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Dec
07

Warts and All!

Warts and All!

It's a globally known fact that Nottingham and Notts are traditionally and inseparably linked to the Robin Hood legend. Whether we like it or not, our City and County haven't any real choice in the matter. There are no "opt-outs" for the local authorities on the issue and they cannot "cherry-pick" the mixed blessings that the historical associations bring. They have to accept the world-famous links at face value, "warts and all" – the good, the bad and the downright ugly – and the archives are full of examples covering all three of these categories!

Because of the huge international impact of the legend, you don't have to be a great mathematician to work out that the publicity and promotional benefits of the Robin Hood connections far outweigh any negative aspects - although some sections of the local business community still need a lot of convincing! The diversity and adaptability of the Robin Hood "brand" represents the absolute pinnacle of marketing practice and achievement, ticking all the boxes in the profession's text book. In fact, the sheer extent of the varied applications in which the brand has been used makes Coca Cola look like a comparative novice!

However, the Robin Hood links are not without their problems for the City and County authorities and past experience has shown that the legendary outlaw can be a potentially embarrassing loose cannon and a public relations "firework"! Statistics repeatedly show that, year round, 24/7, some aspect associated with the iconic legend will "light the blue touch paper" and spark global media interest with quite unpredictable results. The issue may explode in a spectacular display that bathes the authorities in a blaze of glory or, as past experience has also shown, things can go embarrassingly out of control and blow up in their face! The one thing that is definitely certain beyond doubt is that the subject of Robin Hood never fails to ignite public and media interest – locally, nationally and globally – and every week seems to bring new revelations.

At the time of writing this column, the week's particular "mixed bag" of Robin Hood related issues includes the launch of a new audio CD of the Robin Hood story "with a twist", featuring actor Lee Ingleby (TV detective George Gently's Geordie sidekick); "The Tunnellers- Maid Marian's People" – an inventive, contemporary adventure novel for 8-10 year olds by local author Helen Dennis; the appearance of Robin Hood Bingo.com on the on-line gaming scene!; the imminent publication of new research findings showing that, in certain aspects, the City and County are "barely out of the starting blocks" when compared with the diverse global exploitation of the Robin Hood brand; and a proposed in-depth survey of a cross-section of the local business community to try to get a better understanding of their views on the benefits (or otherwise) of the area's Robin Hood connections. Oh, and of course there's the continuing "deafening silence" from the local marketing and advertising profession regarding the mystifying conundrum of how Nottingham can claim to have a "Creative Quarter", yet fail to effectively utilise the City's legendary, iconic brand!!! (Perhaps their fingers are still burning from the embarrassingly controversial "Slanty N"!)

Dec
07

"Why Robin Hood and Manchester United Have A Similar Problem!"

"Why Robin Hood and Manchester United Have A Similar Problem!"

Although Robin Hood and Manchester United appear to have little in common, they are both world famous icons in their own right and, ironically, they both share the same basic problem of how to get the maximum potential benefit from their respective huge global fan bases.

Marketing industry expert Tom Silk recently stated that the Manchester super-club "needed to convert its 330 million "followers" into actual fans and paying customers" and this advice to the football giants also mirrors a similar challenge facing Nottingham City Council as they seek to maximise on the economic benefits that the Robin Hood connection can bring to local business and commerce.

From Nottingham's perspective, Robin's millions of followers need converting into potential visitors to the City and a more effective and innovative use of the "brand" needs to be creatively marketed and applied to a whole range of business, community, artistic and educational opportunities. For a City that has such a vibrant reputation for its diverse creativity in the arts and sciences, its on-going failings to make the most of the legendary Robin Hood connections remains its much-criticised Achilles heel!

So what can the two global icons of popular culture learn from one another ? Well, perhaps Manchester United should adopt more of Robin Hood's legendary reputation of "giving to the poor" and divert some of the grossly inflated salaries that their star footballers earn to champion more needy and worthy causes!

As for Nottingham, it needs to realise what a truly phenomenal global marketing "icon" Robin Hood really is - with a reputation as equally well-known and respected as Manchester's footballing super heroes. The City just needs to stop "making a molehill out of a mountain" and avoid scoring own goals with a global brand it has been given "for free"!

Dec
07

From a Spark to a Flame

From a Spark to a Flame

"Why doesn't Nottingham make more of its world famous Robin Hood legacy? That's the million dollar question that gets asked 24/7, all year round by residents, visitors, students and the media. It casts a dark shadow of doubt over the credibility of the City's "creative" claims and seemingly sends chills through the local marketing profession who appear to run for cover! It "drives a tram" (a Nottingham one of course!) straight through the City's creative reputation and somewhat undermines the many positive achievements in the wider creative field, ranging from ground-breaking medical research to Jake Bugg's musical success!

I can recall a time when Nottingham's marketing prowess was viewed in awe by the nation's advertising world and the City was home to a host of top-flight advertising agencies with blue-chip clients. In fact, the Garratt-Baulcombe agency even had a much-envied hoarding above the exit turnstiles on St Pancras Station implying "Why have you come down to London, when the UK's best creative advertising talent is back in Nottingham ?" What has happened to that spark? In the columns of the Nottingham Post I have repeatedly tried to publicly motivate the present marketing fraternity to tackle the Robin Hood issue but to date all I have heard has been a deafening silence!

There has always been friction from certain sectors of the business community who adopt an "emperor's new clothes" attitude to Nottingham's legacy of the Robin Hood legend and there's a well-documented track record of instances where random comments from the City and County's commercial sector have sparked various national and international media frenzies that had damaging consequences for the region's reputation! However, the sparks that I would like to see are creative ones!

Maybe Robin's traditional arch-enemy, the Sheriff of Nottingham should throw down the gauntlet and challenge the local marketing and promotional "creatives" to show more flair and initiative? – but perhaps their fingers are still burning from the embarrassing "Slanty N" fiasco!

Decisions are imminent on the funding for the City and County's respective projects at Nottingham Castle and the Sherwood Forest Visitor Centre but at this point in time, we still do not know to what extent the proposals will actually meet public and visitor expectations. When the Castle project was first announced, a letter in the Post from a local chartered architect stated forcefully that "Nottingham Castle's main claim to fame is Robin Hood, love him or hate him! – including social history, industry, sport and theatre is an insult to a legend!"
We also don't know what the responses and results will be from the World Wide Robin Hood Society's survey with the local business, commerce and cultural community, when, over the next few months, they are asked for their honest opinions of the Robin Hood "Brand"!

It seems to me that there are a lot of potentially controversial Robin Hood related issues all about to come to a head around the same time. Is this the calm before the storm? I think I'll just light the blue touch paper, retire to a safe distance and get ready to watch the fireworks!

Dec
07

Now is The Time to Find Out What Local Business and Commerce Really Think About Nottingham's Links to The Robin Hood Legend!

Now is the time to find out what local business and commerce really think about Nottingham's links to the Robin Hood legend!

Although the Nottingham public have generally taken pride in the City's world famous Robin Hood connections, the business and commercial sector have, perhaps not unsurprisingly, had a somewhat more cautious, indifferent and at times cynical attitude to any potential economic benefits that associations with the iconic legendary outlaw might bring! Even though it's an established fact that every time Robin Hood gets a mention Nottingham gets a hefty publicity "plug", the City and County still frequently fail to get the most out of its globally popular brand "image" that comes "gift wrapped" to the authorities and the community - absolutely free!

So the World Wide Robin Hood Society feel that if Nottingham is to seriously combat the persistent criticism of the current lack-lustre approach to exploit the legacy of its traditional Robin Hood heritage, then now is the time to ask a diverse cross-section of the business and commercial sector for their honest views and opinions about the marketing potential of the Robin Hood "brand". Is it really a gilt-edged goose that can "lay the golden eggs" to beneficially help promote the City and County? What do they truly think?

The Society is NOT on a mission to brand everything "Robin Hood"! Far from it! Visitor expectations need to be satisfactorily met but NOT to the extent of Nottingham becoming an urban version of a tacky seaside resort! We only wish to improve the subtle balance of the iconic folk hero's current profile to help counter the frequent criticisms of under-exploitation. It is equally important to stress that the Robin Hood "brand" is NOT just about tourism – as it also has the power to have an impact on business and economic development, inward investment, environmental issues, community activities, education and cultural promotion.

There has never been a serious and comprehensive business survey of this nature conducted before, so we hope Nottingham's business and commercial sector will give a considered and frank response and to encourage them to appreciate "the wider picture", a 16 page Robin Hood Brand Awareness Guide will accompany the survey to help stimulate debate and formulate opinion. Details of the launch date and availability of the survey will be announced shortly.

The Walt Disney Organisation's successful marketing strategy is based on the principle of always treating their fantasy characters as "real life" individuals and commercially promoting them to their full potential. Nottingham needs to borrow a little of that vision to help prevent its Robin Hood associations becoming its "nemesis" - that to the outside world seemingly undermines all the other good creative initiatives that the City is renowned for!

But we should not surmise or speculate! To consider and plan for what Nottingham really needs to do to successfully manage its global Robin Hood "brand" we need a genuine and objective response from the local business community - to let the authorities know their viewpoint, opinions and suggestions. So, before the next Robin Hood film, book or media story etc. comes along to throw a spotlight on the City that once again reveals its existing embarrassing weaknesses, let's all pull together to once and for all make the most of Nottingham's world famous Robin Hood connections!

Dec
07

Has Robin Hood Got Too Big For His Boots?

Has Robin Hood Got Too Big For His Boots?

Bob White, chairman of the World Wide Robin Hood Society, takes a look at how much the Robin Hood "brand" is really worth!

THE Robin Hood Festival in Sherwood Forest has just celebrated its 30th year, and once again we have seen how the story of his adventures captures young children's imagination as they chase through the shrubbery in their green felt hats, waving their wooden swords and bows with rubber-tipped arrows.
All the principles and qualities that the outlaw hero stands for have come to mean so much more, however, and around the world Robin's name has been adopted, adapted, manipulated and developed in a variety of ways to reflect his role as a universal champion of the oppressed.
You only have to go on the internet to see just how extensive his influence is. Google comes up with over 16 million results for 'Robin Hood' but that barely scratches the surface of what is really out there.
So just how big is the Robin Hood legend – and what is it really worth to the local economy?
To try to determine this, I made some comparative studies with other places that had associations with celebrated famous figures, and found that the majority of their data was actually extrapolated from visitor numbers recorded through accommodation, attractions and travel statistics.
In Stratford-on-Avon, for example, the Shakespeare's Birthplace Trust estimated that in 2012 Shakespeare-related activities alone had contributed some £45m to Stratford's visitor economy.
Meanwhile Warwickshire and Staffordshire County Councils said their estimated combined value for day visitors and overnight stays was £582m and £687m respectively – and that the majority of this volume was influenced by the Shakespeare connection.
Closer to home, Experience Nottinghamshire stated in 2011, that the Russell Crowe 'Robin Hood' film had generated £9m of spin-offs for the county.
Scotland appear to have produced the most in-depth valuation exercise – they commissioned a National Audit and Economic Impact Study on the value of the poet Robert Burns, and in 2005 estimated his brand to be worth £157 million annually to the Scottish economy.
Based on these figures, I would conservatively estimate that the Robin Hood brand could be worth at least £300m-£350m to the Notts economy.
Ironically, however, Robin Hood just may have grown too big for his boots - making his legend and its subsequent influences somewhat hard to handle.
It is my own belief that the extensive scale and diversity, which the Robin Hood legend now embraces is one of the main reasons why the city and county currently have no major Robin Hood related visitor attraction. Quite simply, the numerous aspects and connections associated with the legend make it extremely difficult to comprehensively provide an experience that meets all the wide, general expectations of the visiting public.
Our Sherwood hero may not have Richard III's legitimacy of unequivocal historic proof; but I can recall that when local Robin Hood expert, the late Jim Lees, was quizzed about Robin he would ask the enquirer if they wanted the truth or the legend. And nine times out of 10 they would say "the legend!

Over the last 15 years, the World Wide Robin Hood Society has been collating a wealth of information about Robin's impact.
And the sheer scale, extent and diversity of the areas and issues that the Robin Hood legend has managed to embrace are quite staggering.
They range from the academic, historical viewpoints of the American University of Rochester's digital Robin Hood Project, to the simple down-to-earth enjoyment of 'The Green Velvet Outlaws of Sherwood' – a women's 'Rapper Sword' dance team, who enter traditional folk dance competitions.
There are big corporate organisations like New York City's charitable Robin Hood Foundation, medium ones like the Robin Hood Flour Company in Ontario, and small enterprises like the tiny launderette in Florida that bears his name.
In Spain's Lloret de Mar, there's a Robin Hood Fun Pub, at the Walibi Holland amusement park in The Netherlands you will find a Robin Hood Rollercoaster, there's a Robin Hood Land in Donnerswachbald, Austria... the list just goes on and on and on.
Town planners seem to have a particular fondness for Robin, from Logan City in Queensland, Australia, which has roads such as Friar Street and Sheriff Road, to Kingston-on-Thames where there are lots of Robin Hood-themed roads despite there being no real connection to the outlaw.
There is a big housing estate in Tower Hamlets called Robin Hood Gardens.
And transport seems to hold an attraction as well, with a railway line, airport and at least one ferry bearing the Robin Hood name.

Dec
07

How Robin Hood Helped Originate "Brand" Marketing!

How Robin Hood Helped Originate "Brand" Marketing!

When the festive pantomime season approaches, I'm reminded how, over recent years, our local folk hero, Robin Hood has worked his way from being a minor role in a traditional panto to the "star billing" he now gets in the many latter-day productions that are re-titled "Robin Hood and the Babes in the Wood"!

For centuries, numerous alehouses and hostelries, along with countless geographical locations and landmarks, have been given a Robin Hood related name and, in its way, this represents the origins of one of the earliest forms of what in today's commercial and marketing "savvy" world is known as "branding"!

Popular culture has always eagerly clamoured to seek out ways to become associated with the world famous legend and you have only to look at the vast range of books, plays, poems, films and television scripts etc. to see that creative writers of all genres have frequently stepped up to ride the "Robin Hood Merry Go Round" for inspiration, because they know that Robin's reputation as "the people's hero" still strikes an enduring chord with the global public.

Consequently, quite apart from all the classic film and television dramas, we have also seen Robin Hood appear in "cameo" roles in such films as "Shrek" and "Time Bandits" and make guest appearances in television series as diverse as "Star Trek" and "Morecambe and Wise"! Ever since the advent of moving pictures, the animated cartoon industry has had an on-going fascination with the legend and Mickey Mouse, Tom and Jerry, Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck are just a few who have taken on the Robin Hood role.

In fact, surprisingly, there have also been several other high profile ventures under consideration that for one reason or another did not materialise and became "the Robin Hood's that never were"! When "Jesus Christ Superstar" first struggled to make an impact, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice were quoted as saying "Back to the drawing board - let's do one on Robin Hood!" Hugh Grant and Liz Hurley also planned to star as Robin and Marian and secured the options on a rom-com script provisionally titled "Bows and Arrows" and Rupert Wainwright (director of the much-acclaimed 1999 movie "Stigmata") also bought the rights to a horror-style interpretation of the Robin Hood story called "Blood of Sherwood".

So, while everyone else seemingly recognises the phenomenal power of Robin Hood as a global "brand", here in his home city we still seem to be missing a trick! However, it was encouraging to see City Councillor Nick McDonald recently quoted in the Post saying "We're a bit like a band that refuses to play its biggest hit!" - Perhaps, at last, the penny might have dropped!!

Dec
07

It's Not Just A Question of Money - A Change of Attitude is Required

It's Not Just A Question of Money - A Change of Attitude is Required

As the dust settles on the recent disappointing announcement that the visionary proposals for Nottingham Castle had received a temporary setback from its unsuccessful bid to secure Heritage Lottery Funding – then, once again, the City has to face up to the constantly embarrassing fact that a 60 year old statue remains its predominant Robin Hood visitor attraction! A fact that to external commentators, marketing professionals and commercial investors - completely beggars belief!

Nottingham's apparent current inability to fully exploit its instantly recognised Robin Hood global brand also blows huge holes through the City's claims of creative credibility and marketing prowess. Consequently, the knock-on effect of such negative impressions also repeatedly damages Nottingham's commercial reputation!

Having had over 30 years public relations and marketing experience promoting Nottingham for the City Council, I am fully aware of the fact that its Robin Hood associations can be both "a blessing and a curse" - requiring constant monitoring to ensure any benefits are put into balanced perspective. I am also aware that, over the years, the Castle has a track record of having made some "shaky" decisions where its associations with Robin Hood are concerned - ranging from the rejection of the Madame Tussaud's proposal in the mid 1970's (they went to Warwick Castle instead!) to more recently turning away the free offer of the iconic catapult prop from the Kevin Costner blockbuster "Prince of Thieves" movie – (feeling snubbed, the local businessman making the gesture just let it rot in disgust!).

I still hear frequent rumblings of dismissive attitudes within the local business community from those who fail to see that Robin Hood has become a globally recognised icon of popular culture that has to be treated as a phenomenally successful commercial "brand". Comparative research carried out throughout 2012 clearly showed that all around the world numerous companies and organisations (with no Robin Hood connections whatsoever) effectively use the Robin Hood association to market and promote their products and services.

If Nottingham is to successfully convert its legendary Robin Hood associations into potential commercial benefits, then the authorities, the local business community and the general public all have to recognise that it is not just a question of money – a significant change of attitude is also required. So come on Nottingham, let's show the world we really do know how to get the best from our Robin Hood heritage!

Dec
04

Man or Myth? – It no longer really matters!

Man or Myth? – It no longer really matters!

Man or Myth? Invariably, that is the most frequently asked question about Robin Hood and because there is no conclusive, undisputed historical evidence that categorically proves his actual existence or who he really was, Robin has become an extremely divisive figure and the elusive mystery as to his true origins only adds to the intrigue and fascination. Whether he lived or not, no longer really matters.

Over the centuries, fiction has triumphed over fact and the tales of England's famous outlaw have become a worldwide legend establishing Robin Hood as "the People's Hero" and elevating him to "international celebrity" status as an icon of popular culture with a fan base that stretches back over 500 years!

As a retired public relations and marketing professional, my own personal interest in Robin Hood has never been about the historic "man or myth" issue but has been more practically focussed on how Nottingham's legendary figurehead evolved into a powerful global "brand" and how that phenomenal promotional potential might be more effectively harnessed for the benefit of his home city and county.

The recent discovery of Richard III 's remains under a Leicester car park inevitably sparked off some rival comments about the "historic credibility" of the find compared with Robin Hood's "fantasy existence" but fact or fiction should make no difference when it comes down to effective marketing.

The Walt Disney Organisation attributes it's highly successful marketing mantra to being based on the fact that they treat their fantasy creations as "real commercial brands or personalities" and actively exploit every opportunity to vigorously promote their marketing and publicity potential. A glance through any of the promotional and media packs that accompanied some of their animated classic movies shows just how seriously they adopted this practice and their success proves how effective this strategy was.

Other examples of how you can successfully market a "fantasy" are the Sherlock Holmes Museum in Baker Street, London; the Harry Potter studio experience in Hertfordshire; Peppa Pig World in Hampshire and the Tintin museum in Belgium – all proving that the "man or myth" debate should NOT be seen as an obstacle preventing Nottingham and Notts from fully capitalising on their legendary Robin Hood connections. On a recent visit to London, I also noticed the building in Leicester Square that houses M&M's World, a visitor attraction that is based entirely on the popular chocolate and candy confectionery brand – and with that bizarre example I rest my case!