Interview with Brad Dean, CEO, Discover Puerto Rico

We caught up with Brad Dean, CEO of Discover Puerto Rico, to discuss his own experience of place branding.

CNP: How do you see the relationship between the perceived values of a city, region or nation and the place brand?

BD: The perceived values of a city, region or nation can, and will, directly influence the place brand, either positively or negatively. Values help to create an identity, whether for a person, a business or a place. Of course, the values of a place are not the only – or even the most important – component of a place brand, but it influences the brand identity. A community that is known to embrace diversity is far more likely to attract the interest of someone who values diversity than a place which is known for not valuing diversity. But herein lies the challenge:  does perception match reality?  If a community fails to live up to its perceived values, it risks disappointing the consumer. Imagine a region that is considered to be business-friendly suddenly implementing onerous regulations and anti-business tax policy. The level of reputational damage would be far greater than if the community had never been perceived as such.

CNP: Do you think the job of place branding is easier or more challenging now than it was five years ago? And why?

BD: In some respects, place branding has never been more challenging. One inherent challenge in place branding is the diverse mix of stakeholders represented and involved in the process, which makes for a far more complex process than defining the brand of a product or service. In this consumer-driven era of social media and everyone potentially being a publisher of opinion, defining, marketing and unifying around a singular place brand is no easy task. Add to this increased competition for tourism, resources, employees and economic development, and it’s clear that place branding is not for the faint of heart. With a strong economy and changing public opinion (e.g. growing concerns regarding over-tourism), the past five years have become increasingly challenging.

Nevertheless, when a place brand is well-defined and aligned with the needs and expectations of stakeholders and consumers, the broad use of digital marketing and social media can launch a place brand quicker and farther than ever before. Consider the rapid change of pace in tech-influenced industries and game-changing impact of the shared economy, and one can easily recognize how a lagging place brand can quickly secure a leading position. Likewise, a place brand firmly entrenched in status quo can quickly lose its advantage.

CNP: How do you think an effective place branding strategy for a city, region or nation can contribute to that place’s economic resilience?

BD: Effective place branding implies a competition for a desired result, such as tourists, jobs, businesses or capital. By positioning itself to effectively achieve its objective, a city/state/nation is aligning its place brand with the needs and expectation of the consumer that can provide the desired result. When economic disruptions occur, those places with greater alignment are more likely to succeed, hence more likely to enjoy economic resilience. Likewise, a place brand built upon the diverse needs of its stakeholders and delivering upon the expectations of the consumer(s) will be far more likely to establish a diverse range of support; diversity enhances economic resilience. This is evident in communities like Tallahassee, FL, Columbus OH, and Columbia, SC, all of which are anchored by a large university and state government. Their resiliency during economic downturns has proven out over decades, and that resiliency enhances the quality of life in those communities.

CNP: What is the key to successful collaboration between stakeholder teams and departments engaged together in a place branding strategy?

BD: The most important element to successful collaboration is a shared vision.  If all stakeholder teams share a common vision of the place brand, synergistic collaboration and effective planning are far more likely to occur.  Communication is another important element, but it’s inherent to a shared vision; diverse teams and groups are unlikely to adopt a shared vision without effective communication, but communication may not always lead to a shared vision.  By articulating a shared vision, stakeholders are more likely to buy in and collaborate.

CNP: How do you see the role of the private sector in an effective place branding strategy?

BD: The role of the private sector is to be actively involved and engaged with an open mind and progressive vision. Charles de Gaulle has been quoted as saying “politics is too important to be left to the politicians.” Much the same could be said of place branding and the public sector. While policymakers and government administrators may seek to lead the process, the private sector must be at the table. Where does the tax revenue come from? Where does the demand-driving economic activity come from? For a place brand to resonate and command ‘staying power’, the private sector must embrace it. Therefore, it’s essential that the public sector stay engaged and involved throughout the process.

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