Aside from rebranding the Yemen Tourist Board, what could be harder than overhauling the image of a entire city suburb dogged with a bad reputation stretching back several generations?
That’s been the job faced by Manchester district, Wythenshawe, as it tries to replace stubborn perceptions of crime and social malaise brought to national attention more recently when Prime Minister, David Cameron – then in opposition – visited the area.
When the Wythenshawe “image campaign”, Real Lives, was launched two years ago, PR Media Blog covered some of the contrary views expressed about the virtues of applying a PR brush to the face of the estate.
But, two years on, the campaign claims to have made headway in breaking down what it calls the myths about the area.
This is helped in no small way by the investment from companies such as manufacturer PZ Cussons – of Imperial Leather and Original Source fame – relocating its offices to Wythenshawe, along with numerous examples of inward investment totalling £805m over the past 12 years.
PZ Cussons’ managing director, Elaine Birchall, panellist at a special Wythenshawe-themed event hosted by Insider Media pointed out how “progressive this community is” in taking “control of its own destiny” and “dispelling the myths”.
Fellow panellist, Andy Wilson, regeneration manager at Manchester City Council, while highlighting the good work done to attract investment and training to the area, was under no illusion about Wythenshawe’s image problem: “The brand needs to shift from industrial estates to what it is today.”
But before a convincing image of change can be portrayed, the people whose lives are most affected by the area – its residents – need to believe it. As Felicity Goodey, chairman of University Hospital South Manchester, said: “It takes time to change perceptions and the most important thing is to get people to acknowledge that there is change afoot. They are the most important ambassadors.”
But Anne Taylor of the Wythenshawe Regeneration Team, who has been involved in hosting “seeing is believing” tours of the area to persuade people that things have changed, is realistic about the image challenge: “The London-based media aren’t easily swayed and we still need to supplant images of Cameron and the ‘hoodie’ with positive stories. But it isn’t about gloss – everything we’re presenting is reality.”
As rebranding campaigns go, it rarely comes harder than showing the improvements in a living, breathing community where – unlike a corporate entity or a product – it’s impossible to keep everyone “on message”. And, as shown by TV presenter, Terry Christian’s recent comments about Manchester’s Moss Side, the good work done on building a fresh face for a postcode can melt away in a minute.