Howcroft: Why our traditional brands are still key


What does the inauguration of the City of London's 690th lord mayor have to do with brand trust? Russel Howcroft explains.

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INDUSTRY: MARKETING: It was extraordinary to see my old friend Charlie Bowman, dressed in his mayoral robes, arriving in a horse-drawn gold carriage.

Charlie, a PwC partner, has just been elected the 690th lord mayor of the City of London, and there I was, lucky enough to be in attendance at his four-day inauguration.

The ceremony begins in the Guildhall at an event known as the “Silent Ceremony”, unsurprisingly because nobody does any talking (something I sometimes struggle with).

This ceremony is simply a swapping of hats – literally. The former lord mayor removes his tricorn hat lined with black ostrich feathers and simultaneously incoming mayor Charlie Bowman puts his hat on.

What follows is a traditional procession like no other.

It starts with a procession of gifts and a trip down the Thames in the boat Gloriana, followed by the lord mayor’s parade through the city streets, curry lunches, a remembrance service at St Paul’s Cathedral – culminating in a white-tie event with this year’s guest speaker being Prime Minister Theresa May.

It is interesting to learn about the structure of the city’s governance. There are 110 livery companies, each having senior members – the liverymen – who eventually become aldermen, then sheriffs, who can then become the lord mayor. In these livery companies, there are groups known as the Worshipful Company of Skinners, the Worshipful Company of Pewterers, the Worshipful Company of Cour-iers and, of course, Glovers, Needlemakers, Distillers, Gun-

makers, Actuaries, Firefighters and Tax Advisers. There is even a Worshipful Company of Makers of Playing Cards.

Each livery has its own colours, crest and customs. Many have been around for hundreds of years, with some dating back as far as the 12th century.

Building trust in institutions is something we are grappling with the world over. How do we keep brand London with its centuries of traditions yet make it relevant in the new digital and social world?

Russel Howcroft

Yes, it’s all a brilliant expression of brand London. But the lord mayor’s position is not simply ceremonial. He has the job for one year, of which 200 of the 365 days are spent abroad (as the English would say).

His core theme for the year? ‘The “business of trust”, encouraging firms in the city to connect with their communities. As Charlie points out, the City of London or the Square Mile, accounts for about $50 billion of national income, 15,000 companies and 14 per cent of London’s output. With Brexit looming – and the growing distrust in all things institutional – my friend has a big job ahead. He has to uphold the institutions (and traditions), build a bridge so mutual access to EU markets continues and ensure London is still a magnet for the best and brightest jobseekers, tourists and everyone else who loves it.

And on reflection, it’s a job we are all doing: respecting – and protecting – the traditions and institutions while forging on with the new. Charlie is the man for the job. He respects the old traditions (he is a shepherd to a small flock of sheep, for goodness’ sake) while spending a professional lifetime challenging business to lift its game – not just in audit, but in transparency and engagement with communities.

Building trust in institutions is something we are grappling with the world over. How do we keep brand London with its centuries of traditions yet make it relevant in the new digital and social world?

But, we have to. PwC research shows three core themes underline organisational trust; value, experience and competence. Within those lies tradition. Our history. Where we came from, who we are. Think of the institution of marriage and how much that still matters to so many people. Like all brands, it just needed rethinking and reframing to remain a trusted institution.


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