Brian Ferguson: Incredinburgh - how not to sell the city
IT’S not yet Halloween, but there’s been a riveting Christmas production in Edinburgh which has provided endless hours of entertainment over the past fortnight and could have more in store in the weeks to come.
It has all the classic ingredients – what appears to be a fairytale kingdom, an enchanted castle and a ruler of all that she surveys. But the damsel is in danger when a dastardly villain enters the scene, assisted by unlikely accomplices, including old enemies who have magically returned from the dark abyss into which they had been cast.
All around, the kingdom is gradually crumbling away, the great and the good holding their heads in agony at the constant warring and the people mocking this once-magnificent domain. To make matters worse, news of this feuding has spread to other kingdoms, some in far-off lands.
This, I’m afraid, is a rather simplistic summary of the plot, but the sad fact is this is not some fantasy dreamed up by scriptwriters.
In fact, it is Edinburgh’s comical attempts to run its first marketing campaign to promote the city over the winter, and the furore which has unfolded over the “Incredinburgh” adverts, the first fruits of an arms-length agency set up with £1.2 million of taxpayers’ money last year.
Launched last Wednesday, the campaign featured a series of clever plays on the word “Edinburgh” – too clever by half for one of the two councillors at the top of the tree in the City Chambers. Steve Cardownie, never one to shrink away from confrontation, had several weeks before demanded they be consigned to history, fearing – with some justification – they could backfire.
But his efforts to strangle at birth the brainchild of one of Scotland’s top advertising agencies rebounded badly – partly thanks to those behind the ideas taking great umbrage at the outspoken criticism unleashed by Cllr Cardownie and former council leader Jenny Dawe, breaking a silence she had kept since being swiftly despatched from power.
The word “Incredinburgh”, dropped from official campaign material, is now immortalised in the city’s history books. But the fall-out has been unseemly, disturbing and also depressingly familiar.
The central figure in Cllr Cardownie’s firing line is Lucy Bird, the chief executive hired at great expense to lead Marketing Edinburgh last year, with the council playing a key part in her appointment.
By the end of last week we were told, in unsubtle terms, that the organisation’s first campaign was “suicidal” for using a host of slogans in defiance of a senior councillor’s views, and that Marketing Edinburgh could be fighting for survival.
But by the time this story appeared, public opinion – and many respected marketeers – appeared to have swung behind the campaign. A search using the hashtag #incredinburgh on Twitter revealed it was being discussed and debated around the world – a dream for the ad agency, which now wants Cllr Cardownie nominated for a social media award.
To further confuse the picture, not only did the current council leader, Andrew Burns, put his name to the press release trumpeting that “suicidal” campaign, he turned up at its launch, made jokes about it when tackled at a council meeting, and his press officers could be found tweeting away about “incredinburgh”. That very press release is also now up on the council’s website.
And all this confusion is unfolding while the woman said by many to be the real power behind the throne – council chief executive Sue Bruce, who sits on Marketing Edinburgh’s board – has been signed off work with glandular fever.
I had a couple of forays to Glasgow last week, where there was barely disguised glee at Edinburgh’s latest attempt to get its promotional act together. Glasgow has had its own, arms-length body for years, funded much more handsomely than Marketing Edinburgh. Its tenure has been almost entirely trouble-free.
Edinburgh’s efforts have been hijacked by a lack of ambition and hard cash, infighting, interference and distractions such as its doomed tourist tax.
Who knows where this saga will have reached by the time that fairytale castle hosts the launch of Edinburgh’s festive events on Wednesday. But despite the entertainment it has provided, I’m not sure I can take much more of this particular panto.
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Friday 24 May 2013
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