A high-profile advertising campaign promoting Birmingham’s bid to become UK City of Culture may have backfired with the competition’s judges, it has emerged.
One member of the judging panel appointed to recommend the culture crown winner to the Government took exception to posters paid for by the city council and displayed on the London Underground, which she complained “trumpeted” Birmingham’s bid.
Anna Carragher made her views clear in an email to panel chairman Phil Redmond a week after the judges heard presentations from short-listed cities including Birmingham and eventual winners Derry/Londonderry.
Ms Carragher, a former controller of BBC Northern Ireland, wrote to Mr Redmond: “Interesting. The Derry/Londonderry website is upbeat about the presentation but not too boastful.
“When I was in London I was interested to see posters as I went down from Euston mainline to the Northern line which trumpeted Birmingham as the UK City of Culture 2013. When you looked more closely the much smaller print said ‘we’ve been shortlisted’.”
The exchange features in documents released by the Government following a request under the Freedom of Information Act.
Cabinet culture member Martin Mullaney insisted the poster campaign was a great success.
Coun Mullaney (Lib Dem Moseley & Kings Heath) said: “We entered the City of Culture contest to raise the profile of Birmingham as a destination city with a thriving cultural scene and the London poster campaign was a key element in our efforts to reach a wider audience.
“This was clearly successful and Culture Minister Ed Vaizey was certainly impressed, praising our poster campaign as entrepreneurial.”
The posters at Embankment, Leicester Square and Charing Cross were seen by 6.2million people, according to the council.
Coun Mullaney added: “It’s no coincidence that a number of arts organisations reported record ticket sales during the campaign as Birmingham culture was firmly in the media spotlight.
“Indeed the poster campaign was so successful that we’re now in talks with arts organisations as we plan another London campaign.”
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport refused to divulge full details of correspondence and discussions between the judging panel and civil servants, claiming that to do so would “prejudice the effective conduct of public affairs”.
An informal hand-written note of a meeting where panel members discussed options for short-listing cities was taken by a junior official and not checked for accuracy, the department admitted.
DCMS spokesman Daniel Halpern said: “Panel members need space in which to develop their thinking and to think and discuss through all the implications of particular options in a robust fashion.
“Were such information to be routinely available, panel members might be more likely to take blander, easier options.”
Documents released by the DCMS disclose that the judging panel unanimously backed the Derry/Londonderry bid as “fully deserving the accolade of UK City of Culture 2013”.
Key strengths included a “very strong cultural programme that not only drew strength from the city’s past and place in history, but also did not seek to avoid but address its past conflicts as a source of inspiration”.
The judges noted: “The impressive level of detail that the city has already gone into in planning for 2013 including getting funding commitments in place in both public and private sectors, their consideration of key risks, advanced progress in addressing the recruitment of key personnel and clear thinking about how decisions would be made going forward especially the critical role of the Director of the new Culture Company and the fact that they were already at contract stage with the proposed Cultural Broker.”