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narrative work

Sunderland Our Smart City (Sunderland City Council)

Sunderland City Council approached us to tender for a full brand and website project for its new Smart City Vision which was announced in the 2019 City Plan, and as a proud Sunderland agency we were determined to win the pitch and create something outstanding for our city.

Sunderland City Council had identified that “by 2030 Sunderland will be a connected international city with opportunities for all” and because of the partnership nature of this ambition, and the need for it to be set apart from anything that has come before, the Council required an experienced supplier to work with the Council and partners to lead and deliver a brand, narrative and digital platform.

Upon commission of the project, we held a discovery workshop with the client to extract the essential meaning and most important aspects of the vision’s USPs. From this workshop the creative ideation was born.

The aim of our ‘identity and creative direction’ campaign was to quickly communicate the three output areas and the connected nature of the Smart City Vision – our dynamic city, our healthy city and our vibrant city – with the audience as early in the journey as possible.

The geometric icon in the logo forms an ‘S’ shape from the three connecting lines that represent each outcome in its most basic format. The shape also creates an abstract illustration of the City of Sunderland; the teal shape representing the River Wear cutting through Sunderland North and Sunderland South, which are signified by the mustard and coral shapes.

Following the discovery workshop, we all felt the name ‘Smart Sunderland’, although easy to understand, didn’t do the project justice. We felt the name needed to be owned by everyone in the city, from residents to businesses, from stakeholders to visitors and everyone in-between. After a re-think, we all agreed on the name ‘Our Smart City’ which as well as ownership, creates a sense of pride in the results and vision of the project and everyone involved.

Once the brand was signed off, we moved on to the website design and development. The website sitemap took inspiration from the City Plan’s outcomes (dynamic, healthy and vibrant) and we developed a narrative that established the story behind Sunderland Our Smart City and the digital exemplars already in place within the city, distilling its Unique Selling Proposition (USP) and making sense of the otherwise potentially complex use cases for a wide range of audiences. Ensuring content was engaging and inspiring whilst remaining informative and accurate, meant that key messages were clear and the brand story of Sunderland Our Smart City was ready to unfold.


Ongoing PR and content support

Following the brand ideation and the completion of the website, the Narrative team worked closely with the Smart City Programme team to understand their ongoing needs by way of PR and content support.

With numerous initiatives, testbeds and projects well underway and more to come, the City’s vision to leave no one and nowhere behind through an ambitious programme of digital transformation required a structured PR plan to ensure stakeholders were regularly updated on successes. Narrative’s PR and Media team continue to work collaboratively with the Smart City Programme team to proactively and reactively engage with media, businesses and the general public to ensure key milestones, achievements and partnership opportunities are understood and broadcast via a wide range of online and offline mediums.

This support includes the composition of technical articles, press releases, blogs and opinion pieces as well as social media content and copy for marketing collateral and the website. Strategic planning continues regularly to ensure upcoming priorities are planned in and opportunities to engage with relevant media are leveraged to spread the word far and wide.



With the logo and creative direction in place, we created a set of easy to follow guidelines that set out how to apply a consistent creative route across all online and offline collateral going forward. Responses to the new branding and website ( have been extremely positive from our client and their partners.

Support for PR and content continues and promotion of Sunderland Our Smart City remains a core objective of the Narrative team to ensure the city’s digital transformation achieves its inspiring ambitions to benefit citizens and businesses alike.


Dawn Harrison, Smart City Programme Manager, Sunderland City Council, said:

After winning a competitive tender for the creation of the Sunderland Our Smart City brand and website, it quickly became apparent that the Narrative team were going to be a crucial partner in the successful promotion of our many initiatives and collaborative projects.

The engagement with the team has been excellent throughout. They helped guide us in establishing the website and have then worked with us to tweak, enhance and generally refine the site once we knew more about what we wanted and had something tangible to talk about.  Communication has been very easy with timely responses and it’s great to use a local company as it links in nicely to social value spending with them being a local employer based at the NE BIC.

Following an additional PR tender, the extra skills that Tori and Joanna brought to the table opened up a host of wider content marketing opportunities for us, and showed an agile understanding of our organisational needs.

Proactive in seeking PR opportunities for brand awareness and positive exposure, as well as working flexibly and responsively to reactive priorities, Narrative has secured regional and national coverage for us alongside some valuable sector specific attention to profile key individuals across the smart city programme and wider council leadership team.

They listened to our vision and reflected this in the brand work and all subsequent written and designed elements. They have shown a real understanding of our internal processes/protocols and are highly adaptable to meet the requirements of the project and the organisation.
Always professional in their approach to presenting back to us with clear and transparent processes in relation to costings, they are passionate about delivering high quality work.

I would recommend Narrative wholeheartedly as a company who are extremely knowledgeable in our own subject matter of digital connectivity and innovation, as well as their specialist fields of Marketing and PR.”

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