Five unlikely partnerships for city and nation brand teams to consider

City and nation branding is a team effort. We speak a lot about the importance of collaboration between destination marketing, economic development, and local government teams, but it got us thinking: what other interesting partnerships are out there?

We reached out to our Expert partners to discover their top tips for ensuring that a partnership enhances your brand and opens you up to new audiences – and to discover where these unlikely partnerships are being put into action.

Here are five ideas to help you identify new avenues for collaboration to promote your city or country.


Embrace the unexpected.

Some cities have a natural ambassador, like a charismatic mayor or a beloved sports star — but what should others do?

Singapore took matters into their own hands when it ‘arranged’ for itself to be the only South-Asian stop on Taylor Swift’s wildly successful Eras tour. Even if Swifities did flood in, the move sat uncomfortably in the region, with one Filipino lawmaker stating: “it isn’t what good neighbours do”.

A more subtle example is Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona, a love letter to the city that seduced American tourists — funded in part by Barcelona city hall. But perhaps the most interesting partnerships are the accidental ones. In 1968, Transport for London recorded an automated service announcement: mind the gap. Who would’ve guessed that half a century later it would be the unlikely tagline for the city?

Not every city needs to corner the Swiftie market — but some of the best partnerships might be right under our noses.

Simon Wallington, Strategist, DNCO

Ask yourself – can your competitors be your allies?

Cities and nations can enhance their brands by collaborating with unexpected allies, like twin cities or countries, and by using the private sector. For example, New York and Cape Town have demonstrated how competitors can become partners, boosting each other's global presence. Nationally, initiatives such as Costa Rica's licensing program allow businesses to represent the country's brand independently, thereby expanding its reach. Such collaborations, whether international or domestic, help cities and nations to appear in new places and communications where they would not otherwise be visible.

 Jose Torres, CEO, Nation and Place Branding Global Director, Bloom Consulting

Partner with those who share your values – and your audience.

When it comes to identifying strategic partnerships, we believe destinations should look for brands with comparable values and a similar target audience. We’ve used this lens to foster successful collaborations on behalf of our city and state clients with brands and influencers such as Ford, local artists, celebrity chefs, NCAA athletes, and Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriters. For example, we helped spearhead a collaboration with Lilly Pulitzer and The Palm Beaches. Together, they developed a fun, interactive digital guide for travellers and shoppers paired with a dynamic social media campaign featuring Lilly-outfitted Instagram influencers. The partnership resulted in strong reach and engagement with brand-aligned consumers, an estimated media value of more than $550,000 and 142 new pieces of content about the destination.

Chris Adams, Head of Research and Insights, Miles Partnership

Identify partners who can help you create meaningful activations for your community.

Unlikely partners for cities can include local communities and cultural organisations. A great example is the ‘London Borough of Culture’ initiative supported by the Mayor of London, Arts Council England, and local businesses. It funds selected boroughs to create year-long cultural programs and promotes localised cultural influences. Similarly, Hamburg's HafenCity blends residential, cultural, and commercial uses; ArtPlace America unites foundations and agencies to integrate arts in community planning; and Los Angeles partnered with CicLAvia to turn streets car-free to boost health and sustainability. These partnerships enhance the city brands by celebrating its diversity, broadening its appeal to new audiences including young people, underrepresented ethnic communities and residents.

Enke Huang, Senior Researcher & Analyst, TOPOSOPHY

Work with partners to amplify your storytelling with increased resources.

Co-op marketing—when hotels, destination marketing organisations (DMOs), attractions, airlines, and others team up to spread the word about their offerings—allows partners to combine resources and split the costs on digital marketing initiatives to reach more people with their marketing efforts. This approach allows travel businesses to enjoy advantages they might not get on their own. For DMOs seeking to boost destination appeal and attract visitors, partnering with local travel entities is a strategic move. For example, hotels and attractions can offer travellers a comprehensive experience, highlighting the best of both worlds to drive exposure. We partnered with the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi and 37 hotel properties to activate a co-op campaign to drive direct bookings to the hotels and economic impact for Abu Dhabi.

Christy Jobman, Senior Marketing Manager, Global Destinations, Sojern

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