Alexandra Hardwick, Strategy Director for Creative Services and Laura Cunliffe-Hall, Senior Account Manager for our Economic Development practice discuss their multi-disciplinary work on place branding and ‘smart cities’. 

Our Economic Development and Creative Services have been working in partnership on a range of projects and opportunities, including DLHUC’s Towns Fund as part of the Towns Fund Delivery Partnership (TFDP). The TFDP team were proud to have recently been awarded the Institute for Collaborative Working (ICW)’s Social Impact award, alongside our partners Arup, Nichols, Grant Thornton, FutureGov and Savills. 

Having worked with places across the country as part of the TFDP, we have noticed a focus on innovation and technology as a way to revitalise communities.  

What is a smart city? 

smart city is a place where traditional networks and services are made more efficient with the use of innovative digital solutions for the benefit of its inhabitants and business.  

A smart city goes beyond the use of digital technologies for better resource use and fewer emissions. 

It means smarter urban transport networks, upgraded water supply and waste disposal facilities and more efficient ways to light and heat buildings. It also means a more interactive and responsive city administration, safer public spaces and meeting the needs of an ageing population. 

Branding the smart city  

Our key area of focus for 2022 is ‘the smart city’.  

We want to shape smart cities that work for everyone, through the key element of a brand identity that is positive, ambitious and consistent.  

A brand for a city is more than simply a logo and assets.  

Instead, a city or town brand should reflect the locality’s personality, its unique selling points and a strong visual brand can support and enhance growth. For example,  the City of Sunderland recently unveiled its new digital first branding, developed in partnership with city inhabitants, to give the city a voice on “a local, national and international” scale. 


The branding palette is underpinned by a primary colour palette of reds which take inspiration from Sunderland Football Club, with a secondary palette inspired by the greens and blues of the city’s natural setting. This new branding reflects the unique spirit of community in Sunderland, redrawing the traditional town crest into digital connectors and articulates clearly what the benefits of Sunderland as a smart city will be for residents and visitors. 

Similarly, our approach to the smart city focuses on vision and growth – what will your city look like in 10, 50 and 100 years’ time? 

The smart city cannot be built overnight and depends on a myriad of factors, outlined in our model below. We have developed this model through our expertise of working with over 100 Towns on DLHUC’s Towns Fund and our work bringing brands to life through creative solutions that capture a strong sense of place. 

Working together: Creative Services and Economic Development 

We identify and understand our target audiences and share best practice across our disciplines to integrate our future-focused community narratives (for smart cities and towns) within branding and visual identity. This enables us to create bespoke communications materials to talk to communities, businesses and key stakeholders in the most compelling way. 

Working collaboratively, our Creative Services and Economic Development teams have worked to create: 

  •  foundational content for the Towns Fund website 
  •  targeted advice delivered ‘one to one’ to towns 
  •  digital-first brochures and collateral for online events and webinars.  

Bringing stories to life for communities  

Our focus is on fostering strong relationships which last beyond the lifespan of the programme and helping local authorities to communicate visions and ‘tell the story’ of their town to evolve and improve local people’s perceptions of the places where they live. 

As collaborative teams, we use our expertise to shape holistic visions for economic growth to increase prosperity and quality of life in our towns and cities, bringing brands, projects and places to life.  

In our work on storytelling , we capture a place’s heritage and ‘DNA’, as well as looking forward to its future.  This was exemplified in our CIPR award-winning ‘Beauty is in the eye of the gasholder’ campaign for National Grid on a gasholder site in Bury St Edmunds. We encouraged  local people to remember the gasholder with pride as the site was prepared for a new chapter in the story of Bury St Edmunds. This sharing of memories promotes pride in local achievements and creates a platform for positive change. 

Moving into 2022, we will address the growing challenges of urbanisation through continuing to apply our flexible and creative approach to smart cities as we continue our placemaking and regeneration work for communities across England, Scotland and Wales.  

For more information about how our Economic Development and Creative Services teams can collaborate with you on placemaking and branding, please contact and