English Heritage (EH), the Government body which looks after the nation’s historic buildings, is seeking to widen its appeal and make itself more accessible.
It has hired start-up agency Clemmow Hornby Inge to create what it calls a “premium” positioning for EH, and is planning a £1m brand campaign next year to boost its membership – currently standing at just under 500,000 – and to increase annual visitor income from the present £8.25m.
The body is aware that it needs to address its image problems to justify its £115m a year grant from the Government, and the funds it raises from membership and visitors. EH exists to secure the preservation, and the public’s enjoyment, of ancient monuments and historic buildings and to promote the preservation and enhancement of conservation areas. It manages more than 400 of the country’s historic buildings, including Stonehenge and Kenwood House. EH also advises the Government on heritage matters and disburses £40m a year in conservation and archaeology grants.
EH commissioners agreed at a board meeting in March that the body was often seen as being “self-important and self-absorbed. Even the organisation’s slogan – “No one does more for England’s heritage” – could be perceived as self-congratulatory.”
At the same meeting, chairman Sir Neil Cossons claimed there is a – sometimes erroneous – view of EH as “slow-moving, old-fashioned, bureaucratic and civil service-based. The organisation needs to show it can act as fast as the rest of the world.”
The image problem has not been helped by reports of squabbles between senior directors at the organisation and a constant parade of chief executives, culminating last week with the departure of chief executive Pam Alexander after a reported disagreement with Cossons.
EH hired Cossons in April 2000 from the Science Museum, where he was director. Shortly afterwards, Science Museum commercial director Mark Pemberton was appointed business director of EH. And in March this year, Science Museum marketing chief Russell Hopson joined his former colleagues at EH as marketing director. A spokeswoman for EH says that there was no relation between the three hirings. “It was chance. All the jobs were advertised. I’m sure it is a coincidence,” she says.
Hopson says it is not just coincidence that the three are together again at EH. “No one is ever going to perceive that it was [a coincidence] and it isn’t. The truth is both Mark and I went through the entire Civil Service recruitment process just the same as everyone else did. There is no suggestion of any impropriety,” he says.
At the Science Museum, Cossons managed to get funding for the Wellcome wing extension, and overall visitor numbers rose to a high of 1.6 million in 1996, although by 2000 they had fallen back to 1.3 million.
EH’s search for an ad agency led to the appointment of Clemmow Hornby Inge – the agency set up by Simon Clemmow and Johnny Hornby, both of whom had worked on the Science Museum account when they were still employees of incumbent agency TBWA/London.
Hopson also worked at TBWA/London as account director on the Nissan and Science Museum accounts for two years before joining the museum as marketing chief.
He is clear as to why CHI is the best choice: “We hired CHI because it has eight employees who are big players and intelligent people at the top of their game. If we hire them, we get them – they are going to be our account team, and there is no other agency in London that offers that, especially to an organisation like ours which hasn’t got a huge budget to pay for that kind of talent.”
The pitch came down to a battle between CHI and Fallon, whose team was headed by Robert Senior, another former TBWA executive.
The tender, published in March, said an agency was being sought to “coherently position English Heritage as a premium brand to visitors, sites, members, partners, Government, the press and the corporate world.” But Clemmow admits he does not understand exactly what this “premium positioning” consists of. “The truth is we don’t know yet. What EH wants is a positioning idea for English Heritage that allows people to have a view on what the organisation is. I think it is fed up with being the poor relation to the National Trust,” he says.
Unlike EH, the Trust is a charity, with a remit to act as a “guardian for the nation” in the acquisition and protection of threatened coastline, countryside and buildings. It owns more than 250 historic houses and monuments as well as land and coastline.
Although a Trust spokeswoman admits there is confusion between the bodies, she claims that the main misconception is that the Trust is a Government body, not a charity.
“It is not a major problem for us. If it was, we would do something about it,” she says.
The charity has 2.8 million members and relies on membership fees, donations and grants. With more than 30 per cent of its membership aged over 65, the charity is also taking steps to broaden its membership profile and to recruit younger members.
The National Trust launched an £800,000 print campaign in May to update its image and boost visits to its pay-to-enter sites. The ads, which were created by Ideas Unlimited, carried the strapline “Escape for a Day”.
Clemmow says that one of the main problems facing EH is that it is commonly perceived as an organisation that always says “No”. London mayor Ken Livingstone recently hit out at EH’s move to establish rigorous guidelines on planning applications for skyscrapers, and EH’s role as an adviser on planning also means it often has to tell people they cannot make changes to historic buildings.
But ad campaigns will do little to alter perceptions unless the organisation itself undergoes fundamental changes and stops behaving like the self-appointed manager of Britain’s cultural heritage.