Your task: selling the real Liverpool

From the Beatles to the Kop, plenty of preconceptions exist about the 2008 European City of Culture. How are the re-branders going to tackle them? By Jonathan Brown

The Today programme's recent description of Liverpool as a "faded seaport on the west coast of England" was greeted with more than the usual grumbles about London media bias among those selling the renaissance of the city. It was treated as a call to arms to reverse the city's negative image.

Ask the average journalist their thoughts on the jewel of the Mersey and the usual glib cliches will trip off the tongue. The perception is of a crime-ridden, economic basket case, populated by a mawkish people with a chip on their collective shoulder.

Think of Boris Johnson forced to prostrate himself for making unflattering comments about the city. Think of those demands for Liverpool-born Anne Robinson to apologise for cracking a joke about thieving Scousers on a television game show. This is a city whose relationship with tragedy - economic, human and political - over the last three decades has created a pervasive mythology stretching from the Toxteth riots through Derek Hatton to Hillsborough, Jamie Bulger, Ken Bigley and Anthony Walker. The British national media, from both the left and the right, has written off the country's second most famous town as a shell-suited, hub-cap-nicking "self-pity city".

In keeping with Liverpool's maritime heritage, turning around perceptions is a bit like putting an ocean liner into reverse, concedes Jonathan Brown (unrelated to the author of this piece). But Brown, a former deputy editor of the Liverpool Echo who became a public relations consultant and is now, through his company Factory Communications, engaged in a charm offensive on behalf of the city, claims that there is a good news story to tell.

"The image of Liverpool which many people hold is one which was largely formed during the city's darkest days and, to an extent, continues to be perpetuated by the London-based media. Frankly, it's an image that is out of date,' he said.

Paradoxically, the competitive nature of Merseyside's own local media can add to perceptions about high levels of crime, he says. "In London, for example, you don't have one paper that pulls it all together and the nationals aren't interested," says Brown, (though the London Evening Standard's news desk might beg to differ).

Always looking for the positive, Brown claims that the reporting of violent incidents in the city is actually a sign that things could be a lot worse. "You should be glad that people are shocked that these things happen. It should never be routine that someone gets shot. It is a healthy sign - this is not New York. Newspapers need to sell and that is what their readers want. You have to accept that reality."

Although Alastair Machray, editor of the Liverpool Echo, is in no doubt that his adopted city gets a rough ride from the rest of the country, he rejects accusations that his paper is part of the problem, serving up a relentlessly negative diet of news. Recently he devoted four pages to aerial photographs of the city centre development under the headline - A City Reborn.

"The rest of Britain would like nothing better for Liverpool to return to its basket-case state of 15 years ago. For too long they could ignore their own shortcomings, crime issues and political turmoil. But they can't do that any more."

Machray has been around long enough to know that knocking copy is the newspaper industry's diet of choice but he thinks that the combination of bad news and Liverpool still generates a special frisson of excitement in the London media.

"Negative stories always get followed up by the nationals and all newspapers are guilty of focusing on the negative. But the policy of newspapers generally seems to be that if something bad happens it makes it a better story if it happens in Liverpool, rather than in Leeds or Colchester. That is bewildering, it is primitive."

As part of his PR blitz, Brown is now offering London-based journalists to come up to Liverpool and see it for themselves. He'll even throw in a helicopter ride over the city, which to be fair does alter one's perspective of the old port, in every sense. The sheer scale of building development, under the guidance of a regeneration company called Liverpool Vision, is undeniably impressive. Some 42-acres of prime real estate are in the process of being transformed into a £900m retail district by the Duke of Westminster's company Grosvenor Estates. Just a stone's throw away, a 9,500 capacity arena is rising fast on the banks of the Mersey. Unlike Wembley, it is on time and on budget and will host the opening ceremony when Liverpool assumes the mantle of European Capital of Culture in 2008.

By then cruise liners will begin docking at a new facility at the Pier Head, with 100,000 well-heeled visitors clambering down the gang plank by 2010. There will be a new canal, giving narrow boats a link across the Pennines to Leeds, while plans for a £65m new Museum of Liverpool have been approved, alongside a makeover for historic Lime Street station. Meanwhile, a rash of trendy hotels, bars, restaurants and galleries are sprouting up across the city centre.

There has been plenty of negative publicity to firefight on the way, not least the rapid departures of the city's chief executive and council leader. A high-profile tram project was shelved. Will Alsop's iconic Cloud building was cancelled and the world heritage status of the city's Three Graces, the Liver, Cunard and Port of Liverpool buildings was temporarily under review because of fears over the impact of the development.

The flagship Capital of Culture celebrations have been beset with high profile resignations and some doubts remain over the ability of the city to deliver a truly world class programme of events to mark the year.

And then, of course, there is the plight of the people of Liverpool. Warren Bradley, leader of Liverpool City Council, acknowledges that pockets of deep poverty are entrenched in the residential "doughnut" around the city centre. In Anfield and Everton, for example, where millionaire footballers take to the pitch each Saturday afternoon, four out of ten people are living on benefits.

And like other politicians before him, Mr Bradley finds himself forced to defend the psychological character of the city.

He says that Liverpool's famous community spirit and passion have been compounded by two decades of underachievement, and are misinterpreted by the national media as excessive mawkishness. The result is something of a siege mentality. "It is a very religious city, people feel it personally when you get the Bulgers and the Ken Bigleys. That is good," argues Bradley, no mean PR man himself. "It is a sad indictment of other cities that they don't react like that. It is good to care about your neighbours."

News
Netherlands' goalkeeper Tim Krul fails to make a save from Costa Rica's midfielder Celso Borges during a penalty shoot-out in the quarter-final between Netherlands and Costa Rica during the 2014 FIFA World Cup
newsGoalkeepers suffer from 'gambler’s fallacy' during shoot-outs
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
Review: A week late, Secret Cinema arrives as interactive screening goes Back to the Future
Travel
travel
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
artCultural relations between Sydney and Melbourne soured by row over milk crate art instillation
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago
filmBlue Is The Warmest Colour, Bojack Horseman and Hobbit on the way
News
Two giraffes pictured on Garsfontein Road, Centurion, South Africa.
i100
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleBenidorm, actor was just 68
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
News
people
News
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features playground gun massacre
News
i100
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Data Analytics Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client who are a leading organisation...

Accountant / Assistant Management Accountant

Competitive (DOE): Guru Careers: We are looking for an Assistant Management Ac...

Data Scientist

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A data analytics are currently looking t...

Insight Analyst Vacancy - Leading Marketing Agency

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A leading marketing agency have won a fe...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices