City Nation Place Think Tank 2017 Round Up

City Nation Place Think Tank 2017 Round Up

On 8th November 2017, the day before the main City Nation Place agenda, the City Nation Place Think Tank convened for the third year.

This year the theme of the Think Tank was “The difference between place branding and place marketing”. The Think Tank was organised in association with the International Place Branding Association, guided by esteemed academics and place branding experts Robert Govers and Martin Boisen and was sponsored by The New York Times.

Our select group of 48 attendees came from far and wide, from cities and nations representing every continent around the globe.

As well as an opportunity to deep dive into a specific topic of interest and to contribute to the evolution of place branding best practice, the Think Tank acts as a warm-up for the main conference sessions; providing attendees with time to get to know one another in an informal setting.

Setting the  scene

As representatives of the International Place Branding Association, part of Robert and Martin’s mission is to advance the discipline of place branding; marrying academic and practitioner approaches and developing a set of standards that can be applied across the board. They themselves are both active in the academic world, and as independent consultants, and therefore see the need to bring these two worlds closer together in all aspects of their work.

The objective of the Think Tank was to test the hypothesis that if place branding and place marketing can be clearly differentiated, this enables practitioners (and advising consultants) working for government, or government funded organisations, to clearly define both a set of Key Perception Indicators as well as a set of Key Performance Indicators that can be used to measure the effectiveness of their work. This in turn helps to ensure continuity in funding, even when elected leaders change.

The Think Tank was divided into two interconnected sections, each introduced with best practice case studies presented by Robert and Martin.

Each section gave the attendees the opportunity to share experiences and insights as well as to talk about common obstacles and problems.

Summary of  findings from section 1:

For the first round of discussions the groups were asked to explore: to what extent they each distinguish between place marketing and place branding; whether stakeholders understand these definitions; and the pros and cons for making these distinctions.

Some participants did distinguish between marketing and branding within their organisations, whilst others did not. However, there was widespread agreement that, whilst team members understand the distinction, stakeholders do not really understand the difference between the two terms.

Some suggested that the “branding” part of their work is too abstract and that government and stakeholders want something tangible they can relate to, such as a visual identity or logo.

It was stressed by many that governments are looking for simple answers and visible outcomes, not complex terms that are difficult to deal with.

Some attendees highlighted the lack of budget for reputation management as a key challenge, along with the need to spend time both convincing people there is a requirement for place branding and creating measurements of effectiveness.

Summary of  findings from section 2:

For the second round the groups were asked to discuss: approaches to integrated place brand management; whether projects are evaluated as being on-brand, neutral or off-brand; and whether initiatives are streamlined across activities and organisations (for example bringing both FDI attraction and tourism promotion efforts on brand).

Findings varied widely ranging from nations such as New Zealand, which has an integrated approach to place brand management, to places where they have no integrated approach, or may have even stepped back from an integrated approach due to political challenges.

A few places such as New Zealand and South Africa have defined values to evaluate whether projects are on-brand, neutral or off-brand. In South Africa they also track perception both inside and outside the country. In Slovenia they went as far as holding a referendum to ensure they are delivering on their core values. Other places ranged from having hardly any, to absolutely no system in place for evaluating whether a project is on brand.

It was suggested by one group that if you have consensus at the beginning of the process, with the brand creating the strategic foundation, there may not be any need to evaluate whether projects are on-brand, neutral or off-brand. Another group echoed this sentiment suggesting that having criteria in place that clarify what the brand stands for, helps to decide in which direction you are going. Similarly Helsinki stressed the importance of starting place branding initiatives from the bottom up; with citizens.

It was also mentioned that what is needed is a panel of senior stakeholders that can be custodians of the brand.

Approaches to streamlining activities and organisations were also mixed. In Switzerland for instance different agencies have different objectives, but they do also all come together. In Latin America they have a twice yearly conference where different agencies meet to share ideas and experiences.

When it comes to streamlining activities, London & Partners was cited as a good example of a publically funded agency that coordinates with other agencies in the city, whilst retaining control of its outputs. London Technology Week was given as an initiative that achieved both tourism and FDI objectives. When the tourism team wanted to speak business they called the FDI team and together they were able to work to a deliver on all fronts. When agencies can work together in synergy the results can be transformative.

Concluding  discussion:

The Think Tank wrapped up with a summary of key points and discussion led by Martin and Robert.

In summary Martin outlined that he has understood most people agree they would like to evaluate their place brand management efforts but need tools and criteria to do that.

It was suggested that when speaking to one another place brand professionals often share stories of what they deem successful campaigns and initiatives, whereas what we really need to do is to clear up the conceptual distinction and organise responsibilities and tasks accordingly. Those are the really valuable experiences to share amongst professionals. Martin also encouraged the place brand professionals attending to be more open to sharing failures and difficulties experienced in their organisations, as well as successes.

The importance was stressed that if proper systems are in place that clearly show why it is desirable or not to do place brand activity, when someone comes to evaluate, this is possible. If the systems are not in place, evaluation is not possible and the place brand activity is placed at risk.

It was agreed that the direct effects of place branding efforts are difficult to prove and suggested that what is needed are place brand strategies and tasks. This approach to place strategy opens up possibilities for different mandates, KPIs and funding structures.

Oslo as an example is a joint venture. The various organisations involved in the marketing of Oslo have conjointly agreed to work with the same place brand strategy and criteria. No new organisation was required for this – it is handled as a shared responsibility that keeps each other on track and removes the activity from the political sphere.

By being more vulnerable and sharing successes and failures this system in fact removes vulnerability.

Another example given is The Hague where the officer in charge of brand management of The Hague has to sign off on bids for major projects etc. His role is not to decide whether an activity or project happens, but he comments on whether it is on brand or not.

This approach clearly changes the output of place branding from managing the place brand to image orchestration.

Robert concluded that from what he understood of the group discussions, inside place branding teams everyone understands the difference between place marketing and place branding, but beyond these teams, definitions are not clear. Robert explained that this is a challenge because place brand practitioners need to convince governments/political decision makers. “How can we change this?” he asked the attendees, and “who should fund this?”

The answer, attendees offered, is to get society and the private sector involved in place branding. They stressed that if the private sector is involved, it is even possible to face government opposition. On the other hand it was reiterated that private sector interest is not driven by place branding – it is driven by place marketing and the private sector is generally not interested in long term place branding strategies and reputational impacts.

And when it comes to funding? The importance of getting consensus of opinion and commonality of what people are trying to achieve was raised again, as was the need to lobby politicians in a language that they understand and to talk about the story, objectives and outcomes – not use words like “brand” and “marketing” when you are not in a position to explain their meanings.

The wrap up:

To wrap up Martin told a story. Before the industrial revolution, leaders of places everywhere paid equal attention to both economic development and the reputation of place. Nowadays, it seems that reputation is predominantly viewed as a tool for economic development. He summarised that if the prestige and reputation of a place are as important to politicians as economic development, we need to educate them and move place brand management up the priority list. He added that the idea that the reputation of a place should be managed should ideally be valued (and evaluated) on its own – as opposed to being viewed solely as an instrument of economic development.

The call came from attendees again “how do you measure reputation? There are many indexes – but they keep changing year to year what they are measuring, so you can’t compare from one year to the next”.

The response: “Place brand management should not be seen as being only responsible for the end goal – it should be judged by how successful you’ve been at keeping everything on brand”. In other words, place brand management should be evaluated based on the efforts and the through-put, and not being held responsible for actual changes in the reputation of place. This is simply because reputation changes very slowly over long periods of time and is impacted by many different processes, many of which are relatively uncontrollable.

But how is this possible when politicians want to know an end result that’s measured? Robert repeated that this calls for more attention for educating stakeholders and keeping them on par.

The concluding remarks of one attendee summed up the Think Tank and left attendees with food for thought. “We are reaching a change in the way in which we are managing ourselves” she said. “We are in transition. We need to be more specific from the outset, agree on the process and then find new methodologies to measure impact. We need to gather success stories – then scale to other organisations”.

Sounds like the perfect foundation for the 4th City Nation Place Global. We look forward to seeing you there.

In the meantime, thank you again to our Think Tank sponsor, The New York Times and expert guides:

Robert Govers, Independent advisor, author and speaker, Chairman of the International Place Branding AssociationManaging Research Partner at the Good Country IndexCo-editor of the journal of Place Branding and Public Diplomacy

Martin Boisen, Independent advisor at BOISEN: For the Love of Place, Vice-chairman of the International Place Branding AssociationLecturer Human Geography & Planning at University of Groningen,

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The Place Brand Portfolio is City Nation Place's searchable portfolio of Awards case studies from the past five years.