Lessons in stakeholder management from Brand Scotland

Cat Leaver is Director of the cross-agency initiative Brand Scotland. In an interview with Claire Farrow, editorial contributor at City Nation Place, Cat shares her approach to tackling complex place brand challenges such as stakeholder management and sends out a call to action for fellow place brand and marketing professionals.

Stronger together: working to engage key stakeholders

Brand Scotland’s collaborative approach is what sets it apart. The agencies involved are Scottish Government, Scottish Enterprise, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, VisitScotland and Universities Scotland. 

Cat explains that: “Brand Scotland was born from a recognition that whilst successes were being had, the separate agencies working on behalf of Scotland’s economic interests were often working in silos”. The agency boards and Marketing Directors agreed that by collaborating they would maximise resources, be more consistent and increase global impact.

In order to avoid resistance, each agency pooled resources – each contributing an element of their talent and budget to Brand Scotland.

Cat acknowledges that: “The key to achieving this collaboration was having the right people; strong and ambitious leaders across the different agencies who were happy to take their egos - and their organisation’s egos - off the table and challenge others to do the same”.

The stakes are high

Cat explains that when managing stakeholders, it’s important to acknowledge their differences and their requirements. Often stakeholder management has a blanket approach that removes the human element. But, naturally, how you engage with a lead partner is different from the way in which you might engage a Minister or a local business.

Cat also recommends being realistic about what you can take on. She says: “Don’t try to do everything at once. With the scale of the challenges and opportunities you need to prioritise and take steps that allow you to take others on the journey with you. But that doesn’t mean don’t be ambitious”.

Brand Scotland has a governance model in place for key stakeholder management. Monthly programme board meetings are scheduled that bring the marketing directors from the different agencies together to focus on the core programme of work, meanwhile the delivery team maintain relations across the wider marketing teams of the stakeholder organisations.

The International Board, comprised of CEOs and directors of internationally facing public organisations and stakeholders, meet quarterly and offer a collective strategic oversight.

On a practical note Cat explains that rather than reinventing the wheel and trying to bring together multiple stakeholder groups who likely already have arrangements in place, it has made sense to look to existing networks. This was how the International Board was identified and in other instances simply adding a Brand Scotland point to meeting agendas keeps their goals front of mind.

The reality is that, as custodians of Brand Scotland, every citizen is a stakeholder. This in some ways is the biggest challenge as it is not possible to monitor or control every communication that they receive. So, it’s important, Cat explains, to stay authentic.

The skills needed for effective management: “You are automatically working with a brand extension strategy, building on an image and identity that already exists in people's psyches. So, the skills that are most critical are analysis, communication and diplomacy. You must display a willingness to listen and also the information necessary to convey your direction and message with conviction and rationale. You also need to be open to always learning and adapting”.

One of the hardest obstacles Cat has had to overcome is getting people to truly understand what Brand Scotland is trying to achieve. As a team and programme of work that has evolved and developed so dramatically over the past 18 months, the most visible part of their work is the #ScotlandIsNow marketing platform. But, this is just one part of the story. And, to add to the confusion many in the public sector, and beyond, don’t relate to the use of the word “brand”. To overcome this, she tries to articulate the strategy simply – Brand Scotland is all about how we promote Scotland to the rest of the world. She recognises that the strategy’s evolution must be aligned to ongoing stakeholder engagement to ensure maintained buy-in and momentum.

Proud successes

To maximise resources, Brand Scotland outsources as little as possible and draws on skills at hand on a project and campaign basis. For social and digital work, she has an incredible pool of talent in house.

Cat effused about her pride in her team’s development. In particular, she admires their consistent ability to be agile, adapt and innovate based on insight and learnings within a cross-agency environment.

As an example, she cites the  Scotland Is Open campaign as exemplar of a place brand message that resonated for all the right reasons. Care was taken to develop a piece of creative that avoided the political and focused on the emotive message they wanted to convey – friendship, openness and welcome. A narrative that already existed and endures of a valued relationship no matter the circumstances. In a hugely complex time and environment this was not without it’s challenges, but the results speak for themselves - in just two weeks the campaign activity reached over 80 million people, generating 27% awareness in key markets against a target of 10% and the video was viewed over 52 million times. All objectives were exceeded, but more importantly, the response from the target audience was overwhelmingly loud and positive.

Cat also admires the work that Scotland’s cities have been doing related to place branding and marketing, with a few examples below:

Glaswegians were put at the very heart of the development of their crowd-sourced city brand “People Make Glasgow”, an identity that instils pride. This has been well received around the world, gaining credit for it's successful stakeholder engagement and ongoing profile.

Dundee has transformed its image domestically and capitalised on the opportunity to shine an international spotlight on the city with the opening of the renowned new V&A Museum. One of the catalysts for all of this was the city’s application to become European City of Culture. Whilst it didn’t win, the city jumped on the opportunity and pressed on with plans to redevelop the waterfront and its cultural offering. Evidence of success is the Wall Street Journal naming Dundee one of 10 hot destinations to visit in the world.

Aberdeen is a great example of a city that has directed energy into changing its image. Once known primarily for oil and gas, various stakeholders have come together to look at exciting investment opportunities and the development of their Abzolutely campaign and toolkit, which aims to show the wider offering of the granite city. This joined up approach has reaped rewards with the opening of the vast new Aberdeen Exhibition Centre and attraction of world-class events, such as the Sports Personality of the Year Awards 2019.

Call to action for 2020 and beyond

The next step for Cat and her team is to translate the buy-in and ambition surrounding Brand Scotland into an operating model that is more sustainable in the long-term and which mitigates risks.

To maintain the momentum of her work she plans to continue proactive stakeholder engagement, looking at themes that demonstrate Scotland’s world-first and world-leading qualities, behind which Brand Scotland can galvanise support and advocacy.

She is keen to look to ways in which wider place brand marketers can share in their learnings and success, such as supporting local teams and organisations to develop best practice standards. In a discipline like place marketing she sees incredible opportunity for collaboration.

When talking of best practise, Cat says she tends to be most drawn to other relatively small, innovative nations. She admires New Zealand Stories longevity, global reach and consistent quality, remarking on the clear investment into a strong team, infrastructure and output.  Iceland and Finland’s bold yet authentic humour and creativity also resonates, reflected too in their progressive outlook.

In terms of the place branding and marketing discipline more broadly, Cat calls for more diversity of voices in the field. She would also like to see the sophistication of measurement and evaluation improve along with shared industry standards around benchmarks for best practice.

Cat explains: “We look at performance, engagement and advocacy across our ‘always on’ channels and any campaigns have very specific KPIs so that we can effectively measure success. However, measurement from a broader place perspective is always very challenging. There are so many macro and micro factors to take into account”.

She says: “Whilst of course places compete against one another for talent, investment and tourists, there is such great opportunity in building a community of experts who work to support one another in this developing discipline. After all we are all just one small piece of the global puzzle. Collectively we can define what good looks like and then what better looks like too”.

City Nation Place provides the ideal hub for collaboration and knowledge sharing.

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