People who regularly read my musings will know that I have limited patience for marketing and PR guff. For example I make a point to avoid any food establishment that styles itself as an ‘eatery’. Adding an ‘-ery’ to the end of a verb does not a noun make. Likewise a food venue advertising ‘street food’ should – by definition – cook and serve the food outdoors. My little OCD heart demands this. When I saw that a new deli was proclaiming itself part of the ‘rotisserie revolution’ my blood boiled as I pictured the cocaine addled PR hack in some advertising agency coming up with this ‘concept’.
Which brings me to today’s launch of ‘Brand Limerick’ – a €1 million campaign by Limerick City and County Council is to promote the city’s reputation on an international scale. The PR firm M&C Saatchi will be overseeing the campaign with input from the students of the Limerick School for Art and Design. This company has previously done branding campaigns for New Zealand, Abu Dhabi, Malaysia, Georgia and others.
This slogan for the new campaign is ‘Limerick: Atlantic edge, European embrace’.
I would normally find this type of PR speak infuriating. Not in this instance. One need only look at the genius idea to brand the west coast of Ireland as the ‘Wild Atlantic Way’ with 100 different locations marked and numbered along the route. This very simple campaign has been an extraordinary success driving up visitor numbers to the West – and not just in the already popular coastal destinations of Kerry and Clare, but in more isolated areas. It’s a simple idea that resonated loudly.
I am hopeful that the rebranding of Limerick can be equally successful. This is mainly because I am from Limerick and well aware of how my hometown has an undeserved yet persistent reputation for crime and villainy. The nickname ‘Stab City’ seems to have stuck like a tenacious wart to Limerick’s name – even though crime levels in the city are nowhere near those of Dublin. Limerick is a friendly and welcoming town. It might not have notions about itself but that is a bonus. The miserable and dank reputation it endures is undeserved and damaging to the place. The city has a lot going for it, and I hope that the city council complements this new PR campaign with some tangible action.
Along with the rebranding, Limerick must now take immediate steps for improvement. This will require financial investment and tough decisions. For starters urgent action needs to be taken in the riverside medieval section of town. Nicholas Street on the King’s Island in the old part of town runs from the Bishop’s Palace, past King John’s Castle to St. Mary’s Cathedral. Each of these three venues is a location worth visiting individually. But the whole district needs to be developed into a destination. Galway; Cork or Dublin don’t have such a beautiful medieval district, so it is a crying shame that Limerick allows this area to be kept hidden, and looking fairly shabby and unkempt. Sitting on the banks of the River Shannon, with some thought and effort this area could easily rival Temple Bar in Dublin as a destination for tourists, if it could be spruced up.
The King’s Island is the medieval part of town. The Georgian section of town is newer but could be very beautiful if some time, effort and money was spent on maintaining it. The area close to Ellen Street has been allowed to descend into a derelict eyesore since the economic crash of 2008 – despite the valiant efforts of the artistic community to preserve it. This is to be the site of a new opera house and nightlife centre. This is essential, cannot be allowed to fail and should be fast-tracked. It is very close to the medieval part of town and with both operating as they should be, it could redress the doughnut effect besieging Limerick – where the city centre is suffering with boarded up shops and buildings, while massive, soulless retail parks and shopping centres on the outskirts are booming. The Opera Centre should also be a cultural hub that highlights Limerick’s outsize contribution to Irish arts – The Cranberries; Terry Wogan; Richard Harris; Ruth Negga deserve more than ugly bronze statues.
It was fantastic news last year when the University of Limerick purchased the grotesque edifice that was the abandoned Dunne’s Stores building on Sarsfield Bridge. A university faculty in the city centre will hopefully bring young people into the city – and with some dedication from town-planners they should also live in the centre – this might make the city centre a more attractive and bustling place after dark – more Galwegian. The fact that the Dunne’s building was allowed to sit idle for decades must never be allowed to happen again. Severe financial punishment must be meted out to property hoarders like Dunne’s Stores who allowed the abandoned building to fester by the side of the river, apparently to prevent Marks and Spencer opening a store
Lastly Limerick must make better use of its most prized asset – the River Shannon. Haphazard development is occurring but a natural resource like this river needs to be utilised.
This Brand Limerick initiative will hopefully be a success, but needs to occur in conjunction with a joined up, costed plan over the next decade to revitalise the city as a whole and not merely individual elements of it. As a city Limerick has so much untapped potential. Let’s hope it can be unleashed.