Robin Hood News-Line:
Dec
07

Robin Hood is a National Treasure!

Robin Hood is a National Treasure!

In the glitzy world of today's celebrity culture, the term "National Treasure" is sometimes too freely attributed to people who do not really have the longevity or profile to deserve such an accolade!
However, Robin Hood has been frequently referred to in these terms and is not just a "national treasure" but is also globally recognised as the world's favourite adventure hero, whose 500 year old story is a legendary classic!

So I got to wondering if other countries also regarded their folk heroes as "National Treasures" - and if and how they used these iconic figures to promote their country to the international tourism industry etc.? That's when I came across a report on how Transylvania markets its Count Dracula legend and realised that Nottingham and Nottinghamshire may be only playing in the minor league!

An article from the professional business magazine "Marketing" outlined how the Transylvanian government had secured a European Council funded programme to develop a strategy for Romania's huge tourist potential and had identified Dracula as a separate national tourist asset, alongside Black Sea beaches, mountains and spas. This had brought about a World Dracula Congress in Bucharest in 1995 attended by historians, folklorists and "vampir-ologists" from all around the globe.

Recognising the value of an international brand name such as Dracula, the Transylvanian Society of Dracula had established itself as a non-profit making organisation and to fund its activities, it offered Dracula Tours, ranging from a Grade One Tour - "suitable for balanced, classical minds, interested in the Gothic approaches to issues of broader existence" - to Grade Three tours, reserved for true initiates!

The organisation also produced a collection of quality merchandise aimed at tourists, that encompassed the finest Romania had to offer in silverware, glass, and china etc. – all discreetly hallmarked with the Dracula logo –a dragon in the shape of the letter D!"

From a completely opposite marketing perspective, I later read about the tiny community of Hell, in southeast Michigan, USA, that uses all the benefits of its iconic name with the obvious word-play on "going to Hell" or "going through Hell" etc. A convenience store and bait shop also served as the Post Office, where you could get letters hand-stamped with a "From Hell" postmark or a message to let the world know that you've "been to Hell and back!" They even sold tiny baseball bats engraved with "A Bat out of Hell!"

Whatever you might think of these two extremely different approaches, in their own way, they both make the absolute most of their legendary associations – which is a conundrum that our City and County are still struggling with!

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
07

Ten Years on from the “Slanty n” - Has a decade made a difference?

Ten Years on from the “Slanty n” - Has a decade made a difference?

“This month marks the 10th anniversary of Nottingham’s infamous “Slanty N” marketing debacle - the promotional blunder that gave the City and County such a reputation damaging drubbing in the national and international media and BOB WHITE of the World Wide Robin Hood Society asks “Has a Decade made a Difference
?”

 

 

The omens for the failure of the calamitous Slanty N campaign were obvious long before the media launch, where the hot air balloon, with the off-balance N emblazoned on its side, got snagged by the March wind on a corner of Newstead Abbey and embarrassingly began to deflate “live” for the nation to publicly ridicule on Breakfast television, as presenter Natasha Kaplinsky’s laughter echoed round the studio! Meanwhile, on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, John Humphreys and I were mutually aghast with disbelief at the insanity of committing “marketing suicide” by trying to promote Nottingham with “a wonky N” when the whole world knows that the City and County are famous for their Robin Hood connections! The Independent on Sunday even featured it in their “Bad Idea of the Week” column and as the story reverberated around the world’s media, Nottingham and Notts were starting to look pretty silly! Imagine if it had happened in today’s social media savvy environment of Facebook and Twitter etc. - the consequences would have been even more devastating!

Fortunately, a vigorous joint campaign by the Post, our Society and the general public finally saw common sense prevail and the City authorities banished the offending” N” – but of course the damage had already been done!

Looking back over the last 10 years, Nottingham has moved on from those embarrassing times but the authorities’ attempts to grasp the Robin Hood “nettle” have often been erratic and protracted.

However, the Nottingham Castle Trust is now firmly on track to carry out the long-awaited up-grade of the Castle to potentially become a world-class visitor attraction that also meets tourists and residents expectations about the Robin Hood legend. A Robin Hood Marketing Group has been established to ensure there is better communication and exchange of information between all the organisations and authorities who promote the City and County on various fronts, recognising the benefits of a more co-ordinated approach on issues connected with the legendary Sherwood hero.

But responses to the current Robin Hood Business Survey also show that the scars the Slanty N fiasco left behind still run deep and some quarters of the business community remain nervous about the sensitivities of trying to collectively “brand” the City.” When the survey data is analysed over the coming weeks, we will hopefully get a better idea of just what business and commerce really think about the impact of the Robin Hood associations and use the findings and comments to help constructively suggest how to get the best out of the legendary connections to benefit the local economy and the community. On at least two previous occasions, elements of the business community have been openly dismissive of the Robin Hood links and had to eventually reluctantly bow to public pressure and professional criticism. Let’s hope that this time history doesn’t repeat itself!

 

Dec
07

Sherwood Castle

Sherwood Castle

A Twenty First Century construction built on the attraction of the Robin Hood legend.

Closer to home, and on a completely different level, there is also a Sherwood Castle, near Rufford ,which is not actually a "castle" as such but a privately owned Holiday Village! The self catering accommodation and leisure facility was developed in 2002 as a "starting from scratch" business venture by local Nottingham entrepreneur, Stuart Mills, who recognised the potential demand in the visitor market for a small-scale accommodation and leisure facility situated in the peace and quiet of a secluded wooded environment close to Sherwood Forest and subtly linked to the Robin Hood legend. Employing local labour and services from the surrounding towns and villages, the log cabin based attraction (which includes a small swimming pool and sports hall complex) soon became a popular venue. As an initial attraction, several original large-scale props and set decorations from the Kevin Costner "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves" movie were located around the site, including Friar Tuck's Tax Wagon and the iconic catapult that propelled Costner and fellow actor Morgan Freeman over the castle walls to rescue Maid Marian (Mary Elisabeth Mastrantonio) from the evil clutches of the Sheriff of Nottingham played by Alan Rickman. In the reception area there was also Prince John's Throne from the set of the 1991 "Robin Hood" film that starred Patrick Bergin and Uma Thurman. However, due to it being released in the same year, this gritty and more down-to -earth version of the legend was somewhat eclipsed by the aggressive Hollywood publicity machine behind the marketing of the Costner blockbuster!

The Sherwood Castle venture subsequently developed into an excellent example of how subtly adopting the Robin Hood theme into the marketing of the facility helped create a successful commercial business that contributes a year-round influx of visitors into the local economy.

Dec
07

Richard III and Robin Hood – A stark comparison!

Richard and Robin Hood - a stark comparison

As both the public and the media continue to critically compare Leicester’s Richard III success with Nottingham’s current lack of a major Robin Hood visitor attraction – Bob White, Chairman of the World Wide Robin Hood Society, looks at the various differences, advantages, disadvantages and other issues involved in marketing a “legend” as opposed to an historical reality.

The City of Leicester’s success of turning the car park discovery of Richard III’s skeleton into the creation of an up-and-running visitor centre in just over 2 years has inevitably drawn comparisons with Nottingham’s Robin Hood focus still being reliant on a 63 year old statue! So just why has Nottingham failed to reap the benefits from its legendary Robin Hood connections? Well, as you might imagine, it is inevitably a long-running saga of myth, reality; complexity, lost opportunities, funding issues and a wavering lack of commitment – all wrapped up in endless consultants reports and hours of hollow rhetoric! Much too heady a mix for this short article, so here is my brief outline of the key issues that actually make a difference when comparing Nottingham’s Robin Hood shortcomings with Leicester’s Richard III success.

First and foremost is the fact that Richard III can be traced specifically to having existed as a “real” person with a proven place in British history whereas Robin Hood’s precise origins remain a mystery and the subject of much debate by historians, who all put forward various theories and contenders as to who’s exploits the Sherwood outlaw might be based on. This question of “man or myth?” has always been at the heart of the Robin Hood issue and although, across the centuries, fiction has long outgrown any true historic facts linked to the legend, when it comes down to seeking funding from the various organisations who administer that crucial grant aid, it appears that the “mythical” factor does not apparently meet their criteria. At least this was the conclusion drawn by Focus Consultants, following initial discussions with the Heritage Lottery Fund regarding the extent to which the £24 million restoration project at Nottingham Castle might feature Robin Hood aspects!

However, although Robin Hood may not have an authentic, historical pedigree to match Richard III, he does have an un-disputed and enviable status as a defining icon in the history of Popular Culture - a history that is far richer in diversity and public interest than Richard III can ever claim and also one that stretches from the early medieval tales of the mystical Green Man of the Forest to the very latest Hollywood movies currently being filmed. This rich, bountiful tapestry of popular heritage has seen aspects of the Robin Hood legend embrace and influence a vast range of art and cultural genres and has also seen the principles embodied in the traditional tales have an impact on contemporary, social and moral issues.

It is the sheer scale, scope and complexity of the legendary Robin Hood enigma that makes it so difficult to get to grips with the enormous magnitude of the subject and stimulate the creative vision necessary to fully appreciate the “the big picture”. The Society frequently receives “cries of help” from students and researchers who, having chosen Robin Hood as the topic for their dissertation or documentary film, suddenly find themselves totally “lost” in a network of connections to the legend that send them spinning-off, out of control in a myriad of different directions! It was this wide spectrum of associations that prompted the World Wide Robin Hood Society to completely re-format their website into 22 separate categories under the umbrella title of “The Many Faces of Robin Hood” which, perhaps somewhat surprisingly, include references to Robin Hood in ecology, business, the community, science fiction, education, sport and spirit and religion, as well as the more obvious links to history, literature, art, stage and screen, music etc.

Robin Hood also has the power to become frequently “re-invented”- giving him the ability to remain topical with the public and the media. By comparison, the reality of Richard III’s existence finds Leicester’s monarch somewhat shackled to his historic roots. For while Richard’s story is pretty much limited to the historical facts, characterisation by Shakespeare and the occasional play, film or book, Robin Hood gets his story constantly re-interpreted and up-dated in numerous ways and genres, ranging from contemporary social comment on the principles he is known and loved for, to teaming up with Friar Tuck as a duo of vampire killers in a poetic, Chaucer-style parody!

His popularity seems timeless - a fact reflected by Hollywood’s current interest in four Robin Hood – related films; a new novella and several recent international media interviews. Robin’s continuing global appeal was also reflected in the comments made in the Robin Hood Business Survey that the Society carried out earlier this year and the fact that we are never short of stories from around the world to flag-up on the rolling, Robin Hood News-Line on our website that features a selection of the latest breaking news about the world’s favourite outlaw!

So, in conclusion, on balance Robin Hood would appear to have far more promotional advantages and potential economic benefits as a legend than as a “real” person like Richard III - but the actual reality is that in the space of just over 2 years, the City of Leicester have swiftly taken the discovery of their “real” king to a high profile re-interment resulting in the opening of a new visitor centre to reap the benefits of its links with the last Plantagenet monarch!

Meanwhile, back at Nottingham Castle and Sherwood Forest we are STILL awaiting details of to what extent the City and County authorities propose to do justice to the Robin Hood legend and deliver the world class attraction that it deserves and that visitors expect! Over the centuries, that expectation has subsequently reached enormous proportions because the Robin Hood legend has become a “self-promoting” marketing phenomenon, reaching unprecedented levels of exposure. Yet, in his own home city the potential to capitalise on the global public interest in its famous outlaw son is vastly under-provided for and often critically described as “practically non-existent”!!      

Unlike Richard III, no skeleton has ever been discovered that can be proven, undisputedly to be that of Robin Hood, so in its own unique way, the un-solved mystery surrounding Robin Hood’s roots has only added to his world wide appeal and is one of the key elements that helps sustain the phenomenal, on-going interest in the legend. Whereas Richard III’ s story is clearly mapped out in the pages of English History, Robin Hood’s unknown, mythical origins still baffle and intrigue historians, allowing his tale to be re-told and re-invented in thousands of different adaptations and interpretations that have inspired numerous books, plays, films, operas, musicals, songs, games, locations and place names etc.

The power of mythical folklore lies in the fact that when tales are repeatedly told and passed down through the ages, over time, they become first a legend and then almost a reality. None more so than the timeless appeal of the Sherwood Forest hero Robin Hood, the People’s Champion whose story has passionately captured hearts and minds all around the world and given the City and County “free-gratis” - a priceless legacy yet to be fully exploited!