Brand Health Check: Liverpool

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The European Capital of Culture has been hit by infighting and the city's less-than-desirable reputation.

Two weeks ago the world finally welcomed the dawn of Liverpool's term as European Capital of Culture - an accolade it shares, rather bizarrely, with Norway's Stavanger.

As Ringo Starr, that favourite son of Liverpool, who now chooses Surrey as his place of residence in the UK, took to the stage to open the pounds 20m-over-budget proceedings with tracks from his festival paean Liverpool 8, there must have been some relief among the organising committee - the Liverpool Culture Company - that the event had actually got under way at all.

Festival artistic director and Brookside creator Phil Redmond, who was drafted in following the resignation of the Australian Robyn Archer in 2006, has famously described the project, as akin to a 'Scouse wedding,' characterised by rows between the various stakeholders.

The organising committee admitted that it had lurched 'from crisis to crisis', with the big architectural project and tram system promised in the initial bid scrapped as costs spiralled, and a much-hyped celebration of Beatlemania cancelled due to a 'communications breakdown'. It then found itself under fresh scrutiny over its pounds 4.22m salary bill.

On top of these problems, the funding gap could still force the council to refinance an asset or dip into its reserves to avert a cash crisis.

To add insult to injury, a report issued last month by local information website locallife.co.uk named Norwich as the UK city offering the most cultural pursuits relative to population size, ranking Liverpool 124th.

The media also gleefully reported that just two hours after Starr first stepped up to the microphone, two men were found shot in the legs on the outskirts of the city.

It all seems a far cry from the jubilance that greeted the announcement in 2003 that Liverpool, once a byword for terminal decline, had been deemed worthy of being entrusted with such a prestigious international event, and the pounds 900m of EU cash that went with it.

So how can Liverpool reverse its fortunes and make a success of 2008? We asked Martine Ainsworth-Wells, marketing director at Visit London, and Craig Mawdsley, joint head of planning at Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, who has worked on a city tourism account, for the benefit of their advice.

DIAGNOSIS 1 - CRAIG MAWDSLEY JOINT HEAD OF PLANNING, ABBOTT MEAD VICKERS BBDO

So, Liverpool is riven with gangs, crippled by unemployment and poverty, and peopled with fuzzy-haired, shell-suited football fans. Sounds like just the place for an international arts festival, doesn't it?

Or perhaps not. Indeed, the idea of going to Liverpool for an arts and culture break is likely to elicit reactions of fear or derision in much of the rest of the country. …