Interview with Doug McLean, Director, Edmonton Events

We were fortunate enough to be able to catch up with Doug McLean, Director at Edmonton Events, to discover how culture can be leveraged to drive your place brand strategy.

CNP: What do you consider to be the biggest challenge facing place branding and marketing teams working for cities, states and places across the USA and Canada?

DM: Differentiation. The ability for destinations to determine what about their perceived brand is ownable and truly unique to them is challenging both in finding the answer as well as having the confidence to go down a more focused road. 


CNP: What trends in place branding and marketing are you interested in exploring?

DM: Similar to my answer above, it would be around determining how cities can truly differentiate themselves. At the end of the day, cities provide places to live, work and play but to stand out, you must be confident to identify more focused areas that a city can identify, work on and truly develop. 


CNP: What are the advantages for closer collaboration between place making and planning teams, tourism, and economic development teams?  

DM: We see that in Edmonton with the fact tourism (including event attraction, meetings and conventions etc.) lives within the economic development authority. It creates significant advantages because it’s easier to identify connections between those various components. As an example, we’re in a far better position to build our meetings and conventions planning around economic sectors that are growing and developing in the city. Hosting a conference can more easily connect local experts, entrepreneurs etc. with leaders from around the world. 


CNP: Do you think great neighbourhoods are of increasing importance for the place branding strategies of towns and cities?  And what do you think makes a great neighbourhood community?  

DM: I’m learning how crucial this is. Even in a relatively small city like ours (1.3 million people), the need to provide unique and local experiences for residents as well as visitors is very important. Those unique experiences provide great stories to tell and strengthen a connection between a resident/visitor and the city. As for what makes a great neighbourhood community, I think it’s one that both caters to locals and their needs but is welcoming to, and attracts, those from the outside. I know that’s a general statement, but this balance of home and hosting I think is what makes a neighbourhood enticing. This means it provides amenities and opportunities to interact with others while uniquely reflecting the nature of those from the neighbourhood. 


CNP: What are the ingredients for success for cities competing to attract young talent?

DM: I sound like a broken record, but I think it’s differentiation. It’s not being all things to all people but focusing hard on niches that will attract certain people. I feel young people are seeking experiences in their careers and are less focused than previous generations on stability (both financial and personal) and are willing to dive into something for a shorter period of time. As such you need to have great industry that is moving somewhere so they feel like they can play a part in its growth but balanced with great and unique experiences they can dive into during their downtime. 


CNP: If you weren’t in your current role, is there a city or country anywhere else in the world that you’d love to work for?

DM: Yikes, that’s an interesting question! I lived briefly in Montreal and would love the opportunity to be there again but Europe is also enticing. For me, a city that has great history and culture but includes a love of sport and event hosting would be perfect. I’m not sure what city that is but if it’s Prague, I wouldn’t complain!

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