Five thoughts from City Nation Place Global 2019

Last week, two hundred place branding practitioners gathered in London for the fifth annual City Nation Place Global conference. It has been fascinating to see the conversations at City Nation Place evolve over the last five years, but these were the five ideas that really got us thinking.

  1. Public diplomacy connects private sector assets and a nation’s values as evidenced by policy and culture, to influence international opinion – no nation brand strategy is complete without an effective integration with public diplomacy. As Thordur Oskarsson, Ambassador for Iceland and our opening speaker said after the event, ‘My understanding on the complexity of nation/place branding is much better informed than before. I immediately see greater need for increased communication between “branders” and diplomats’.
  1. Place marketing teams have a responsibility to put the citizen first: putting citizens first in all aspects of tourism and economic development protects and enhances quality of life, creating a virtuous circle. As Geerte Udo, CEO at amsterdam&partners, said so eloquently, perhaps it is time that we stop teaching locals to value tourism and instead begin to teach tourists to respect locals. As the world becomes more conscious of sustainable and responsible tourism, educating travellers on ways to be respectful of their destination will enable places to develop a symbiotic relationship between tourists, businesses and citizens.
  1. Smart technology is improving our lives in cities across the world but is also leading to homogeneous, less defined, less memorable experiences – before you introduce smart technology, ask whether it will deliver a unique experience to support your brand vision. It’s easy to get swept up in the hype and start using technology for the sake of technology, but realistically, do we need lampposts that are capable of listening in on conversations in order to prevent trouble? Instead, Jonas Schorr, co-founder of Urban Impact, called for cities to listen to their #CityRebels – to discover and enable bottom-up innovation that solve the real problems they face every day.
  1. Use all the data available to you to understand your assets, your reputation, and your opportunities. Data is an essential component to establishing an effective strategy and this thread ran through many of the discussions at City Nation Place Global. “In Eindhoven,” Peter Kentie, Managing Director at Eindhoven 365, stated, “we built a smart city dashboard where insights are shared with the place branding stakeholders and the municipality … to create an accurate and concise image of visits to our city”. Being able to access data quickly enables you to make smart decisions. But as Geerte mentioned, data without insight is meaningless – after all, a hair on your head is nothing of note. A hair in your dinner is a completely different kettle of fish.
  1. Work together with other cities and nations, solve problems together – this will boost your place’s reputation like nothing else. It’s increasingly clear that reputation is tied up in the actions places take for the good of the many. Take Visit Faroe Islands, who won our Best Communication Award for a campaign which gained global interest for their decision to “Close For The Weekend” in favour of undergoing essential maintenance work on key tourist sites with a select number of “Voluntourists” – encouraging important conversations about the sustainability of tourism development. Or Laura Kamras, Director for Public Diplomacy for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland, who spoke about their latest campaign, Hän, the inclusive personal pronoun, which raised discussions about equality. The thing is, the world is changing. GDP is no longer the sole focus and as places begin to tackle these global issues, collaboration will be the key to finding solutions. Rose Wangen-Jones, Managing Director, Marketing, at London & Partners, and Alice Rampelberg, Marketing B2C & E-Commerce Director at Paris Convention & Visitors Bureau, outlined how they created a campaign to target American millennial travellers by promoting Paris and London as a combined destination. Collaboration on place marketing is a great start – we’re looking forward to hearing how destinations have collaborated together on some of the biggest global issues at future City Nation Place events.

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