Monday Interview: Scott Taylor, Glasgow City Marketing Bureau

Three decades after the city officially became miles better, the man tasked with selling Glasgow to the world believes it is now “a country mile” ahead of the competition when it comes to attracting major events.

Scott Taylor. Picture: John Devlin

Having been part of the bidding team that secured last year’s Commonwealth Games, Scott Taylor is now celebrating more medal wins after Glasgow picked up three titles at this year’s Marketing Society Star Awards.

Taylor is chief executive of Glasgow City Marketing Bureau (GCMB), which collected gold and silver awards for the development of its People Make Glasgow brand and its marketing planning strategy, in association with branding and design agency Tayburn, while the organisation’s head of marketing communications, Tom Rice, was named marketing star of the year.

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The accolades came ten years after GCMB was created and two years on from the launch of People Make Glasgow – an initiative that Taylor admits was rather risky.

“We were acutely aware that developing a brand with an advertising agency in a smoke-filled room really wasn’t the way of doing it,” says the Manchester-born veteran of the hospitality industry.

“If we asked enough people what the brand should be, that was one way of creating a collective truth. That is, in itself, full of risk, because if you’re going to ask people what they think, woe betide you if you don’t actually listen.”

He adds: “But it did pay off for us, and we asked Tayburn to carry out consultations with 50 chief executives and stakeholders in the city, and what came from that was 50 different ideas. However, they all had an underpinning view that it was the people that made this city, and that chimed with the ideas coming to us through our big public conversation.”

Taylor insists that People Make Glasgow is an “authentic” brand, created with the help of Glaswegians living in 46 countries, but can it ever usurp Glasgow’s Miles Better in the collective consciousness?

That campaign – featuring Mr Happy from Roger Hargreaves’ much-loved series of Mister Men stories – was launched in 1983 when Michael Kelly was the city’s Lord Provost.

“I’ve met Dr Kelly and I feel we’re only where we are now because we’ve been able to stand on the shoulders of giants,” Taylor admits.

“That is a giant brand and it was perfect for its time, when Glasgow was on its knees and trying to look to the future. In the same way, People Make Glasgow is a brand for today.”

The father of two, who spent his formative years in the hotel trade in Manchester with ambitions of running a venue for himself, has been at the helm of GCMB since it was established in 2005.

“When I took it on I managed to get a budget of £2.2m, and this year our budget’s about £6m – it’s definitely grown as an organisation.”

In that time the bureau – which employs about 60 people, three-quarters of whom are women – has helped to secure a range of major events that have attracted 4.6 million people and injected almost £230m into the Glasgow economy.

As well as the Uefa Cup Final and World Irish Dancing Championships, highlights of the past decade include the MTV Europe Music Awards and BBC Radio 1’s Big Weekend – not to mention the Commonwealth Games.

“Most cities don’t do a pitch, so we go out there with our ambassadors and venues, turn up as a team and win as a team,” says Taylor.

“I was part of the pitch team for the Commonwealth Games in Colombo in 2007, and I like pitching for the big stuff.”

Glasgow’s ability to compete on the world stage against the likes of Barcelona, Copenhagen, Istanbul, London, Paris and Vienna was highlighted with the recent announcement that the city will co-host the inaugural European Sports Championships alongside Berlin in 2018, following a decision to bring together a number of championships for the first time, including athletics, cycling and swimming.

The event, expected to attract a television audience of some 850 million, will see nearly 3,000 athletes travel to Scotland as part of a total delegation of about 8,200.

“I love it when you become unassailable in a competitive process and are winning bids by a country mile,” Taylor laughs, before pointing out that being successful in this game depends on a joined-up approach between events, conferences and branding.

“If the three are separated in a city, they find it difficult to operate, but by putting them together the sum of the parts is greater.”

He adds: “If you’re bringing in conventions in the volumes that we do, you need to market the strength of the city to that audience. We’re securing an average of two conferences a day and we do it on an industrial scale – we’ve really unlocked the process.

“We bring conferences primarily in the areas where we have strategic economic strength, such as biotechnology and life sciences, renewables and sustainable energy, and the general medical area – that’s really important to us.”

Along with “very strong” support from Glasgow City Council and the Scottish Government, Taylor puts much of GCMB’s success down to its links with the city’s educational establishments and their network of “ambassadors” who help bring in conferences.

“Our relationship with the universities and colleges is very close and they form part of the strategic support of the city, and have the capacity to help move things forward,” he explains.

“We’ve got about 1,650 ambassadors in the academic and research sector, working in the fields where we’re most interested in winning conferences, for example human genetics or magnetic resonance. The ambassador programme was the first of its kind in Europe and is still the largest.”

The life sciences arena may seem a long way from the Manchester hotel scene where Taylor started his career, but he insists the hospitality sector offers career paths that many other industries would struggle to replicate.

“My father ran hotels in Manchester, and I spent the first 18 years of my life living and working in them. It’s a remarkable industry; where you start and finish can be completely different places.”

But having been in charge of GCMB for the past ten years, there is no sign of Taylor losing his competitive streak.

“Competition is the driver,” he says. “It’s important for your rivals to know you’ve got your heel on the back of their neck and they’re never going to get up.”

30-second CV

Job: Chief executive of Glasgow City Marketing Bureau

Born: Manchester, 1962

Education: Hotel management and marketing, University of Strathclyde

Ambition at school: I wanted to be a hotel general manager

First job: I was a hotel gardener when I was about 12, and went on to become cellarman

Car: I don’t have a car; I have a train pass and use public transport all the time

Favourite mode of transport: Train

Favourite place: Ardnamurchan peninsula – I’ve got a wee caravan and that’s where we spend our holidays

Can’t live without: My wife Carol and my family – they’re my anchor

Music: Bob Dylan – I’m into vinyl

What makes you angry? Racism – it makes me boil and people need to call out whenever it happens

Best thing about your job? I lead a team of talented and challenging people, and there’s not a wallflower among them