Brighton rock

I’ve just seen a rather startling example of what happens when the big idea behind a campaign isn’t followed through in the detail. It’s a recruitment initiative from Brighton & Hove City Council, which is hoping to attract four new ‘strategic directors’ (at £125k a year – get applying!). Something fresh and impressive has gone on behind the scenes here, because there’s clearly been a desire to make this campaign stand out from the usual recruitment drivel served up by local government bodies. There’s an ad, a website and a colourful, smartly-paced video featuring the council’s chief executive John Barradell, council leader Mary Mears and the city itself. The entire campaign is framed by the arresting headline ‘Status Quo Fans Need Not Apply’, and this informs the Quo-esque graphics and type.

The problems start when you move from headline to body copy. ‘Forget how it’s always been done, we’re rewriting the book on Local Government, shaping and transforming how we deliver services.’ The ‘rewriting the book’ metaphor clashes with the rock music theme, and we’re already plunging into council-speak before the ink’s dry on the first sentence. They’ve also missed a cracking opportunity to get in a good Quo quip capable of connecting the idea behind the headline with the thrust of the body copy. This is particularly important here because the Status Quo/status quo idea isn’t so immediate that every reader will get it straight away.

There’s a tieback to the theme in the final section of the set-up, but it’s too weak to resolve the confusion: ‘…You’ll also be natural leaders with the ability to win people over and drive change. A love of classic rock is optional.’ So the rapid reader who hasn’t ‘got it’ is now thinking ‘but you’ve already told us lovers of classic rock shouldn’t apply – ugh?’

The video starts brightly, and John is rather likeable, despite describing the city as “most buzzy”. The next problem comes in the form of Mary. She really just might be refreshingly lovely to work with, but she smacks us about the ears with some awful buzzwords and platitudes over three minutes five seconds (coincidentally the exact playing time of Quo’s ‘Back On My Feet’): “I believe passionately in public service!” she declares. “We must put residents at the heart of this vision!… It’s an opportunity to go outside the box and deliver totally differently!… We must focus on outcomes not process!… We’re looking for strategic directors that want to go that extra mile, have a vision and want to deliver!” I rather wanted to go an extra mile at that point. But not as far as Worthing, obviously.

Delve further into the site and you find details on the jobs. You also encounter some rather cold management phrases, like ‘Person specification’. And there’s an org chart for the status obsessed. So what started out as a warm, witty way of attracting dynamic people to important positions has lapsed into a missive from the land of the jargonauts, via a chasm of confusion between the big theme and its main narrative. There’s probably enough spirit in this campaign to attract high calibre candidates, it’s just a shame that Local Government jargon has such a grip that it can strangle nascent creativity. Makes me rather yearn for the everyday simplicity of ‘Rockin All Over The World’. OK, maybe not.


PS Quogate: There’s been quite a response to the council’s campaign, including anger from the band! To read more, click on the comment in the grey text below, or click the headline of this story.

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