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BID Goes Titanic

post-image 17th February 2016

South Bank Employers’ Group, the delivery agent for the BID was invited to give a talk in the Titanic Quarter in Belfast on the transitional development of the South Bank, specifically the central role that SBEG and the BID will play in making South Bank an attractive place to live and work, hoping to serve as an example for the development potential of Belfast’s Titanic Quarter.

[Have a look at our beautiful interactive presentation to go with this lecture transcript here]

Good morning everyone – it is a pleasure to be here today, particularly in this wonderful venue. I have been a fan of Titanic’s narrative long before the James Cameron movie, and being able to see first-hand where the story began is a great opportunity, which I am grateful to Titanic Foundation for.

I’m Claudio Giambrone – Head of Marketing at South Bank Employers’ Group and South Bank BID.  In my day job I look after the promotion of London’s South Bank district.  It’s an honour to be part of South Bank’s success story, and today I will try and share some of this success with you, as I think a few similarities can be drawn between London’s South Bank and Belfast’s Titanic Quarter.

As you might know, the internationally famous South Bank is one of London’s most popular districts. In 2000, the area received three million visitors, and we now welcome an average 25 million visitors each year.  Although South Bank is best known for being a leading visitor destination, a closer look at neighbourhood reveals it to also be a thriving community with a diverse social landscape. The area is home to over 12,000 residents, 100,000 students and employees, a leading teaching hospital with over 2 million patients per year, and the UK’s busiest railway station, handling over 100m journeys each year.

Of course South Bank is globally known as a leading visitor destination – and indeed we are at the centre of one of the world’s greatest concentrations of arts, cultural and tourist attractions.  I am sure many of you will be familiar with Southbank Centre, the world’s largest single run arts complex, as well as the National Theatre, British Film Institute, BFI IMAX, London Aquarium, Imperial War Museum, to name but a few, all of which are based in South Bank. To top that, the area boasts around 10 between 4 and 5 star hotels, over 30 leading bars and restaurants. For those who’ve never been to South Bank – this short clip might help you put this presentation in context (video).

Looks good eh? I promise not to bore you with too many facts and figures, but if I may ask you to cast your eye on this picture for a moment, this tiny blue dot is South Bank. Less than 1% of London’s geographical area, and still home to 25 million visitors per year, which contribute £240m a year in visitor expenditure and over £2bn per year to London’s overall economy! Impressive, isn’t it?

That’s easy to be so successful, you might argue, when you have such a variety of visitor attractions, green spaces, leading theatres and restaurants.

And yes, it is true, to an extent. We have a great product. But actually – it wasn’t always like this.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s the South Bank was a somewhat bleak place, suffering from major disinvestment and poorly connected to other parts of London.  Its reputation was demonstrated to be at rock bottom when Londoners coined the term ‘The Wrong Side of the River’ to best define the area.

As you can see yourselves from these photos, South Bank looked pretty different from what it does today: it suffered from having really poor infrastructure and public realm, offered little or no reason to visit or linger around, no bars, restaurants, hotels – even the Southbank Centre was an uninspiring lump of concrete, badly in need of repair  – rather than trees, factories dotted the riverside, and the area was home to London’s largest homeless community who lived in what used to be known as the Cardboard City, a stone’s throw from the river.

To tackle this, a group of local businesses came together in 1991 to see what could be done.  These businesses, including Shell, ITV, and the National Theatre set up South Bank Employers’ Group (SBEG) to coordinate and deliver many of the improvements and initiatives that have made South Bank the vibrant and exciting place that it now is.

Over the past 25 years, SBEG have catalysed a series of projects that have helped to turn around the fortunes of the neighbourhood. Such projects included – amongst others – the opening of new green spaces such as Jubilee Gardens, the regeneration of the Thames riverside, the setting up of the Waterloo Job Shop which aims to give local people local jobs, the preservation of our small, independent retailers, and of course our Clean Team and South Bank Patrol, who help make South Bank a greener and safer place for all to enjoy.

When people ask me to define the structure of South Bank Employers’ Group, I always borrow an expression coined by our CEO, which compares our organisation to a Russian Doll: within an overarching umbrella group are contained a number of smaller group, each delivering and overseeing specific aspects of the area’s regeneration, maintenance and promotion. Each group is made of industry experts from our member organisations; for example, our Visitor Manager Group and South Bank Business Watch groups comprise all our key local experts in security, policy and planning, while South Bank Venues is formed of all of our event managers, who help promote the area as a leading destination for meetings, conferences and private events.

One of these sub-groups is the South Bank Marketing Group, which is a success story in its own right. It was set up over 20 years ago, with the aim to promote South Bank as a leisure visitor destination, and it probably was one of the very first destination marketing consortia to be established in London. It comprises 21 members who together embody the area’s variety, from high-brow arts organisations and museums to popular visitor attractions, hotels, and transport providers. They are all very different in their own right, but have one thing in common – they work together to achieve a shared vision, which is to protect and raise South Bank’s profile as one of the top UK destinations.

SBMG is very much a member-led collective which has a real say in what priorities we should set out for the group. We meet regularly, share ideas, work on joint projects, and together formulate our action plans which my team then implements.

Whilst we do not actively organise large-scale events, as we already have a plethora to promote from our members, we are very committed to packaging up our members’ offerings, which we then promote through a variety of comms channels that we have established over the years, the most important of which is our destination website, southbanklondon.com.

Every year, we organise a number of themed campaigns to help us reach and engage with new audiences. Recent examples include London Cocktail Week, Network Rail and Afternoon Tea Week, to name but a few.

We are also very committed to building a strong visitor welcome, ensuring that those who come to South Bank are accompanied every step of their visit, before, during and after their stay. Examples include our poster and tear-off maps, the Riverside London App, and the award-winning InfoBikes, which provide on-the-spot information and a welcoming face to visitors, every summer weekend.

When it comes to working together, we don’t ‘just’ look internally at our group, but over the years have built a network of partners who really help us spread our voice to audiences that we wouldn’t be able to reach through our own channels. We are particularly involved with our local DMO, London & Partners, as well as with our neighbouring destinations such as Team London Bridge and Better Bankside, with whom we jointly produce our One Big Summer guide, to achieve economies of scale. In this photo, you see a partnership we have with WWF, with whom we work on the Earth Hour campaign in March each year.

But really, if I were to pinpoint one strategy that sets us apart, it would probably be our unique approach to telling the ‘South Bank Story’, moving away from a what’s on listings-based model to a more curated programme of content which is generated from our social community, and also via a network of blogger contributors that we work with, each specialising in a particular field, from family to film, food and theatre.

In the case of this current campaign, we have partnered up with London’s leading book chain, Foyles, to promote a literary contest on Twitter, where our followers are asked to come up with a story inspired by South Bank in 140 characters.

This approach is proving quite successful, and the numbers speak for themselves. Our destination website receives over 2m page views per year, and, with our 200, 000-strong social community on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, we have a far stronger presence than most of other the other destination consortia in London.

We have also branched out into merchandising and recently started selling our area posters. This enables us not just to generate essential revenue that is ploughed back into promoting the area, but also has placed the South Bank brand in thousands of homes across the world, hopefully for many years to come!

To summarise the points above, I guess the key to our success is in our collaborative approach. Working together, sharing ideas, and producing relevant, inspiring content that people actually want to read and share. This is what has made a real difference for us in delivering a successful destination brand. Together, we are working to ensure a successful and prosperous future for South Bank and all of us that work in the area.

It’s fair to say that the South Bank’s phenomenal success has placed some strains on the area – the public realm needs more investment, and we must continue to invest in a number of services, including security and cleaning.  Managing growth is and will be a key aspect of our work if we want to ensure South Bank is not victim of its own success, we need it to retain that aura of uniqueness that has made it so successful.

This is the case, for example, of our soon-to-be built Garden Bridge, which will effectively be the world’s first park, built on a bridge that connects South Bank with the London’s north bank. Whilst the bridge is a great addition to London’s visitor offer which in turn helps to keep the city’s image fresh and interesting, we will need to carefully consider how the area will cope with the extra pressure of the estimated additional 6m visitors per year? How can we ensure that, as a group, we keep delivering the best possible experience to our visitors, without having a detrimental effect on the experiences of residents and workers?

In our vision for the future, we will be investing heavily on our digital agenda to ensure that our visitors and local communities are informed and involved with what the area has on offer, and to advise people on how it is changing. Particularly we are looking to implement iBeacon technology, which will provide on-the-spot, targeted information to people in the area. We are also looking at making South Bank a free Wi-Fi zone, as well as installing pedestrian counting cameras, to help us understand visitor movements and plan accordingly. We have also developed a new website, oursouthbank.com, which provides real time information about planning applications, local construction, road works and any other issues affecting the experience of visitors, residents and employees. We will be rewarding the loyalty of the people who live and work here, by establishing an area-wide loyalty programme, investing in audience research in partnership with the Audience Agency, to have a better understanding of visitors and their travel motivations, and to help us deliver more relevant communications.

Last year we established the South Bank Business Improvement District, as an additional way to engage businesses and employers in the next phase of the area’s development and growth. A business improvement district is a collaborative organisation, much the same as South Bank Employers’ Group, however it has a far higher membership.

Following a successful ballot of local businesses, South Bank BID was set up in late 2014. It is funded through a levy arrangement, and is governed by a board whose members are drawn from the local business community. SBEG is the delivery agent for South Bank BID, and ensures that local services are coordinated and joined up to maximise benefits to all businesses in South Bank.

From marketing South Bank as London’s leading visitor destination to coordinating schemes that make it cleaner, safer and more accessible to all, South Bank BID builds on what’s been achieved to date, and helps to deliver a range of benefits to the business community.

Together, this umbrella of organisations are guided through a shared vision, and are working to ensure a successful and prosperous future for South Bank and for everyone who works there.

I hope this presentation has provided you with an overview of our organisation and what we do to deliver a safer, greener, more vibrant South Bank. I conclude with this image of the London Eye, as really it was in year 2000, when the Eye was built, that the whole area started transforming itself into what it is today. And I see this as the greatest similarity between Titanic Quarter South Bank. Titanic Belfast, this wonderful museum that your community has built, will be acting as a catalyst for the area’s transformation, and I already see how a strong local economy is flourishing around it. I very much look forward to the next 20 years of your Titanic Signature Project. In the meantime, should any of you happen to be in South Bank, please do get in touch. It will be my pleasure to show you around!

Thank you

Claudio