hoping to see in a stand-out, winning entry?

An entry that shows real clarity of purpose and focus on results and impact, and based on sound logic and insight.  Creativity is at the heart of most brilliance in my experience.  A dream entry would have me say ‘I could never have thought of that’!

The shortlist is now live! See our finalists here.

Andy Pike, GREAT Britain & Northern Ireland Campaign, will be joining us at City Nation Place UK this November 9. Join us there to discover more!

The Place Brand Portfolio is City Nation Place's searchable portfolio of Awards case studies from the past five years.