TOWIE: Is the Only Way for Essex to create ‘The Stiletto of the East’?

A reality of the Essex meme?

With the finale of the sort-of-reality-tv-show ‘The Only Way Is Essex’ (TOWIE) and news of the programme creating a mini tourist boom for the area reminded me of the time I held a conference brainstorm and team-building event a few years ago for Essex County Council.

Even then there were concerns about the Essex Brand, in a world rife of Essexgirl jokes (e.g.: ‘What does an Essex girl use for protection? “ Answer:“A bus stop”. )

I divided the conference into groups to explore different strategies, with one team pursued the line of making a positive out of their reality.

The team came up with some great ideas, and no doubt inspired by Anthony Gormley’s ‘Angel of the North’ the one idea that sticks in my mind was of a giant iconic statue:

‘The Stiletto of the East’

As one of my heroes, Howard Gossage used to say: “If you’ve got a lemon, make lemonade.”

The mistake many make in their brand communications is to operate in the world as they wish it, rather than the reality of the perception, even if it is populated by fake tans, bling, and materialistic Chavs.

So, face up to the reality of your lemon.

That is not to say that the only way forEssexis defining itself this way.

Rather, it needs to recognise the realities, the memes and word of mouth that are out there and then if you can’t beat them, at least salvage whatever positives you can.

The other complementary strategy is then to look for appropriate, fruitful niches to counterbalance any prevailing memes.

People cannot accommodate two contradictory views: if you insist on proclaiming ‘Essex is a County of Hidden Treasures’ you have to fight head-to head with the dominant ‘TOWIE meme’. By saying Essexyou are immediately on the enemies’ territory, which they seemingly have control of.

Instead, realistically, the better return on your brand communications, is to say ‘The Essex borders are delightful’ or ‘The Essex Villages and country towns are hidden treasures’ – then peoples’ brains can accommodate the two different takes on the same subject.

Going forward, you could suggestEssexshould create a giant ‘Stiletto of the East’ – but I wouldn’t like to put my foot in it.

Anyone interested in developing their creativity skills, there are just a few places left on the CIPR ‘Creativity in PR’ course on December 15th and new dates for 2012 include:




Creative Writing  


Creativity in PR  


Managing Creative PR teams  



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