I think Sunderland needs to have a stronger brand. Internationally we’re seen as a successful city because of our association with Nissan and being home to a Premier League club. But locally and nationally our profile would be of a working-class, northern city where not a lot happens, but with nice, friendly people. It’s a blank canvas, which is good as it means we don’t have too many preconceptions to battle.
Having a recognisable, popular city brand is vital – and a key component to successful towns and cities the world over. It’s crucial. Even huge tourist destinations like New York will continually re-invent its brand message and its story, to evolve with the evolution of the city itself. Ten years ago, New York would be sold purely on Manhattan with its shops and bridges. Now, Brooklyn and the boroughs are where it’s at.
A city’s brand has to continually evolve. Preconceptions precede experiences in most things we do, so it’s crucial that Sunderland is seen in a more positive light if it wants to attract anyone new, or re-attract those who knew if from way back when. Which is why the City of Culture is so important to Sunderland. It gives us a platform – a national and international platform – from which to create a brand.
In the short term it will be incredibly positive – no doubt attracting funds that will help the infrastructure making it attractive to tourists and businesses. But like any brand, managing this new reputation would be key to a sustainable brand. We’d have to make sure standards that are set are continually met; that the story is clear, the reason to choose remains, and that enough is happening to continually evolve its ‘offer’ and appeal to future generations who will know absolutely nothing about the city of culture.
We’d also have to ensure that the brand is ‘owned’ by the city, that the brand resonates and is understood by residents of all ages and backgrounds, as well as its companies and organisations. The City of Culture title would definitely give Sunderland something to say on a national and international level.