The Power Of The Bow

A summary of the Key Findings of the Study Report undertaken to examine the impact of the Robin Hood 'brand' from a serious business marketing perspective.


The following is an executive summary of the key finding of a major, year long study which has evaluated the impact of the Robin Hood 'brand' from a marketing perspective both for the city and local businesses. The study includes comprehensive analysis of the local issues and concerns, which arise from the national and international perception of the legends association with Nottingham and Nottinghamshire

The report sets out to address the following specific objectives:

1. To identify the key issues which contribute to the widely-held external perception that both the City and County do not make the most effective use of the Robin Hood connections and the extensive marketing opportunities that the powerful international brand represents.

2. To offer some positive direction to help take the matter forward in a constructive way and hopefully help answer the continual criticism and subsequent embarrassment.

The study recognises the difficulties that the traditional Robin Hood image represents when Nottingham is, quite rightly, actively promoting itself as a 21st Century business and cultural centre and puts forward suggestions as to how an acceptable balance might be achieved to help meet everyone's expectations.

The report examines the Robin Hood issue purely from a business and marketing perspective and deliberately avoids becoming side-tracked by debate on the historical aspects of the myth etc.

The study recognises the difficulties that the traditional Robin Hood image represents when Nottingham is, quite rightly, actively promoting itself as a 21st Century business and cultural centre and puts forward suggestions as to how an acceptable balance might be achieved to help meet everyone's expectations.

The report examines the Robin Hood issue purely from a business and marketing perspective and deliberately avoids becoming side-tracked by debate on the historical aspects of the myth etc.

Although numerous weighty volumes of strategies and position statements have been commissioned by the public purse, no previous study has ever examined the Robin Hood related issues in such depth. So, to demonstrate its genuine commitment to Nottingham and Nottinghamshire, Robin Hood Ltd. (which receives no public funding or grant aid) decided to undertake the project at its own expense.

Robin Hood Ltd comprises a group of experienced tourism, marketing and information technology professionals who, over a 5 year period, have developed a complete understanding of Robin Hood as a major international marketing brand and successfully established the company as one of the leading internet based resources on the subject.

This summary will now go out for comment to a wide range of key figures in the local business, marketing and tourism industries, including those who have already expressed a variety of views on the Robin Hood issue, both positive and negative.

The study has been compiled from a combination of research sources
, including visitor comments, random and targeted interviews, press/media archives, internet data and personal and website debate, together with discussion with industry representatives, consultants, analysts and key players across relevant sections of the local, regional and international business spectrum.

It has deliberately remained focused on the issues from a brand marketing and promotional perspective, presenting the facts and findings with no preconceived views on the outcome and pulling no punches.

These then are the key findings highlighted by the study:

i. THE ROBIN HOOD "BRAND" is one of the most widely recognisable icons around the globe, with just under 700,000 companies and organisations etc using the name (or associated references) because of its instant recognition and the principles it represents. The character is perceived as a highly respected figure of credibility and a people's champion of justice.

In classic marketing textbook terms, Robin Hood fits every brand criteria perfectly. However, its diversity of associations (for example, historic, literary, film, art, music, romantic action hero and mythical greenwood environmentalist etc.) make it hard to control. Being legendary and famous, yet neither a tangible "product" nor a living celebrity only confuses the issue further, confirming that the icon really is a unique marketing phenomenon! The sheer scale and scope of the references and applications of the brand are staggering and, because the legend appears to have the ability to constantly be the subject of emotive debate, it can re-invent and perpetuate itself, meaning different things to different people.

ii. THE ASSOCIATION WITH NOTTINGHAM AND NOTTINGHAMSHIRE
is indelibly linked world-wide to both the City and the County and no amount of historical facts or debate will change that global perception. The legendary links and locations have been established over some 400 years and, true or false, the mould is cast and over 90% of the views obtained in the study did not want their understanding of the legend altered or tampered with!

There are of course many other famous names associated with the City and County ,such as Byron, D.H. Lawrence, Paul Smith, Brian Clough and Torvill and Dean; all offering some degree of international recognition and the potential for some niche marketing. However, their worldwide reputation has only a fraction of the longevity, scale or impact of the Robin Hood legend!

iii. A BOON OR A BANANA SKIN?
An evaluation of the broad selection of comments from the general public and the local business community shows that the Robin Hood associations are seen as both a blessing and a curse! While the promotional benefits to tourism may seem obvious, the traditional image of a green archer does not fit easily within the projection of a contemporary, go-ahead 21st Century city. As both of these viewpoints are valid, the debate becomes polarised and swings from one extreme to the other, with very little constructive action being taken to look for a compromise solution in the middle ground.

The failure to not have successfully addressed this marketing challenge was one of the main criticisms raised in responses from the external business community, who felt this lack of progress did not reflect the switched-on image the City was trying to project!


Experience has proved that you cannot "cherry-pick" the issue; the Robin Hood 'brand' is most definitely a "warts and all " proposition and this appears to be one of the main reasons why the authorities and organisations are reluctant to fully embrace the brand. However, many of the controversial issues and unique marketing and promotional opportunities are often only identified by maintaining contact across the complete spectrum of interests, from the dedicated, academic historians to the "off-the-wall" extremists. This is why Robin Hood Ltd. deliberately chose to create the World Wide Robin Hood Society as an internet based focus; recognising that without a continual awareness of the whole picture, the total benefits and understanding of the complexity of the brand could never be achieved.

The prime motivation and interest for the members of Robin Hood Ltd is not simply the collation of wide-ranging information associated with the legend but, more specifically, how the effective use of such data can be applied to successfully unlock the potential of the powerful Robin Hood icon and market its associations with Nottingham and Sherwood Forest for the benefit of the City and County; a cause to which the organisation is passionately and professionally dedicated.


iv. IGNORE IT AT YOUR PERIL ... It Won't Go Away! Over the years, Nottingham's Robin Hood associations have attracted masses of press and media coverage; most of it positive but some critical and challenging, requiring a sensitive public relations approach. As an illustration of the volume of interest the subject generates, the website of Robin Hood Ltd and its associated World Wide Robin Hood Society (www.robinhood.info) attracts an average of 2000 individual visits per week.

Because of the extensive world-wide interest, Robin Hood related issues can often arise completely "out-of-the-blue" and, not surprisingly, the local authorities get caught on the back foot, as they clearly have more important responsibilities demanding their attention such as issues of education, housing and social services etc. However, being too dismissive of the Robin Hood issue has created politically embarrassing problems in the past and, researching back through over 50 years of various media archives, revealed that the character has developed a kind of "celebrity" status and, as such, is frequently the subject of a story or feature in the world's press and media. Because of his mythical background and diverse range of associations, Robin makes ideal copy for speculative features on slow news days or as a subject of alternative relief on a heavy news day - bringing with it any potential consequences! The development of the internet and high speed I.T. communication has also resulted in stories quickly taking on an international dimension.

v. THE GRAPHIC IMAGE … Don't Get Caught Up in an Identity Wrangle!
Recognising that the question of what to use as a future graphic symbol or marketing brand for the promotion of the City and County is inevitably an important consideration; this study has specifically looked back over the past 50 years at the numerous previous occasions when the matter had been addressed.

As you might imagine, all of the exercises sparked intense emotive debate because of the diversity of issues. The various associated public opinion surveys expectedly brought up the Robin Hood factor and the local business community protested strongly, highlighting their valid concerns about the "lightweight" perceptions! The usual "ping-pong" arguments ensued and the public cash register rang constantly as it paid out the increasing number of consultants' fees!! The irony of these findings is that the situation still remains unchanged today.

Whatever new graphic image and/or promotional slogan is finally chosen to represent the City and County over the next few years, the world-wide perception of the associations with the Robin Hood legend will still dominate, provoking the same embarrassing questions and criticism which, unless current attitudes change, will continue to damage Nottingham's marketing credibility and tarnish its business reputation.

Two years ago Robin Hood Limited put considerable resources into identifying a potential compromise to the problem but as Profile Nottingham showed little initial interest, they with-held the proposed presentation and the details of the proposal were not revealed.

vi. A LACK OF COMMITMENT and responsible "ownership " of the Robin Hood brand and all its associated issues portrays a very unprofessional approach to the rest of the world and this was often (embarrassingly) interpreted as marketing incompetence by many of the senior executives we spoke to around the globe. They understood the dilemma that the issue posed for local business but expressed real surprise that no positive solutions had been found, citing various comparative examples where corporations had taken the values and principles of the Robin Hood character in a more contemporary direction and opened up some new horizons. Where graphic images were incorporated into a company logo then these had become subtle, stylistic interpretations and often highlighted a symbolic feature such as the hand gripping the bow (defining strength and power) or targets and arrows (to signify direction). Some local business executives have openly condemned Nottingham's Robin Hood "tag", failing to recognise that the criticism of a lack of vision levied by their international counterparts is far more damaging in terms of the City's business reputation.

vii. LOST OPPORTUNITIES have been numerous over recent years and in the last 12 months the following specific examples all had the potential to be developed into positive publicity and marketing initiatives. However, in the majority of cases, the authorities were not even aware that they were happening and prompt response and assistance from Robin Hood Ltd and contacts in its extensive network helped ensure that media enquiries were handled responsibly and requests by other organisations provided with relevant support.

The opportunities offering publicity, promotional and marketing potential included:

a. The publication of 4 new books on Robin Hood and lead articles featured in two high profile glossy history magazines, both carrying full-colour cover pictures.

b. A prime-time Channel Four documentary presented by Tony Robinson of the "Time Team" history series. There was also a BBC documentary made and a feature on the "Flog It" series. German, Australian, Russian and Canadian film crews and production teams have also carried out provisional research for future programmes.

c. Melvyn Bragg made Robin Hood the subject of one of his "In Our Time" features on BBC Radio 4.

d. Two new Robin Hood related films are in provisional slots for potential future production.

e. * The recent DVD releases of Kevin Costner's "Prince of Thieves", Errol Flynn's "The Adventures of Robin Hood" and the first series of the Richard Greene television series.

f. Relevant tie-ins with appropriate Robin Hood linked events being staged around the world, particularly those likely to have positive benefits for the travel and tourism sector.

(* When Disney's animated "Robin Hood" was first released and later re-released on video, the City and County set up joint marketing campaigns linked to cinema and video stores across the U.K. They staged the British premiere of Kevin Costner's "Prince of Thieves" and the associated promotional campaign won an award from the English Tourist Board for its successful implementation and innovation.)

As part of this study, a detailed examination was made over a trial period to identify any potential publicity activity related to Robin Hood and help build up a pro-active, forward looking marketing plan to capitalise on the promotional benefits. Amazingly, there were enough aspects to provide a focus for almost every week of the year! Clearly this would be undesirable and likely to result in over-kill but the items showing the most potential could have been prioritised on a selective basis. This also did not take into account any issues arising from unexpected external sources, such as the recent Yorkshire based claims.

viii. THE DISAPPOINTMENTS. Throughout the study a recurring factor has been the specific disappointment visitors found in discovering that the reality of their anticipated Robin Hood "experience" in the City did not live up to their expectations.

This mainly falls into the following categories:

a. The inevitable disappointment that the Castle is not the building that Hollywood has led us to associate with the Robin Hood story is well documented but when the historic facts for that were explained to visitors, over 80% of those interviewed expressed a genuine interest in the diverse historical events related to the site. However, 97% still expected to find something more specific and substantial about Robin Hood at the Castle than just the existing statue(s) and plaques below the Gatehouse.

b) Over 58% of those questioned commented on the scant number of general references to Robin Hood to be found in the City and had sensed a kind of reluctance and embarrassment to acknowledge Nottingham's links with the famous folk hero. Media journalists are particularly astute at detecting underlying feelings and reported comments such as "a wavering and unconvincing 'support' "and "only proud of it when it suits" typically reflect the attitudes in some quarters. It is hardly surprising then that this apparent disinterest is seized on by critics and claimants such as Yorkshire!

c) Each year many tourism and leisure students (both national and international) choose to study for their main dissertation how Nottingham and Nottinghamshire capitalise on their legendary Robin Hood connections but the reality is that they are totally surprised at the lack of a balanced approach and consequently the focus of their thesis tends to portray the City in a negative context.

d) Although over 83% of the comments analysed considered that having a city centre Robin Hood attraction was a good idea, many felt that the present "Tales of Robin Hood" was looking "tired" and "dated" and 68% thought such a facility should be based at the Castle.

e) Annual events such as the Robin Hood Festival in Sherwood Forest and the Robin Hood Pageant at Nottingham Castle were generally acknowledged by visitors as being the type of attraction they expected to find. However, the October half-term staging of the Pageant was viewed as less attractive due to the likelihood of inclement weather.

vi. CONCLUSIONS AND PROPOSALS. Whatever your personal view is on the City and County's associations with the Robin Hood legend the findings of the study all emphatically highlight that the issue will never go away and the links are inevitable.

To be absolutely frank, because the matter can be both a benefit and a curse, no public authorities really want to become too closely involved with the Robin Hood issue for the following perfectly understandable reasons:

1. In terms of priority, the general "lightweight" perceptions of Robin Hood clearly do not justify an unbalanced allocation of resources when compared to the serious responsibilities of social services, education and housing etc.

2. Being perceived as a double-edged sword, the legend is preferred to be kept at "arms-length" generally hoping to get the best of both worlds by expressing pride when there are benefits but trying to avoid any controversial issues.

As a result of these strategies the Robin Hood issue either" bounces around like a loose cannon", waiting for the next potential public relations embarrassment to happen, or lets numerous viable promotional opportunities slip away

.
Much of the same philosophy is to be found in the commercial sector where, as already highlighted, most local businesses would, understandably, not feel comfortable with a Robin Hood style image and would only possibly acknowledge it if a visiting client or potential new customer expressed an interest in our world-famous ambassador. In the hotel and accommodation sector they have to be much more flexible in their approach to Robin Hood as their customer base comes from both general tourism and the business and conference markets, requiring adaptability according to the time of the season

Even local residents, when interviewed, admitted that the only time they would probably bother to think about the area's Robin Hood links might be if relatives or friends were visiting from away or they had been watching a film or television.

These factors, combined with a common thread that emerged from the extensive range of material and information studied for this project, implied that the diverse spectrum of businesses, authorities, organisations and individuals really only wanted a facility capable of providing an "off-the-shelf package" on any Robin Hood related issue. Something tailor-made to their specific needs, as and when required.

In addition, many of the businesses and organisations could clearly benefit from the availability of a centrally networked Robin Hood information resource, able to act as a 'filter' and co-ordinate potential promotional opportunities in a pro-active marketing plan. It could also flag up any likely sensitivities and handle any controversial issues, providing all the professional support and public relations advice required.

To some extent this is of course the role which Robin Hood Ltd has been fulfilling during its 6 year existence (albeit at its own expense) and its established credibility record places it in a unique position to develop its function, having already set up trial periods for some new services in readiness for seeking future funding.

New projects currently under consideration include a possible exhibition of Robin Hood memorabilia and collectibles; a networked education support facility linked to local schools and colleges; the publication of a multi-purpose Robin Hood Facts and Trivia Pocket Book and staging the 50th Anniversary Celebratory Convention to mark the first U.K. screening of the "Adventures of Robin Hood " television series starring Richard Greene.

x. CONSULTATION....Seeking Your Views. Having spent months studying thousands of words and analysing what seemed like endless viewpoints, opinions and observations, the project has now reached the stage where this summary of the key findings and proposals will go out for comment to a wide range of key figures in the local business, marketing and tourism industries, including those who have already expressed a variety of views on the Robin Hood issue, both positive and negative. Copies of the summary will also be sent to a cross section of companies and organisations who already have a high profile Robin Hood image or name association. In addition, various external sources who have previously passed comment will be "re-visited" and invited to express their views on the points raised in the study. At the conclusion of that exercise we will determine how best to disseminate the results and consider a possible presentation to interested parties.

Robert White,
Chairman.

May 2004

On behalf of
Robin Hood Ltd. 616A, Mansfield Road, Sherwood, Nottingham NG5 2GA
Telephone (0115) 9245434 or (0115) 9523183. E-Mail: info@robinhood.info

Please note that the contents in this document remain the copyright of Robin Hood Limited and should not be reproduced in any way without first obtaining agreed permission from the company.

Do you have an opinion or comment on the report or its findings? Whatever your view, we would very much like to hear from you. All comments will be taken into consideration for the next stage of the investigation. Please send us your views to info@robinhood.info or in writing to Robin Hood Limited at the above address.