Interview with Conrad Bird, Director of the GREAT Britain Campaign
Ahead of the inaugural City Nation Place UK conference, we asked Conrad Bird, Director of the GREAT Britain campaign, why he believed it was important for the key decision makers in UK place branding to share their insights and learn from each other's experiences, as well as what he considers to be the international perception of Brand Britain.
CNP: Why do you think that this is a good time to be launching City Nation Place UK to bring together all stakeholders in our country’s national, regional, city and neighbourhood place brands?
CB: Inspiring and coherent place branding is an essential way of bringing valuable jobs and growth to nations, cities and regions via increased inward investment, trade, tourism and students. The UK has an incredibly rich and diverse range of regions, each with their own distinctive & authentic characteristics and attractions. By sharing best practice, we can find a way of complementing each other’s work, growing market share without necessarily competing with each other.
CNP: Why do you feel it is important for place branders to share their stories, experience and insights?
CB: We all need to learn from each other so that we can collectively grow market share for the whole country.
CNP: What do you consider to be the biggest challenge facing place branding in the UK?
CB: Working together. It is too easy to fall into the trap of utilising a small budget to try and promote one region or place against another, when we should in fact be working as a collective to attract jobs and growth from our international competitors, rather than domestic ones.
CNP: What do you feel the international perception is of Brand Britain currently? How does this affect your own place brand strategy?
CB: International perception of the UK remains strong. We are a soft power superpower, the world’s number 2 destination for international students, the top FDI destination in Europe and renowned around the world for creating products and services of high quality.
CNP: How can the challenges of Brexit be changed into opportunities for your place?
CB: In far markets, such as China and India, the demand for our goods and services remains very strong, while other far eastern countries, which are experiencing huge growth, have very positive attitudes towards the UK.
CNP: How localised do you feel place branding should be in the UK?
CB: At a macro level, the GREAT Britain campaign has been extremely successful in promoting the UK as a whole, creating awareness of our country and its strengths. When competing against the likes of Germany and France, it is vital to maintain the national brand. However, beneath that umbrella, we need to find second and third levels of place branding that fit local cultures and can be promoted to audiences in a compelling way. This could vary – from cities, to natural regions or neighbourhoods. We should view this through the eyes of the audience before we judge what level this should be at.
CNP: Why is it important for place branding and marketing teams to fully engage citizens in the process?
CB: Ultimately, people buy from people. It is only through authentic human contact that places become attractive and people want to return – either as students, or tourists or investors. If local citizens are not involved in the process, the brand will not be authentic – and the visitor experience will not match the promise made by marketing.
CNP: Do you think it’s important for UK places to have a strategy that focuses on sustainable tourism? Why?
CB: Yes. Places are complex and fragile ecosystems with inhabitants mingling with visitors. A balance that accommodates the needs of both must be met if the place is to thrive and grow healthily and for benefit of all.
CNP: What is your top tip for engaging the private sector in your place brand vision?
CB: Be very clear about your proposition and what’s in it for the business. Do your audience research and present a professional and inspiring plan.
CNP: How can we leverage our historical culture more effectively to drive tourism and investment?
CB: There is a very strong link between culture and investment – in fact, people who visit a place (either as tourists or students) are far more likely to invest there – because familiarity breeds favourability. We should be proud of our historical culture and preserve it (but not in aspic!) – but also be mindful of the many other varied non-historical experiences that people want to enjoy.
CNP: Are there any nations or cities around the world who you think are doing a great job of place branding and marketing – and from whom UK places could learn a thing or two?
CB: I would say that the GREAT campaign does a superb job of marketing the whole of the UK – but I also admire the efforts of New Zealand and Australia (for tourism), India (for tourism and business) and am looking forward to seeing the success Japan will make of its national brand during and after the Rugby World Cup and Olympics & Paralympics.
CNP: Where have you always wanted to visit and why?
CB: At home, I have a map where I can scratch away all the countries I have visited. There are currently large areas of central Asia, Australia and southern Africa that I have not been too and would love to go.
Conrad Bird will join us at City Nation Place UK to explore international perceptions of Brand Britain, whilst GREAT Britain will be running a clinic alongside Visit Britain and the Department of International Trade where UK place branders will be able to ask questions, share ideas and ensure that your place benefits from the support of these core central teams.