The inaugural unLTD Business Breakfast was definitely worth getting out of bed for on 28 February, with early-risers being treated to a spot of breakfast, highly informative conversation and some well-received positive news for business in the region…

The sell-out panel discussion and breakfast networking session, hosted by unLTD Magazine and CMS Law at their office space in Sheffield’s Heart of the City development, began with a breakfast spread and coffees, allowing the chance for attendees to network in the plush foyer of CMS’s building on Charter Square.

unLTD Business Breakfast

Following a bite to eat and some productive conversations, we took our seats for the panel discussion, which featured the stellar line-up of Mark Mobbs (Place brand and Marketing Manager for Sheffield), Tom Wolfenden (CEO of Sheffield Technology Parks), Matt Bowker (Board Director at CODA Studios), Mike Kent (Co-Founder and MD of Kitlocker.com) and Helen Johnson (Construction Partner at CMS Law).

Hosted by our very own Phil Turner, the panel discussion centred on the role the business community can play in defining what Sheffield stands for in a post-levelling up environment, and to kick things off Mark Mobbs gave an exclusive presentation of the findings of a recent global study which included research into Sheffield’s place brand perception – which showed some potentially surprising results.

Mark began by explaining the concept of place branding, which takes into account various different metrics such as education, safety and housing, alongside culture, heritage and art, showing how these various elements come together to form an idea of a place in someone’s head.

Importantly, a strong brand perception leads to economic value for a place, whether that’s people coming to the city and simply buying a coffee or coming here to set up a business and creating jobs value in the economy.

Mark Mobbs
Mark Mobbs is the Place brand and Marketing Manager for Sheffield. As part of Marketing Sheffield team, his role spans the full ‘trade, tourism and talent’ spectrum, working with multiple stakeholders to ensure the best version of Sheffield is put forward and the city has as many advocates as possible.

Previously, there wasn’t an agreed definition of what the value of a place brand was, but a recent research project from City Nations Place, alongside Bloom Consulting, set out to quantify that value, with the most interesting takeaway being that, statistically, place brands impact economies at an average of 26%.

This means that perceptions count for 26% of all international tourism receipts, foreign direct investment, and talent migration population.

For someone like Mark, tasked with marketing the city, this data highlights the hugely significant importance a strong place brand has on the economy, and how much we stand to lose by not fostering a strong place brand.

The other significant data point on a local level is that Sheffield has a positive external perception as a city – which may come as a surprise to some of the naysayers!

Mark finished by explaining that, based on this data, if we invest more into creating good perceptions of a place by having that coherent, consistent messaging and narrative, and we use a place brand that ties everything together, we can reasonably expect great economic leaps.

unLTD Business Breakfast

Panel discussion Q&A:

Historically, Sheffield has been terrible at selling itself. Why do you think that is?
Tom Wolfenden: I suppose when you’re in the city, it’s hard to know if that’s true, but we assume it is. I’m not from Sheffield, I grew up near Manchester, but I’ve lived here for over 20 years now, and there’s just something about it that you can’t articulate.

If you stay here for long enough, people seem to get it, but I don’t know what that it is, and I think it’s a really hard job for someone like Mark to articulate.

There’s a sense of Sheffield that you only get when you’re here; It’s the people, it’s the differentiations with other cities. It’s slightly less dense, it’s slightly less populous.

Culturally, we’ve never really been particularly bold about who we are as a city and maybe that’s just a South Yorkshire thing. We don’t shout about ourselves, and that comes from a lack of confidence.

Sheffield is on cutlery worldwide – it screams in your face, but we don’t seem to capitalise on that.

Tom Wolfenden
Tom Wolfenden is the CEO of Sheffield Technology Parks, an independent non-profit tech incubator who work with local and national partners to make Sheffield the best place for digital businesses.

Sheffield is famously described as the world’s biggest village. What are the positives and negatives of that tag?
Matt Bowker: I’ve been working in Sheffield for the last 20 years and this big village concept has kept coming up. There’s something I quite like about it because I think it screams community and that people are friendly and know each other.

But on the other hand, it’s almost an inward view of the city. It doesn’t want to put its head above the parapet too much and doesn’t have the confidence to shout about itself on a bigger scale.

Let’s face it, Sheffield’s not a village – it’s a city of 600,000 people; there’s one and a half million people in the wider city region, so I do think that we need to have more confidence in what makes Sheffield special.

One of the things that I find incredibly frustrating, since I’ve been working in Sheffield, is the media narrative, which is just very negative, especially relating to the built environment, which is what I’m concerned with and involved in.

For instance, the whole saga around John Lewis. It just felt as if the whole strategy for the city centre hinged on the fortunes of one department store, which I find incredibly frustrating. I thought, come on, we can do better than this, we’re a big city.

Matt Bowker
Matt Bowker is the Board Director at CODA Studios. A qualified urban designer. Since joining in 2004, he has been instrumental in overseeing the firms capability to deliver significant residential and mixed use schemes.

Having said that, I do think that the situation is improving. I think the stuff that Council Leader Tom Hunt is doing is getting some positive front pages and starting to talk the city up, and I hope we can continue because if you’re not going to go out and sell yourself then don’t expect anyone else to do it for you. You have to be more confident and this applies across the board to everyone in this room.

Helen Johnson: I feel like the city has undergone a bit of a refresh over the past two years. Oliver Coppard has been part of that, the new leadership at the council and the new president of the Chamber of Commerce all feel like they’ve given an injection of positive energy so hopefully that’s picked up in the in the media as well, but I do feel like there is momentum growing, which is great.

Mike, you set your business up 19 years ago whilst at university. Have you noticed a change along the lines that Matt and Helen are referring to?
Mike Kent: I do feel as though there is a kind of shift. As a business, we were quite insular when we started out. As two graduates that were young pups just looking to sell, it was quite difficult to engage with the formal business support networks because we were always too progressive, and it felt like it was too much energy to really engage.

More recently, we’ve really embraced the local formal and informal networks. We trade nationally, more so than in Sheffield, but it’s incredibly important for us to have strong local networks, so I’m now involved in the Diverse Business Board, which is an advisory group working with key organisations in Sheffield.

Mike Kent
Mike Kent co-founded Kitlocker.com, a trailblazing Sheffield-based business who have scored huge success providing sportswear and apparel to teams across the UK through their ecommerce website.

I can really notice that there’s key people, and really quite cool people driving that positive narrative. We’re feeling it when speaking to some of the local businesses that we’re involved with. There is this perception change in the idea that those organisations are really looking to remove the friction points and make it far more accessible for businesses.

But what’s really interesting on perception is, if good news isn’t being talked about, it’s really hard to navigate anything but the bad news. It does feel that those perceptions are changing.

TW: I think that’s a really good point, that you’ve done it in spite of and not because of the city. I don’t think it’s a particularly controversial opinions, so I’ll say it, but there’s something about generational divide here.

There’s people that still bear the scars of the Orgreave era and hark back to when there was high unemployment and all of that pain that people suffered. I think maybe the generation whose parents went through that are now moving through the workforce and they’re heading towards retirement, because if you speak to the kind of Gen Z startup people at the Sheffield Tech Park, they don’t have that backstory.

Helen Johnson
Helen Johnson is a Construction Partner at CMS Law, with over 14 years’ experience advising contractors, developers and consultants on a wide range of matters.

They don’t have all that history. When you see these kind of Sheffield archives, like the Hole in the Road and all this stuff, it’s just meaningless to them. They take the city on face value and what they experience now and I think we need to be less blind to that and how good that actually is for people.

That’s where the positivity starts coming from. I also think that we’re now seeing people exit businesses in the tech sector that are starting to slowly to reinvest in some of the early stage businesses. That kind of holistic cycle starting to kick off is really important and we’re working really hard to encourage that.

Mark Mobbs: The generational divide point is a really relevant one. For the last three years we’ve been working on a campaign with both universities using the place brand as a student recruitment vehicle.

We’ve been tracking the brand awareness and uplift in consideration, and it’s just phenomenal. Its smashed industry benchmarks and that’s purely because for the 16, 17, and 18 year olds we’re targeting, there is zero perception of Sheffield because they don’t have the Full Monty, cutlery and football to fall back on. It just means, actually when we’re showing them what Sheffield really is, there’s just an immediate, wow that’s a really cool place.

unLTD Business Breakfast

To finish, if you could pick two or three USP’s for Sheffield that we should be encouraging, what would they be?
HJ: For me, while culture is already important, I think it will be an even bigger area of growth for the city going forward. Going back to the idea of us as a city, we should stick to doing things in a genuine way and not aspiring to be flashy or something we’re not.

MK: I think that idea of not presenting ourselves as something we’re not is really important.

TW: It’s too hard to pick just a couple of things, but what I think everyone should do is try to promote Sheffield in the areas that are most relevant to their life or sector.

MB: For me, Sheffield is a city of makers, creatives, entrepreneurs, and independents. I read a recent article where someone came and did a foodie tour of Sheffield and they compared it to Madagascar! While that might seem off the wall, what they meant was that Madagascar used to be attached to India and at some point broke off and became isolated, so it developed it’s own distinct eco systems and wildlife. If you substitute the oceans for the poor connections to Sheffield, what you’ve ended up with is fewer big brands and more interesting independents in the food and drink scene. That’s quite a special thing about Sheffield.

The unLTD Business Breakfast was the first in a new quarterly series of events. To be involved with the next one contact phil@unltdbusiness.com

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