Struer’s path to becoming the City of Sound
For a smaller city or region, it can be hard to make an impact on the international stage. You need to identify a really strong, authentic impetus for your place brand strategy to stand out from the crowd. John Fogde, Head of the Struer City of Sound Department, explains how they developed the positioning for the Danish city and how being known as the City of Sound gives them the edge in their activities.
Could you give a little bit of background on the City of Sound strategy and where the inspiration came from?
Yes, absolutely. I’m fairly new to Struer but a few years ago, the city started asking the question “what’s unique about us? What’s our thing? How do we separate ourselves from everybody else?”
The answer was right in front of everybody, because Struer is the birthplace of Bang & Olufsen, one of the most easily recognized audio and design companies in the world. And because Struer is a fairly small town and municipality, everybody here knows somebody who has a relation to Bang & Olufsen in some way. Over time, Bang & Olufsen downsized and sold off some of their companies – and thankfully, those companies stayed in town. So, while looking at what sets us apart, it was very easy to say “Sound is a part of our DNA. Everybody here has a connection to sound. Let's see if we can do something with that.”
They worked on this for a while to develop new strategies and looked at what the city would need to do for it to be reasonable to call ourselves the City of Sound. The strategy was implemented everywhere: in the school system; in the health department; in culture, museums, and sports – it needed to be part of every aspect of the city. This is not a tourism strategy. We're not trying to be the Paris of Denmark, and we're not trying to bring tourists in to see the city.
Obviously, we would adore masses of people visiting us and staying at our hotels, but for us, this is a strategy to develop the city, to make it more attractive to people who want to come live here, work here, start a business here - and to make it more attractive to our existing community.
You mentioned several vastly different areas of the city. How do you make sure you have a seat at all those different tables?
Everybody's aware of the positive change we can create by working together on this strategy. If anything, the main challenge is the people who live here, particularly those who aren’t impacted by the sound industry in their regular life. The areas where we've succeeded the best actually relate more to people who don't live here than people who do; we want people to move here and start a business here, which means we’re looking outside the borders of the municipality. So, the majority of pushback we face is actually from residents.
But I will say, it’s not a lot of people pushing back. They see that their town is better now than it was 10 years ago. They see that the level of activities and events has increased. The majority of the people who live here actually do have a sense of pride and they work as ambassadors for us. It’s fun for them, as well, when they go to visit relatives or they’re on holiday and people recognise Struer as the City of Sound when they talk about where they live. That’s something we’ve heard from lots of people.
Are there any metrics that you’ve used to really demonstrate the impact the City of Sound Strategy has had?
The thing is we do have things that we look at and measure on, but one of the things that impressed me when I got here was how far they've come in such a short time. However, it means that there isn’t really a sort of a baseline you can work from, because everything is still new. We opened a Sound Art Lab in August of last year – you can’t even start to measure the impact that it’s had yet. When we do the sound art festival Struer Tracks, we look at how many people come, the amount of press we attract. Biannually, we do research where we look at the brand name awareness of Struer, how many people have moved to the city, how many left, the number of new workplaces created – things like that.
But it’s something that’s going to be a major focus for us this year. We want to create a tool by which we can measure all the activities we have. After all, how do you identify how many people moved here because of the City of Sound strategy? There are so many different reasons why someone would move – maybe they just wanted to be closer to their parents to help with childcare!
The first thing we’re looking at though, is whether people are moving away from the city. Are they fleeing the area? And they’re not – they’re staying, and the data that we have indicates that they’re very happy to live here. That’s always a good place to start.
Given that talent is a global challenge, do you think the City of Sound strategy has given you an edge in talent attraction?
I’d say, yes. If you look at Band & Olufsen or Harmon which are two of the largest sound related companies here, they don’t have any problems attracting talent at all. They’re doing great and that’s great for us and everyone else. And the sense I’m getting from Sound Hub Denmark, our hub for entrepreneurship and new business development is good too. They were launched during COVID, and that alone made it hard for people to visit and see if this could be a community for them. But even with that, they’re getting new companies in, and one of the things I was most impressed by when I started working in Struer was that the majority of companies who work out of Sound Hub Denmark aren’t actually registered in Denmark. They’re international companies who use the expertise and the network.
Obviously, we want to have more Danish companies come through and nurture our own entrepreneurs, but as a starting point, it’s amazing. If you want to call yourself a Sound Hub, the fact that these internationals are being attracted to the city and the network that we can create… that’s pretty incredible.
I’d like to come back to what you said about working with the Department of Education, because that’s not something I hear often. How are you embedding them in the City of Sound strategy?
At the moment, we make coursework available that is sound related. We have sound engineers who have made course material that can be taken out into schools to educate kids on what sound is, how does it work, what does sound do to you, and how do you go about building your own speaker. Also, at the local museum we have a Sound Laboratory that’s a permanent exhibit open to schools that explains how the ear works and how sound works.
And the Sound Art Lab we created has a focus on education as well. And then there’s the Nordic Podcast Academy, where we’re working the Danish School of Journalism because they offer causes in podcasting as a storytelling device. In the same way that you learn how to write a newspaper article or tell a new story on TV, you need to be aware of podcasting as a medium too. We offer a course in collaboration with them and we also offer our own podcast camps as part of the academy.
What we’re trying to move away from is coursework – at the moment, we need each individual educator to be passionate enough to choose to include it. We want to implement it directly into the curriculum so there’s a course plan for every year you’re in school.
There’s a taskforce assigned to that project right now. There’s a lot of reasons to do that. For one, sound is important in a lot of ways. Like protecting your hearing – we all walk around with headsets and go to concerts and get our ears blown out on a regular basis. People need to be made aware of the damage that sound can cause, but also all the beautiful things that sound can do. It could be music or podcasts or even the sounds that exist in nature.
Then outside of educating people about sound, we want to create Sound Ambassadors. We want young people to get interested in sound, with the hopes that they’ll tell people about how great it is and about Struer, but also in the hope that maybe some of them will turn into entrepreneurs and create their own sound businesses in town.
What would be your advice for a city or region that was looking to make itself known as the City of X?
We say we’re the City of Sound because we are the City of Sound. There is a direct relationship between an industry that’s been in the city for a hundred years and the people who live her. If I explain that we’re the City of Sound to someone new, I can make them understand in less than two minutes, because it makes sense. I don’t have to elaborate that much further on it, people get it.
So authenticity is number one, but that’s also why it’s hard. If a city is not that well known for its food or music scene, or it doesn’t have a great harbour or a key industry, then what do you do? And ironically, the larger a city gets, the less unique it gets too. New York isn’t one thing – people go there for art, shopping, sports… I guess that’s why they call it the Big Apple, because what the hell does that even mean? [laughs]
It would be hard to say New York is the City of Something, because it’s a city of a million things. But if you’re a smaller city, it gets really hard. It’s why it’s so incredible that people in Struer had the courage to go with the positioning of the City of Sound. You need to really dig into the DNA of your place, and then have the courage to stick with what you believe in and follow through on that. It’s one thing to sell the story of your city to tourists or prospective investors. But if the people you’re representing don’t believe that story, nobody else will.
Lastly, is there one initiative that's in the pipeline that you're particularly excited about at the moment?
It’s not something that’s going to get finished today or tomorrow – or maybe even this year! – but I’m working on a strategy that I refer to as the City of Sound 365. A lot of the previous strategy was built on events, which means that if you come to Struer Tracks, you feel like you’re in the City of Sound, but if you come the week after, you don’t. I want people to be able to say that they’ve been to the City of Sound 365 days a year.
To achieve that, we have to do lots of the things I’ve mentioned. Any city planning or development has to have a sound element to it so that it makes sense to people. If people come on a rainy Tuesday in November, they still need to feel they’re in the City of Sound. It’s super important, and it ties in with what I said about being authentic. You can’t say you’re the City of Sound, and then only have 4 or 5 sound events during a year. So that’s something I’ve really set my sights on right now.