How you can give a voice to marginalised communities in your place brand strategy

As places around the world look to recovery, what can we learn from New York City, the cultural melting pot of the world? Nancy Mammana, Chief Marketing Officer for NYC & Company joined us to share how they’re giving a platform to marginalised voices and ensuring that the recovery is equitable across the five boroughs and all community groups.

 

Thank you for joining us, Nancy, because New York City has  to be one of the most iconic city brands in the world. How will your place brand strategy leverage that heritage to help you to drive recovery?


Pre-pandemic we were very much about welcome because that is core to our brand. Welcoming everyone from all walks of life…. That's what New York City is, and with the Statue of Liberty at the forefront, our message was that New York City welcomes you always. Our city was founded on that, and we will always keep that at our core but now post-pandemic, it's not necessarily only about that anymore.

We’re hoping we’ll be able to launch something in a few months, but the thread we’re working on right now is going to tap very much into our strength and resilience as a city, because that is what will carry us through - that what's has carried us through. It needs to be the rally cry of our locals to keep people positive, looking forward and reminding ourselves how strong we are. Our ‘All NYC’ campaign that we launched during the pandemic was meant to tap into that and we'll carry that through, but also begin to celebrate the innovation and the strength and resilience that will carry us through this dark period.


As one of the most iconic cities in the world, NYC is a cultural melting pot. What can places do to ensure that they’re authentically representing a diverse cultural community and giving minority communities their voice?


That's been a huge priority for us, and I think if there is a positive side to this pandemic, it's been an opportunity to reset in a lot of ways and make sure that in every way, there's equity in recovery, coverage, etc. That's always been a priority, but I think through a lot of different initiatives we've strived to take more steps in that direction.

For example, we hired a Senior Director of Multicultural Content who is a senior member of our editorial team who works across the board on all of our content and creative in-house for our website NYCgo.com. He has been pivotal in making sure that his voice is represented in our content, but he's also got an amazing roster of talent that we're able to now tap into across the community and across the boroughs. We can really see that our voice has been refreshed and the influence of his vision and voice had an immediate impact. We've started new content hubs on our website too. During Black History Month, we launched a hub for the Black Experience at NYC. We want to celebrate the rich diversity within the Black community in NYC and their influence on the city, and this will run continuously. We'll move forward into the Latinx Experience shortly, before extending that into other communities.

That's definitely been one of the bigger steps we’ve made in the right direction and we will be continuing that work. Also, because of the pandemic, we've opened up our programs to non-members. Typically, you'd have to be a member of NYC and Company if you wanted to participate in the Restaurant Week for example and there are fees that go with that; that's kind of our operating model. But in this instance, we just wanted to help as many businesses as we could, so we removed the paywall and we welcomed anyone, any restaurant that needed help and that wanted to be involved. We were able to bring in several restaurants throughout the Boroughs, smaller restaurants that were struggling and that are now engaged with us. We had over 800 restaurants in the programme, and a good year for us has been about 400. That's a huge opportunity because we have much better Five Borough participation; the goal now is to keep these smaller businesses engaged with us and to make sure that we are continuing find more opportunities to lift them up.

It's been terrific from that perspective because it's very much allowed us to make sure that our footprint is much more equitable and we're touching neighbourhoods and businesses that we weren't able to before. We're a small organization and we're even smaller now, so it's difficult for us to outreach to every single business. We've had great dialogue with folks in the community that we didn't necessarily have before, so in a in a strange way it's been a great opportunity for more equity and inclusion that we now need to carry forward into the recovery.


Fred Dixon, CEO of NYC & Company, has spoken at CNP conferences in the past about your organisation’s success at spreading the benefits of tourism to the previously less visited neighbourhoods, and at encouraging NYC citizens to really experience their own city.  Did this give you an advantage during the pandemic – you were already used to marketing to your own citizens?  What learnings are you taking into recovery  planning about advocating for your tourism and hospitality sector businesses to  NYC residents?


I think it has been somewhat of an advantage that what we call our vibrancy programs - Restaurant Week, Broadway week, etc - have always been engaged with more by locals. It's been an advantage for sure when we come in with a Restaurant Week To Go that people already know the brand. New Yorkers have definitely rallied around their restaurants, so I think having that engagement and connection to locals has helped with those things, but we really needed to expand beyond that. In the beginning of the pandemic, we didn't have any programming. It was really just about spreading a positive narrative and getting New Yorkers to post their own content about how they're All In on their city and their business. We needed to make sure we were really engaging on a different level and I think it has evolved our strategy to really engage with locals in a different way beyond the transactional.

We have always worked to share the economic impact of tourism throughout the Boroughs, and we were in the middle of an advocacy effort pre-pandemic to make sure that that was continuing and that we were communicating the benefits of tourism in your neighbourhood. Now I almost think because we've lost tourism, that's sort of done the work for us in some respects. I think folks recognize the benefits of tourism more now than ever since we've lost that income and that economic impact to a large degree.

And we’ve also been heavily marketing staycations through our “NYC-cation” effort. That’s really been a joint success of our editorial and our marketing teams; it was a series that encouraged locals to play tourist in their city, to visit the areas of the Five Boroughs that they may never have been to before. And alongside that marketing message, we also created weekly ‘staycation guides’ that introduced our locals to the opportunities available to them, from dining to retails to arts and culture.

Marketing to locals has been something every destination I think has been forced to do because you have to fish where the fish are to keep these businesses alive, but we've definitely doubled down on it very much so in the last year.


And of course, Broadway is an essential element of the  NYC experience as well – how can places work to support their cultural centres  during these challenging times?


There were some arts organizations that were doing their own outdoor engagements and activations throughout the summer on their own, so we just tried to lift that up and now that there are more organized initiatives planned through at the state level. It’s our job to make sure that folks are aware of what is happening, so we really just try to amplify the activities and promote them.

And we're a great connector. We are at the intersection of almost every business and city government, so wherever we can, we connect organizations to each other to help create relationships and partnerships.

 

How are you advocating for the role of NYC & Company at a time when NY’s political leadership must be carefully counting every penny invested in recovery?


At the end of the day, it's about economic impact. Again, there’s quite a large footprint around tourism to New York City and it brings a lot of economic impact. When that's lost, it sort of tells the story for you. That is at the core of our advocacy strategy, that we bring jobs, we bring in income through our tourism and hospitality industry. It's important that when we are able to fully welcome visitors back that we have the right support and infrastructure to do it properly.

We know by now that you can't just turn it on, and people will come. People are hopefully looking forward to traveling again, and we need the resources in place that will be needed to drive that back to New York City.


Much of the historical appeal and success for cities comes from the co-location of the innovators and leading businesses. With more people discovering perks of working from home, will urban centres lose their attractiveness?


We work very closely with the EDC which is really responsible for bringing businesses to New York City, and it's really their and their purview to make sure that businesses are either coming to New York City or staying in New York City. But I think we will always be the centre of creativity, innovation, grit, hustle, heart, glamour…. that is something that could never be taken away from New York City. We have a road ahead of us, but ultimately that's at the core of who we are. Where people are working, I think is secondary to that.


Are you looking to evolve your own organisation as well?  Either through internal structure, or through a new funding model?


It's difficult to say being that funding is a little uncertain right now. We were looking at a tourism marketing district structure pre-pandemic and I think we feel that that will be key for future funding models moving forward so we would like to pick that up again. That would be a very small assessment paid by the consumer on their hotel bill. It could be under a dollar or it could be 25 cents, but that would help us dramatically, so we are not so dependent on city funding and membership fees moving forward.

Again, I think it's a long road ahead for that, but we're hopeful that is a funding model we will have in place in the future. I think that will help us do what we need to do to support the industry so we'll be picking all that up again, but it's unknown at this point how that will affect our structure. We're hopeful that we can restore the size of the company moving forward, but we're just doing what we need to do right now with the staff that we have. And our team have been incredible, performing the way they have been under these circumstances and the quality and the volume of work that has been coming out of the organization has been amazing. Right now, we're just trying to take care of our people until we can get to the other side.


Lastly if you had one top tip for cities looking to adapt  and remain relevant in the new realities that we’ll be facing at least for the  next 12 months, what would that be?


In these times, I think engaging in a dialogue with your locals has been key. By that, I mean your consumers who live in your city who may not have fully engaged with all that it has to offer because it’s easy to forget the things that are available to you every day. And speaking to the equity piece to make sure that you're really connected to the community on all sides.

I don't know if it's a lesson, but it's a reminder. It’s even more important now that there's a dialogue, not just engagement. I think that's how you ensure equity and inclusion and that's how you really become effective in your mission. It's a very broad tip, but I think it's essential.


Amazing, thank you for speaking with us, Nancy.


Related reading

One City: Taking a longer-term view of economic resilience

Solidarity, public health, and the impact of soft power

The roadmap for sustainable recovery

Putting resilience at the heart of post-pandemic placemaking

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