Rebranding Margate – The Apprentice Way

Having watched The Apprentice last night for the first time, a few things struck me about the programme itself and the solutions that the contestants put forward as to how they would rebrand Margate.

I am no stranger to city county and place rebrands and was one of the people behind the controversial rebrand of Nottingham and Nottinghamshire, being on the receiving end of tongue lashings from almost every outraged paper in the country for having the nerve to say that there was more to our city and county than just Robin Hood.

This is our version of events

I grew up in Margate and had two exceptionally happy years there moving away when I was only six years old. It would be very hard to argue that Margate still lives those glorious days in the 1970’s when Dreamland was at its boom and the new Arlington House flats being built were still hailed as a new way of living for Eastenders moving out from town to a new idyllic life by the sea.

A 60's dream gone slightly wrong
A 60's dream gone slightly wrong Shot by Sean Mason (Flickr)

I was in Margate again at the weekend for a few days with my kids, who are ten and twelve, and every single time we go there, we still love the place. Its simple British fun that has had the heart ripped out of it by a dreadful planning decision that put a new ‘out of town’ shopping monster between the main towns of Thanet and destroyed all the others in the process.

But Margate is fighting back. We walked around the old town which has some cool new boutiques and interesting arty stores. It also has some beautiful little shops available for rent for almost nothing. They just need an independent retailer to come in and make a success of it. If you can’t do this with 100SqM of retail space and a rent of £3k per year, you don’t deserve to stay trading anyway. Perhaps subsidised rents would allow the town to be reborn through this growing retail sector.

Margate - A town fighting back
Margate - A town fighting back - Shot by Lynn Jackson Flickr

Margate has a lovely feel to it, if you ignore the slightly tired façade. Offering a family appeal is the perfect answer and so I think Kate and her team were spot on. There was no need to rebrand it as MarGAYte as there is already a thriving gay community there, so what’s the commercial sense in aiming all your marketing money at just one niche. They could have done that easily with some clever PR and a few nicely designed ads.

None of them did actually rebrand the town though.

They just produced campaigns that may drive a few tourists through the door. A rebrand of any town or city only works if you have the whole area behind it. It’s the process of getting to the new logo and the newly agreed strategy that is important a by getting everyone to unite behind a common flag, they agree to talk the place up in the same way and become more able to defend it for what it is and promote it for what it could become.

The designers behind the losing team’s route should be shot for allowing a client to give them such a bad brief. ‘we need a brochure in 20 minutes’ will never work, lying about a reason for white space by the ‘client’ is even worse. Clients invariably get the work they deserve. If you leave a designer 20 minutes to produce a brochure with no distinctive or iconic pictures, too much mediocre copy and someone with no eye for design overseeing it, its always going to be a disaster that should have been prevented.

But the feeling I was left with overall, was why do you need to be that unpleasant in business to win. Surely you can be decent with each other and still succeed by championing what each other does best rather than laying traps into which each can fall and then celebrating when they do?

I was left hating the programme for its nasty snidy attitude.

I was left still loving and defending Margate – for all its faults – and looking at a council team who should be the ones taken out and ridiculed for letting Margate as a seaside town, sell its soul to the retail ‘gods’ who owned the site a few miles up the road.

I can’t imagine I’ll be tuning in again

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9 thoughts on “Rebranding Margate – The Apprentice Way

  1. I appreciate your sentiments but I don’t see how the town can fight back. At the last count there were 70 empty shops in the Hight Street and in Northdown Road, Cliftonville. Many of these closures arebecause of the Westwood Cross development.

    With the right vision the town could have had a marina, conference facilities and new hotel stock to rival Eastbourne or Bournemouth. But Margate is nothing like those two towns.

    I’ll be be writing my piece in a day or two.

    1. Just because those things haven’t happened yet, doesn’t mean they won’t. The Turner centre will draw a huge new market to the town and despite the best efforts of the weak council that approved Westwood Cross, the town still has some soul.

      If they offered heavily discounted rents to potential retailers margate could still create a strong point of difference and allow itself to be slowly reborn in a far more sustainable way. The empty shops are a disaster and getting worse every time we go back, but a solution to this will slowly start to pull in the right sort of customers who, like me, will love the place for rest of their lives.

  2. You raise an interesting point. My concern is that you don’t have enough of the right demographic. There simply isn’t the local spending power to maintain a successful High Street and Northdown Road.

  3. I thought about you when I saw it was all about ‘Branding’.
    Thought they missed a real trick not coming up with Mar’gay’te.!!! (Sorry).

    I know it’s only a TV programme and it’s not real, but felt that they totally reinforced the concept that ‘branding is advertising’, which is clearly wrong.

    Saying that, according to The Apprentice, to get on in business:
    – selling has to be aggressive
    – leadership is about telling people what to do
    – getting on is about shafting others
    – long term relationships don’t seem to count for much
    – to be a boss, you have to be a b*Xtard
    I could go on…
    I recognise it’s only telly, but I don’t think it promotes business or business leadership very positively which is a shame.
    Rant over!
    I know – I’m Fired!

    1. Maybe I’m just an idealist thinking you can go around building a business and behaving in a civilised and friendly manner.

      Maybe that’s why I’m not a multi squillionaire, but as you say, if that’s how you have to behave if you want to get on in business, then to quote the Dragons ‘i’m out’

      Business in this age is about true partnering – about building long term and mutually beneficial relationships that are genuinely good for both parties. Lunch isn’t for whimps, It’s for normal(ish) decent people who enjoy what they do and want to continue to do so.

      1. We’re both a little idealistic, Sir Alan is more pragmatic. Not sure whether partnering or co-operative working is the right way forward. You still need aggression in business.

      2. In Stephen Covey’s famous Book – The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People he talks a lot about thinking win win. (i obviously need to add this to my reading list within this blog!)

        For me this is not idealism its just good business practice. If you both win you will both manage and nurture that relationship and the work just gets better and better. If one is being shafted, they will soon lose interest and walk away.

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