When Hull was named the UK City of Culture in 2017 many people turned their noses up. Having also been voted one of the worst places to live in the UK and with a bit of a down-trodden image, it was not a place particularly synonymous with culture.
But the city used it as an opportunity to change perceptions. It created a new identity and started a different narrative, a shift in strategy that resulted in it attracting six million visitors during 2017 – 26% more than its target – and leading to it taking home the award for Travel, Leisure and Transport at the Marketing Week Masters 2018.
Rather than simply design a new logo and create some brand guidelines, Hull set about developing a brand strategy, working alongside agency Jaywing.
Core to this was getting buy-in from locals to ensure they shared the vision. So, they consulted with groups across the community, from schools and businesses to arts and social welfare groups and Saturday morning shoppers. Over the course of the year more than nine in 10 residents took part in at least one cultural activity.
But while it was hugely important for the local community to be on board, the strategy couldn’t be so insular that the Hull brand came across as small-minded or just for its inhabitants. It therefore also looked to engage arts audiences and influencers, in addition to the general public, to ensure Hull was taken seriously from a culture perspective.
‘There’s more to the story’ was the overriding theme Hull landed on, which enabled it to both look back at its maritime, art and literary heritage while also building on its people, places and culture to create a lasting legacy for the city.
The campaign launched with the tagline ‘Everyone back to ours’, which was designed to fuel a sense of community. The new logo was composed of a series of geometric lines to create a large H, which was used as a framing device across all marketing material. Using a vibrant colour palette of green, yellow, purple, pink and blue, the city again hoped to change perceptions and move people away from thinking of Hull as a dull, grey northern city.
That was backed up by a programme of activity, including more than 2,800 events, cultural activities, installations and exhibitions across 300 venue spaces and 465 new commissions. More than 640,000 tickets were issued for cultural events throughout the UK City of Culture year, generating a total revenue for cultural organisations and event organisers of £8.37m. This represents a 13.7% increase in revenue across the sector compared to the same period in 2015.
National awareness more than tripled over the course of the project, rising to 66% nationally and 74% in the north, partly thanks to the more than 20,000 pieces of media coverage the campaign achieved.
Digital was a key driver of awareness, with a new digital platform generating over 13.5 million page views and a social media audience of 160,000 across Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. The vast majority of audiences (89.1%) stated the programme provided them with a different experience of the city and over half said it showed them there was more to Hull than they expected.
The drive also had a positive impact on the local area. The Hull brand was a key tool in fundraising the £32.8m required to deliver the project (more than double the initial £15m target) helping to secure 80 funding partners which included £7.5m of corporate sponsorship as well as trusts, foundations and public funders. This enabled more than £3m to be invested in the promotion of Hull and the project.
More than £220m of economic impact and inward investment for the city also helped support the creation of 800 new jobs in creative industries and the visitor economy.
In 2017, Hull also came 12th on Lastminute.com’s recommended destinations, above Montreal, Croatia and Japan, and was number eight in Rough Guide’s list of the top 10 cities of the world.