Something very weird is going on in Belfast. But you probably haven’t noticed. I’m not even sure how to explain it, it’s going to take a while…
Let’s look at the facts as I know them…
Two weeks ago the Cathedral Quarter was covered in stickers and a massive mural went up on North Street. They were of a Black Triangle with TBC in it. No-one knew what it was for but whatever it was they were dicks. They were trying to drive traffic to an Instagram account which in turn led to a website with a countdown to something in 50 days time. A quick bit of research led us to Stepladder Communications, a PR company based in London who do PR for property developers.
So we don’t know who it is. But we do know that they are very well financed, directing these stickers from London and concentrating on property owned by Castlebrooke. If something is opening in 50 days or so maybe it’s a new hotel? Maybe a new block of apartments? Whoever they were they clearly didn’t know about Belfast and the importance of some of the buildings that they were stickering.
See Alan’s Slugger post or my Facebook Live post for more on this.
So since then I learnt that the company who had been engaged to put up the stickers have realised the issues and told them they’re not going to work for them again. I’ve also learnt that the person responsible for the mural had to sign a confidentiality clause and can’t talk about who paid him, (but did tell me they paid him incredibly well)
So this is where we were at the start of the week.
On Monday a friend sent me this screen shot from the TBC Instagram account
This is part of a mural by JMK that we commissioned as part of Hit the North. On further inspection they had shared a series of shots from Culture Night including one of The Nomad Clan. So Stepladder from London was using shots of artists without payment or credit which given that we know they are very well financed is totally out of order as far as I’m concerned. So I told them so on the photo… and this is where it get’s interesting.
The next morning I got a message from a photographer friend of mine asking about who it was who had painted the two murals that were featured on the TBC feed. This seemed a bit too much of a coincidence no? So I responded that I'm not helping those guys. So they want to go back now and put an artist credit on it, just cause I called them out? They can kiss my ass.
So at first the photographer said there must be some mistake. That wasn't their photograph and they'd just been asked to capture the vibe of Belfast on CNB by a London based PR firm. I was sent thier photographs to demonstrate that it wasn't the one on TBC. They wouldn't have cropped it and made it B&W without asking surely... but hold on... I cropped the photo and made it B&W... yep that's the shot.
So in case you need me to spell it out, Stepladder engaged the photographer to shoot Belfast. Unbeknownst to them their photos are being cropped and altered and uploaded onto a mystery Instagram account which no-one really knows what it’s for. When the photographer challenged the client about what her photographs were being used for they got this reply…
'In reference to your other question, we are a brand agency and are currently working on a development project in the City. We want to use your photos to highlight the culture and vibrancy of Belfast as part of our material. We want to celebrate the public local art, local amenities such as coffee shops, cocktail bars and restaurants, along with the local people who make Belfast what it is'
Well that all seems nice doesn’t it, and technically there's nothing illegal going on here or anything. It's just about celebrating Belfast. But hold on. Why? I mean I’m pretty sure that Stepladder aren’t working for BCC or TNI. Who is this person that wants to ingratiate themselves to the people of Belfast and associate themselves with ‘the local people who make Belfast what it is’?
The very next day I get a call from a local performer. They’ve been approached by a London based film company, Contra. They want them to write and perform a piece for a film they’re making about Belfast. They’re working for a developer who wants to launch their thing in November but they’re being very secretive and the performer is worried that it might be something they don't want to support. They’re offering more money than they've ever been offered before to make a film celebrating the creative vibe of Belfast and the Cathedral Quarter in particular.
It’s later confirmed by the film maker that it is Castlebrooke... Is the TBC Countdown ticking down to this November launch?
So what does all this mean? Some things are certain. Some things are conjecture at this point.
Let’s start with facts.
Whether or not we can join the Castlebrooke, Stepladder, Contra, TBCBelfast dots or not one thing is clear. London based developers are engaging London based PR companies to make them look good in Belfast. WHATEVER you think about what they’re selling there is something rotten here.
Creatives are being engaged to send content to London for large sums of money when they don’t know who they’re advocating for. They are asking for content to celebrate the vibrancy and uniqueness of Belfast in order to promote developments which many feel will destroy that very uniqueness. Without wishing to state the obvious, these people don’t care about Belfast. In most cases they haven’t even BEEN to Belfast. It’s London based capitalists putting stickers on our build heritage, stealing our art for commercial gain and wrapping themselves to our uniqueness so that they can come and make money making us the same as everywhere else.
Do NOT fall for their shit. Ask what it’s for.
Just for fun now let’s make a small logical leap and theorise that the countdown on the TBC webpage is counting down to the launch event that the performer was asked to contribute to. Let’s assume that TBCBelfast is actually Castlebrooke going on the offensive, a response to the SaveCQ campaign.
IF that was the case then the stickers and the Instagram and the trying to associate yourself with street art and Estd Coffee and Culture Night. This is their secret teaser campaign. This is them trying to position themselves as all cool and arty and mysterious. This is them trying to get people to get curious about what exciting new thing is coming to Belfast. And then when they launch it, they’re celebrating Belfast with a cool film… that’s the marketing strategy.
But IF this was the case there’s a problem. And they don’t get it. And it’s the problem with the whole development. They. Don’t. Get. Belfast.
So listen, I’m fine with people from London, I’m fine with good development and I’m even fine with good PR. But this is patronising in the extreme. And MOST of all, it’s disingenuous. They don’t care about Belfast, or the arts here, or the people or even the flat whites. They care about how much return they can make on their investment. Anything else is just marketing.
The lads who want to demolish most of the Cathedral Quarter just upped their game. They had to. We made them. They’ve spent big. But have they improved the appalling plans they had? I suspect that they prefer investing in London PR companies before improving what they’re building in Belfast.
Stay frosty people. Round 2 has already begun.