£10.3m PR department bungle marketing campaign

The Birmingham Post reports today that the latest Cushman & Wakefield UK cities monitor has Birmingham remaining in third position, behind London and Manchester, in this list of the best places to locate a business.


Moneydownthedrain Out of the fourteen categories used for assessment, the city slipped back in six, stayed the same in five and advanced in three. Birmingham also trailed in fourth for shopping and leisure despite the popularity of the Bullring and Mailbox shopping centres, with Leeds stealing the third spot behind Manchester and London.


The competition between Birmingham and Manchester is no secret, and often – as Paul Dale points out in the Post – the margin between them is small, but it’s still a tough blow for the city council who are undoubtedly conscious of too often playing second-fiddle to their northern, Labour-run rivals.


Yet it wasn’t all bad news for Birmingham. They beat off all competition for availability of office space and advanced to eighth place for the cost of hiring staff – at least according to the 200 or so corporate executives who contributed to the survey.


So though disappointed, the council must have seen that the way was clear for them to launch the latest marketing campaign, a collaboration with Marketing Birmingham, named Birmingham Built for Business, costing £403,000 and seeing promotional material splashed around the underground stations of London, and intended to lure businesses to relocate in the second city.


Now, Birmingham City Council spent a huge £10.3m on publicity in 2006-7, which is considerably more than the £5.2m that Manchester spent – indeed it’s more than any other council in the UK spent – and that amount includes some really rather generous executive salaries for those at the top of the communications tree, so just why is it the case that their extensive PR department forgot to brief any of the media about this new and expensive campaign? Neither did they provide any images of the promotional material.


It seems that the task of promoting this costly drive was left to none of than the leader of the council himself, Coun Mike Whitby, who:


“…was reduced to shouting down the phone personally ordering staff to release photographs of the built for business posters and advertisements to this newspaper”.


So the leader of the council stands in for the vast and expensive PR department in a ludicrous bungle that sees the authority failing to capitalise on the publicity £403,000 of advertisement was intended to bring.


But if the publicity department isn’t up to its job, just why are we shelling out millions for it? Why are pensioners, who can ill afford it, coughing up to pay the fat salaries of those who cannot complete the tasks they were hired to do correctly?


These spin doctors are supposedly in place to promote the city both nationally and internationally, and we’re told that the huge cost is what we must pay to entice businesses, and vie for the sort of pre-eminence that leads to sustainable prosperity for Birmingham.


But from the Cushman & Wakefield report we can tell, quite easily, that important corporate types do not rate Birmingham as highly as Manchester, based largely on perception, even though Manchester spends half the amount on PR. And from this Birmingham Built for Business fiasco, it would be fair to say that the Birmingham City Council communications department, along with Marketing Birmingham, actually jeopardised the reputation of the council and the city.


The money has already been spent, so let’s hope that this campaign doesn’t fall under the radar because of its shambolic launch, but whatever the case, pressure should be put on Birmingham City Council to significantly trim-down its publicity team because council taxpayers should not be paying for this council to lug dead-weights around.


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