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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One Comment

  1. Tim
    Posted 09/06/2010 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

    Seems the council’s Quo campaign is causing a stir!
    Here’s an update:

    From The Argus:
    Brighton and Hove City Council apologise to Status Quo for “insulting” ad
    1:17pm Wednesday 9th June 2010
    By Tim Ridgway »
    UPDATE: The Chief Executive of Brighton and Hove City Council has apologised to Status Quo and its fans for any offence caused by a bizarre job advert. Status Quo this morning slammed the council for the ad for four directors on salaries of £125,000 per year, which uses the slogan “Status Quo fans need not apply”.
    The rock band is planning to display a banner reading: “Councillors for Brighton and Hove need not attend” when they perform at the Brighton Centre in December.
    But this afternoon, chief executive John Barradell published an open letter on the council website apologising for any offence caused.
    It read: “Dear Status Quo (and fans!)
    “A quick note about our recruitment campaign, which has been noticed far beyond my expectations.
    “Firstly, I’m sorry if any offence has been caused by our advert slogan “status quo fans need not apply” — none was intended. What we mean by this play on words is that we want people who will come to the council with brilliant and original ideas about how to make residents’ lives better. We don’t want people who will accept things the way they are.
    “But I accept that it was a little insensitive. My wife did say when she saw it that “it might upset Quo fans”. I hoped it would make us stand out from the crowd and would get people interested. Clearly she was right. That said, I’ve sent a letter to the official fan website to explain this and, judging by the responses, most are prepared to take the joke in the spirit in which it was meant.
    “Of course, I don’t need to say how well loved and supported the Quo are here in Brighton & Hove.
    “Finally, I should clarify that the question of musical preference will not be asked at interview; it is not relevant to the recruitment of these jobs.”

    Simon Porter, the band’s manager, told The Telegraph: “This is a direct insult to the capabilities of millions of Quo fans, many of whom are probably totally overqualified for these jobs. “On top of that, this just seems like a ludicrous waste of money. Perhaps the council should make some savings in its recruitment department.”

    Meanwhile, an imposter pretending to be Status Quo guitarist Francis Rossi is rumoured to have applied for one of the positions. Fans of the aging rockers, who regularly play at the Brighton Centre, are divided if the recruitment campaign is a big hit or offensive to rockers all over the world. Writing on the fans’ official forum a fan using the name Huge Obese Mama said the Quo’s front man had just applied.

    Others have suggested organising a mass application for the jobs. JeffC wrote: “Rather than complaining, maybe lots of us should apply for the post, including lots of references to being Quo fans within our application.” Another wrote: “I suggest a large banner outside the Brighton Centre when Status Quo play there this winter, reading, ‘officers of Brighton and Hove City Council not welcome’.” Others, such as Nmellor and BlackWidow wrote to the local authority asking for clarification as to what the ad means.

    Another, called Make it Quo, Number One, said: “I think it’s a rather clever and amusing play on words while still setting out its stall for what it requires from its new exec[s].
    “Good to see Brighton and Hove has a sense of humour.”

    In reply to the fans, the local authority’s chief executive John Barradell said: “Firstly I’m sorry to you and any other Status Quo fans if any offence has been caused by this advert. Offence was not intended.

    “We are trying to recruit people that are not going to ‘do nothing’, not ‘rock the boat’ or accept the ‘status quo’ or any of the other expressions that try to express what we are looking for.”

    A spokeswoman for the council could not confirm the applicants until the process closed on June 21.

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