How do you create a resilient place reputation?

PART 1 | PART 2 | PART 3

The pandemic has sparked an entirely new vocabulary. Words that I’d rarely used now trip off my tongue in rapid succession. Pivoting. Force  Majeure. Unprecedented. And the word “resilience” has continued to rise up the ranks to take centre stage.

But what is resilience? What do we mean by it in relation to city or nation branding? This blog is the first of a four-part series exploring how resilience will impact different areas of place branding, from reputation to placemaking and more.


How do you define a resilient place?

While interest around resilient cities began to gain momentum when the Rockefeller Foundation launched ‘100 Resilient Cities’ in 2013, you can understand why the interest in ‘resiliency’ has rocketed in the past year.

The International  Standards Organisation defines ‘urban resilience’ as the ability of a place and it’s inhabitants to anticipate, prepare, respond to and absorb shocks. Not only that, but the city or nation should be able to transform positively in the face of challenges and facilitate inclusive and sustainable development.


What does a resilient place look like?

When the Rockefeller Foundation launched 100 Resilient Cities in 2013, it inspired places around the world to take a more proactive approach to managing crises. The theory was simple. Places would look at their challenges, their risks, and then devise strategies to manage these. The Rockefeller Foundation’s view of disaster also expanded beyond physical catastrophes such as hurricanes and earthquakes, to include human-made disasters: violence; poverty; recessions; pandemics.

There are four key areas a city or nation needs to address to be able to bounce back from future shocks with ease.

  • Economy. The more diverse and dynamic your economy is, the more prepared you are to survive individual shocks. Where many sectors have struggled during the pandemic, others have flourished. A city or nation which has a diverse range of businesses, which encourages and promotes innovation, and which offers a range of job opportunities to citizens will naturally be more prepared to face a wider range of crises.
  • Environment. The importance of public space has risen to the top of many people’s agendas. Establishing clear land-use policies to protect certain spaces or ensure affordable housing and ensuring that the infrastructure is suited to the needs of your citizens and any likely environmental threats is key.
  • Governance. A proactive government, with clear communication and transparent policies will engender greater trust.
  • Society. Moving forwards, the wellbeing of your citizens has to be a priority. That means everything from ensuring a healthy life, to promoting social cohesion, to combatting social injustices. After all, your people make your place.

All of these areas have been thrown into the spotlight. Critics scrutinise policy decisions of governments around the world, the BLM protests have reenergised discussions around equitable development, and combatting the isolation of lockdowns has become a worldwide challenge. As we progress along the road to recovery, those places who are already more resilient will be able to reset quicker and more effectively than those who aren’t.


What does it mean to have a resilient place reputation?

Chances are that you’ve heard the Warren Buffett quote before (perhaps even at a City Nation Place conference) but that doesn’t make it any less true. A reputation that has taken twenty years – two hundred years even – can be overturned in less than five minutes.

Unlike your other assets, a place reputation isn’t a physical construct. It exists solely in the minds of your citizens and business owners, in the fledgling perceptions created when someone reads an article about your city or nation. In simplistic terms, there are two key categories of risks facing your place reputation:

  • Failure to meet expectations (such as negative press around a new policy or reports of anti-social behaviour)
  • Poor management of a crisis (such as perceived inefficiency in governance during the pandemic)

The chances are that your place brand reputation has been in the making for centuries. It’s exceedingly difficult to have a long-term impact on people’s preconceived perceptions of anything – and the very concept of a nation exists almost entirely within people’s thoughts. However, in the short to medium-term, your place reputation can certainly take a battering. With people looking for assurance as they begin to plan travels or future investment, building a resilient place reputation is essential.


Building a more resilient place reputation

It will likely be difficult, if not impossible, to significantly impact your rate of recovery post-COVID at this point. But what is possible is ensuring that you’re better prepared for the next crisis – whether that’s a rise in drug crime, a typhoon, or even another pandemic.

Working your resilience strategy into your place branding strategy can ensure greater effectiveness and longevity by rooting it in your place DNA.  And in a peculiar feedback loop, communicating your resilience strategy helps to build that self-same resiliency.

How can you build and communicate a resilient place reputation then?


Step 1: Agility is a must.

In the event of a crisis, you need to be able to adapt and amend your strategies on the fly. You can’t afford to wait to have the full information to share your story. Likewise, it is easier to react rapidly to fake or negative news stories about your city or nation.

“[Visit Florida] has had to deal with tremendous uncertainty over the past four years,” described Dana Young, Visit Florida’s CEO. “So with that, we’ve become a very stream-lined, very focussed, and very resilient organisation – and we’ve learned to be incredibly flexible in how we do business.”

Building flexibility and contingencies into your communication strategy ensures that you’re able to adapt your messaging as needed. If you have a playbook ready before a crisis hits, you ensure everyone knows the core actions and you can begin communicating with key audiences much more rapidly.

 

Step 2: Monitor your digital footprint.

Not so long ago, it would have been unimaginable to know what a single person half the world away thought about your place. Today, that information is at our fingertips, but filtering out the unnecessary noise and data can be challenging. Creating a system or process through which you can track changes to your reputation is essential to being able to react agilely.

Lithuania have done just this. “The biggest challenge in developing the system to monitor our brand was the creation of an inter-institutional and sustainable system, which would allow us to proactively monitor the development of the country’s brand in foreign media from various angles,” stated Eglė Kudzmanienė, Chief Advisor at Brand Lithuania Unit. “The  Foreign Media Monitoring System allows us not only to track the number of Lithuania’s mentions in the foreign media but also to measure favourability.  This helps us to evaluate the change of perceptions of Lithuania in our source markets and is helpful  in planning the country's promotional activities.”

Likewise, Barcelona launched a ‘Brand Resilience Barometer’ a few years back to monitor changes in perceptions of the city-brand that led to changes in behaviours and also helped to inform future decision-making and story-telling to create positive growth for the city.


Step 3: Engage your locals in your resilience strategy.

A city or a nation is made by its citizens. Without them, you have no real identity. The key then, is working with them to build authentic strategies – to ensure that top-down policies are met with bottom-up initiatives.

“The way I think about it is that I’m a CMO of a brand that has nearly nine million marketers,” joked Laura  Citron, CEO at London & Partners, “and about 0.02% of them report to me.”

It’s rigorous, and it’s time consuming, but a thorough engagement strategy is the foundation block to the long-term effectiveness of your strategy. “There is a fantastic story to tell, but we can’t tell it by ourselves. [Instead, we] work with a network of Londoners who have global influence,” continued Laura. By tapping into that influence, London & Partners are able to shape the narrative being told around London and the story of London is shared by Londoners themselves.


Step 4: Audit your destination and ensure you’re speaking  to a diverse audience

If you’re overly reliant on one industry for investment and job creation, or on a narrow demographic for tourism, then it would be worth exploring how you can diversify. By doing so, you can minimise the impact that an individual crisis will have on your overall reputation.

Saudi Arabia has done just this. The newly launched Vision 2030 strategy aims to expand the Kingdom’s investment prospects beyond the oil industry. “[It] provides a roadmap to the Kingdom’s long-term goals and expectations for its future through economic diversification,” explained Khaled Tash of Invest Saudi. “It’s our national framework for creating new business opportunities across emerging sectors, and ensuring a vibrant society with fulfilling lives for future generations.”

Equally, focussing your efforts on promoting your destination to a different audience future-proofs you to a greater extent. Younger travellers, for example, are less likely to spend large amounts but may be more inclined to visit during the off and shoulder seasons and spread the wealth further.


Step 5: Root your strategy in your reality.

As with any element of your place brand strategy, it’s key to act consistently in accordance with your values and your everyday reality. If you’re shouting about your climate resiliency, then you need to make sure that your infrastructure and policy support your claims. If you’re showcasing your agility and support for existing investors, then you need to be able to demonstrate that too.

Ultimately, your words need to be supported by your actions. But by getting that right, you can build the foundations for a resilient reputation. And as the majority of reputational risks are rooted in poor planning, there’s also an opportunity to exponentially grow your place reputation if you’re able to rise to the occasion. New Zealand have enjoyed overwhelmingly positive attention for their capable management of the early months of the pandemic, for example.


Over the course of this month, we’ll be looking at how you can create a resilient organisation structures, post-pandemic placemaking, and the future of smart cities and data application. SIGN UP to our newsletter to make sure you don’t miss a thing!


Related reading:

Four findings from the 2021 place branding survey

COVID-19, leadership, and the impact on nation branding

How hosting COP26 is cementing Glasgow's green credentials

'Hear, here': the sound of place branding

The true damage of COVID-19 to nation brands

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