I sat next to a fascinating advertising consultant, an ex-Saatchi guy, at a dinner recently who said when Stella Artois entered the UK beer market with the 'reassuringly expensive' slogan they couldn't afford TV advertising but they could afford to sponsor the pre-Wimbledon tennis tournament at Queen's Club. Cue the cameras and a big TV hit set against Stella's red backdrop.
We got talking about events and city branding and his prediction was major public spectacles will continue to grow in importance as ways of marketing cities and locations. The good news is we have cities and events worth promoting. Chestival 2010. Manchester International Festival 2011. Liverpool Biennial this coming autumn. Preston Guild 2012.
The Trafford Centre has long learned the benefit of driving footfall from becoming a destination for a family day out . Spinningfields (pictured) can reinvent itself from corporate workplace to cool hangout . The Lake District National Park becomes a stage through Lakes Alive. Destinations need to do these things not just because they are fun but because they create memorable settings in which to celebrate distinct characteristics: people, sport, culture, geography, architecture, landscape, glamour, where visitors can taste a specific local flavour, to sense how different it is to where they came from or thought they already knew. And to generate interest to keep them coming back and spending on our doorstep.
A lot of this activity is down to the growing status of tourism in this county. The visitor economy – it even has its own jargon – has always been important but is taken more seriously than ever these days, by local authorities, government and private sector seeking to reinvent the economy of a post-manufacturing country.
The NWDA major events programme was set up in 2004 – after realising the importance of the Commonwealth Games to Manchester in 2002 and Liverpool's Capital of Culture winning bid in 2003. The agency set about pumping millions of pounds into events from Blackpool Illuminations to the Paralympic World Cup. The agency is now in the midst of trimming £50m from this year's budget, the major events budget is one of the last things I would cut.