UP! A chat with Julian Stubbs

Photo: Julian Stubbs
Photo: Julian Stubbs

Placesbrands caught up with Julian Stubbs, founder and senior brand strategist at global cloud-based agency UP There, Everywhere for a chat about place branding, Liverpool’s history, and why taxi drivers make great city ambassadors.

Hey Julian, thanks for talking to Placesbrands today. UP There Everywhere has a place-branding wing called UP For Real. What are the benefits of working with a virtual team?
UP There Everywhere is a truly globally mobile agency and we don’t believe in such things as offices or daily commutes. We believe these are things that waste time & energy that could be better spent creating. Our members work from wherever they want, and we all keep in touch regularly (usually 8 or 9 times a day) using tools like Skype or iChat. We also have a range of bespoke tools made especially for us.

UP has creative spaces in major cities (Stockholm, NY, Amsterdam with one upcoming in London), where our members can go to work in person on projects together and to meet clients. We also do a lot of work at client offices, such as when we give presentations (which we do frequently). UP also has a careful vetting process for candidates to make sure they can cope with the working style, because although it’s great it’s not for everyone.

The virtual working concept is great. It’s the way of the future. In fact, wasn’t Sweden recently named one of the world’s most innovative nations. Do you agree with this and why/why not?
Sweden is usually among at least the top 3 most innovative and has been for a long time. I completely agree that it’s a highly innovative country, mainly because as a small nation it can adapt to change quickly, it’s not afraid of big decisions and it has a good fibre optics system in place.

In comparison to the UK, for example, where big decisions take longer to make, and those in power are often reluctant to move away from the country’s long history. Being stuck in history like this makes it much more difficult for them to look to the future. I also believe the UK has long been struggling with a crisis of identity, which hasn’t helped matters.

OK, can you give us your approach to place branding in a nutshell?
So many places have similar features and say similar things in similar ways. The challenge is to be distinct. Even when places seem bland on the surface, digging back into their history can usually reveal something unique; a distinct story, feature or achievement. This is where an authentic place brand begins.

Let’s take Liverpool, for example. You gave a seminar there recently. What do you think of the city and its branding efforts?
Liverpool has to be one of my favourite UK cities. For starters, it’s such a creative place. It’s been through hard times, and this shows – but in a good way. Liverpool’s struggles have given the city a lot of character.

At my recent seminar I asked the audience if they knew how Liverpool originated. Not many people knew that Liverpool in fact only existed because of Manchester. The port of Liverpool was created during the Industrial Revolution for shipping goods manufactured in Manchester out to the rest of the world. And in fact, during that time Liverpool became one of the world’s best-known cities, a real powerhouse with global connections. People with connections to Liverpool from the past have returned to the city over the years: forming the Chinese community, the Jewish community, and so on. It’s a very multicultural city with global roots.

Liverpool’s City of Culture 2008 was a major turning point. It restored pride and helped the citizens to love their city again. I heard all about this from a taxi driver last week, who at first asked me if I was a professor heading to the university. When I said I was on my way to deliver a lecture on city branding, at first he claimed to know nothing of the topic. But he soon launched into a detailed discussion of what made his city so great.

I’ve always said: if you want to learn about a city – just ask a taxi driver!

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