Accelerating FDI through the strategic power of collaboration

written by Mary Harris, Managing Director at M&C Saatchi Export


The COVID-19 crisis is the great disruptor of our times, accelerating changes which could have taken decades to manifest. In the private sector, we have seen brands and businesses rise and fall in unimaginable ways. Seemingly rock-solid enterprises with years of comfortable dominance have been wrong-footed by the scale which has driven their previous success, whilst more nimble players have stolen the high ground.

For place brands, the parallels with the corporate world are evident. Those places who have succeeded in the scale agenda of the pre-COVID world, with the rigid, fixed overheads that have supported this, will find it harder to pivot towards the agility that the new world calls for.

Globally, FDI inflows are expected to decrease up to 40% according to the UN and competition is fierce as places look to shore up shaken economies and the pressure on governments to create employment increases. Now more than ever, investment destinations need to stand out, presenting timely and precise articulations of the opportunity with clear pathways for action. Collaboration provides an advantageous tool to achieve this.


Opportunity over destination

Growth potential underlies most investment decisions. By bringing together particular attributes and stakeholders within a destination, you can craft a highly relevant proposition focussed exclusively on the needs of the target audience.

The fact that the whole can be greater than the sum of the parts was recognised by the 24 municipalities in the Toronto region during the Amazon HQ2 bid. By coming together for the first time to submit their bid under one voice, they became the only city outside the US in the final running and also successfully garnered huge interest from other players through the clarity and strength of their unified story.

Great Britain and Northern Ireland have recently announced a series of High Potential Opportunities – tangible investment opportunities centred around specific geographic locations and sectoral centres of excellence, such as sustainable packaging in Greater Manchester and sensors for autonomous vehicles in Devon and Somerset.  Bringing together universities, research institutions, the private sector and aligning them around a unique growth opportunity creates a tantalising hook for risk averse investors.


The value of private sector collaboration

Collaboration amongst places and the private sector can also offer opportunities.

The importance of social proof is unabating and it’s key to remember that the public-private relationship is mutually beneficial. Just as the advocacy of the private sector is vital to place brands, place brand recovery is economically important to those organisations who have already invested. The COVID crisis has put place promises to the test. Harnessing the positive experiences of the private sector can send a powerful message to prospects and provide them with the reassurance and confidence to take the next step.

The private sector also has a role in the longer-term strategic development of the business environments that they are operating in. As the new world calls for the pivoting of value propositions, there is a chance to embed private sector partners more deeply in terms of shaping sector specialisms and creating the feeling of shared ownership that can be so valuable to places over time.


Government to Government

As the world rallies together in the global fight against COVID-19, the opportunity for inter-government collaboration is strengthened. Already successful are the Fintech Bridges established between the UK and Singapore, South Korea, China, Hong Kong and Australia, building closer and stronger collaboration between governments, financial regulators and the fintech industry.

There is potential for marketing investment to be more efficiently deployed through bi-lateral partnerships between governments and their IPAs, providing focussed reach directly to target audiences and delivering mutually beneficial export and investment outcomes as well as strengthening global supply chains.


Delivering value in the short and longer-term

When resources are combined and focus applied, the benefit to the investors is immediately evident, strengthening a destination’s overall visibility and value perceptions for FDI whilst concentrating their narrative on specific points of differentiation. It is a powerful combination with the potential to deliver much needed short-term investment outcomes with longer-term value through perception change.


M&C Saatchi will be hosting round table discussions at City Nation Place UK and City Nation Place Global this November.


Related reading:

Can place branding save the world? | Simon Anholt

Is investment promotion a digital or people business?

How to speak your government's language

Aftercare after COVID-19

Creating the trans-national cultural tourism strategy of the future | Interview with Ivan Eskildsen, Panama's Minister for Tourism

Six tips to be more cost-effective as a place marketing organisation

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