How can you foster better collaboration between place stakeholders?

Human beings are fundamentally social creatures. While other species evolved to run fastest, or to have the deadliest attack, humans banked their survival strategy on collaboration. We are at our strongest when we work together.

This is no less true within place branding, destination marketing and economic development. As Royce Chwin, President & CEO of Tourism Vancouver, told us: “Purposeful collaboration creates a major strategic advantage versus a destination that competes within itself. Strategic and intentional collaboration creates the right points of alignment on core strategies and key messages that supports advocacy for important issues and may increase the likelihood for funding mechanisms to exist or remain that area a critical investment in the resilience needed for a long rebuild ahead.”

Good collaboration – whether with your private sector, your key stakeholders, or even other places – prevents duplication of work, allows you to be more purposeful with your resource allocation, and ensures you’re all telling the same brand story. “It’s all about leveraging creative ideas and resources to compete for people and attention for your community’s brand,” outlined Dave Herrell, President & CEO at Visit Quad Cities. “Removing the boundaries and parochial nature of DMO/EDO organisations to drive value for residents should be the true north.”

Promoting a place is a hugely complex task, and collaborating with the other local players creates much firmer foundation for your place brand strategy. But what do you need to do to ensure that you’re collaborating effectively?

Place branding is too big a task to go it alone

When we reached out to our panel of speakers for City Nation Place Americas to understand what the essential ingredients were for a collaborative partnership, there were several concepts that echoed across all our conversations that we believe will resonate for all our readers.

  • You have to take the time to nurture a collaborative relationship – and there has to be equal give and take between all sides. “We always begin with assessing whether we have the relationships in place with key stakeholders that we will be need to be successful, and what we might need to do (and how long we might need) to build those relationships successfully,” shared Kian Kamas, Chief of Economic Development for the City of Tulsa. “Absent that connection, it is difficult to understand the priorities or concerns your partners might bring to the table, or what strength they might have that will be key to success.”

  • Regular interaction between all stakeholders ensures you’re on the same page throughout the journey and heads off potential problems before they have a chance to interfere – as Blake Woolsey, Chief Communication & Development Officer at Heartland Forward, neatly summarised: “Communication is critical so everyone is aware of what is to be accomplished with buy-in on the ultimate goal and the steps needed to get there.”

  • Diversity of thought gives you the ability to view a problem from multiple different angles and opens the door to innovative solutions to your challenges. Likewise, it’s essential that you reflect the diversity of the place that you represent. Take a look at the table and ask who’s missing – and then make sure you invite them to the discussions and create spaces where everyone can speak freely.

    Clare Barnett, Director of Economic Development for the City of Brampton, highlighted the unique diversity of the City given their size: “We are living the mosaic here in Brampton. Many of these different cultures come together with a shared purpose to shape and promote arts and culture and economic development to ensure a better place to live, work, and play for all.”

  • Ultimately, you have to be united by a singular vision that you all rally around. “Having that North Star, that shared goal that is bigger than any of the stakeholders involved is critical to finding real, impactful collaboration,” explained Matt Haggman, EVP of One Community One Goal in Beacon Council, Miami.


Collaboration can drive a more resilient, innovative  future.

Working in tandem with your stakeholders also gives you the opportunity to challenge yourself- to go further to reinvent what’s possible for your place. “If we focus on recovery, we put effort towards what was in the past – to recover to a prior state,” mused Tourism Vancouver’s Royce Chwin. “For a DMO, is the current mandate still relevant, and can it deliver future value? If not, collaboration on identifying priorities to rebuild and restart the visitor economy can shape a DMO’s mandate so that it improves its relevance and resilience and thus value to stakeholders, community, and travellers.”

We have an opportunity to rebuild what success looks like for our cities, nations, and regions, but for this to work in the long-term, it has to be done in partnership with all the stakeholders in your place, from your residents to your private sector to your council. Learning from other places and nurturing a broader network of collaborative partnerships will also aid in avoiding pitfalls and challenges that others have faced – and is why we believe it’s so important to have spaces like the City Nation Place Americas or Global conferences which allow cities and nations to learn from those who might otherwise be seen as competitors.

“I’m always a huge fan of not recreating the wheel,” explained City of Tulsa’s Kian Kamas. “In an era when so many cities are innovating or trying new things or building new models for innovation, it is exciting to have the chance to look to other cities and places to see what is or isn’t working.” Miami’s Matt Haggman echoed this sentiment, stating that “We need to remember a more resilient future will only be achieved through collaboration. If we aren’t sharing, if we aren’t learning from one another, then the success from the strategies we seek to build, advocacy we aim to engage in, or funding we hope to achieve will fall short.”

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