What does the ‘Thames Estuary’ mean to you? This new case study lifts the lid on the what, why and how.
by Paul Morris
Is it Britain’s iconic gateway to the rest of the world, the victim of a doomed airport plot, the gloomy setting for some of Dickens’ best-known scenes, or just that place where this world-famous river meets the sea?
Since Christmas, I’ve been working on a new narrative for the Thames Estuary, a region with blurred boundaries taking in parts of North Kent, South Essex, East London and the River itself.
In 2018, a government-appointed commission put forward a fresh blueprint for the Estuary to realise its massive growth potential. The Government backed it by funding a dedicated growth board and supporting the appointment of a dedicated envoy, Kate Willard, to take it forward.
On July 21st, we launched ‘The Green Blue’ – a plan that will begin to realise the enormous potential of The Thames Estuary by supporting, promoting and enabling a massive range of infrastructure, technological and cultural projects.
Everything from improved transport hubs, river crossings, roads, rail, ports and airports to super-fast digital infrastructure, innovative business parks and world-class theme parks. All backed up with strategies around skills, employment and housing so people can genuinely access the new opportunities which emerge, and with emphasis on environmental improvement and ‘good green growth’ wherever possible.
Indeed, the environment is at the front-and-centre of our plans. We’ll explore how more freight and passenger traffic can be taken off our roads and onto the river. We’ll look at new hydrogen production technologies and cleaner power to fuel our Estuary. We’ll look at how we can catalyse a Great Thames Park so people can enjoy its cleaner air and gorgeous spaces.
The potential of this place is enormous. The Estuary has excellent links into central London and major European cities; has vast swathes of riverside and brownfield land available for building everything from new housing, global headquarters, mass logistics centres to Hollywood-rivalling film studios. Indeed, a gigantic super-studio is being built in Dagenham as East London fast becomes the movie capital of the UK. There are millions of talented people ready to take up these emerging opportunities and Estuary businesses already capitalising. As the UK looks internationally for new trading opportunities and brokers deals with other countries, the Estuary has a compelling role. We will promote it internationally as the UK’s best growth opportunity because that’s exactly what it is.
We’ve also launched our new brand in the only place it made sense – on the River Thames itself. A Thames Clipper was dressed with our striking logo and strap-line ‘We’re in a good place’. Our website has been launched too with fully-interactive map, funky explainer film and brilliant photography. In the coming weeks we will activate several new campaigns and initiatives – focused domestically and globally – as we put the Thames Estuary on the map at home and abroad.
Without doubt, this has been my most enjoyable and challenging communications project to date and I wanted to share my early thoughts.
Never settle for ‘bread and butter’
MSQ – our communications partner – have delivered our brand, digital ecosystem, filming and photography, and media support. Without exception, they are a super-talented, high-energy, tenacious and always-upbeat group of artists, designers, writers, film makers, social experts, developers and project managers.
We were apprehensive about commissioning a project of this magnitude at the beginning of the pandemic given the wide-ranging creative, tight timeframe and general sense of chaos in late March, so our tendering process was rigorous about project management (there were eight different elements to the project within a 2-month window) and contingency/mitigation planning given lockdown and general uncertainty.
The quality of responses we received was mixed. I fielded one call from an agency describing our project as their ‘bread and butter’. I know what they meant. This was the type of project they did all the time. But that wasn’t what we wanted. We wanted a supplier who would care and love this project as much as we did. We insisted upon the best and that’s what we got. Don’t start me on suppliers who simply priced the job up. Off-the-shelf responses and ‘here’s our price list’ show you don’t care. Who wants that?
The power of 17
Councils are the largest media owners in their locality with the ability to reach tens of thousands of people via their print, digital and public realm spaces. In the Thames Estuary, that’s multiplied by 17 not including GLA or Port of London. Seventeen websites, social channels, e-newsletters, blogs, residents’ magazines and so on. We held a communications workshop before our commissioning process to understand the challenges and opportunities of the region from the perspective of council PR teams, which generated some brilliant ideas, helpful suggestions and high-quality feedback. More importantly, it started a communications community. Together our reach is colossal. Every Estuary authority will get a monthly pack of creative content they can share how they want. Since our launch, I’ve been heartened by local communicators getting in touch to suggest ways we can keep the momentum going and offering positive feedback.
Leading the delivery of the Estuary vision is our inspirational, tenacious and well-connected Envoy, Kate Willard, who leads an exceptional private/public growth Board. As independent Envoy, Kate can make decisions without being overly-concerned about politics, local political situations or toeing party lines. Naturally, she’ll consult and consider all the arguments, but that independence means decisions get made quickly and her sign off is the only one I need. Very liberating for a local government communicator of nearly 20 years.
Learning the patch
My day job involves representing eight boroughs in East London, so my knowledge of South Essex and North Kent is limited. One of the joys of this project for me has been getting under the skin of the wider Estuary learning my patch in much the same way I did as a cub journalist – that means lots of reading, studying maps, understanding politics and chatting to some very passionate people. I’m now a convert. If you live here, you’re about to see a huge transformation.
Reaching out, long walks, strong coffee (Lavazza) and a title win!
The launch of the Green Blue and the development of our communications for the Thames Estuary happened during the pandemic – an unusual and challenging situation for all of us. Many people in the profession have reached out and offered advice and support during the period, and that demonstrates what a close-knit and decent bunch of people work in local government communications. I’m a one-man band, so to speak, but offers of help and support have been there. I’m lucky to live in between three beautiful hills in the Gloucestershire Cotswolds, so long walks has been a great antidote to screen time, which has rocketed because of virtual meetings! And plenty of coffee. Liverpool’s league title kept morale high too!
Notable coverage achieved
· City AM (UU: 2,219,543): New Thames Estuary development plan could add £115bn to UK economy
· Kent Online (UU:, 1,498,339): Thames Estuary vision hopes to support London Resort theme park and Littlebrook distribution centre projects
· Business Leader (UU: TBC) : THAMES ESTUARY LAUNCH PLAN TO CREATE 1.5 MILLION JOBS AND PUMP £115BN INTO THE UK ECONOMY
· Business Vision (UU: 1,473,216): Thames Estuary plan aims to bring green development and create jobs for communities in south-east UK
· Built Environment Networking (UU: TBC): Government Backed Thames Estuary Launches Plan To Drive Economic Growth
· BBC Essex (from 1.41, Kate’s piece starts from 1.48)
· BBC South East (from 3.30)
· BBC London (lead story, from 00.11)
· KMTV: MSQ sourcing clip
Social Twitter – Notable tweets include:
· Sadiq Kahn – 3m followers
· Kent online – 180.3k followers
· City AM – 66.4k followers
· BBC Essex – 61.9k followers
· Barking & Dagenham council – 15.1k followers
· London Port Authority – 18.9k followers
Paul Morris is Head of Communications and Public Affairs for Local London and The Thames Estuary – You can say hello on Twitter at @PaulMorris1977
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Pic via Paul
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