The inspirational women re-inventing the future of place branding and marketing

Around the world, place brand and place marketing organisations are making plans for recovery. But we also have an opportunity to do something more – to work towards a better reality for everyone. For this International Women’s Day, we wanted to put the spotlight on just a few of the incredible women who are rethinking what’s possible and paving the road to a more resilient, sustainable future for their places and their organisations…

On sustainable ambitions…

Nanna Thusgaard, Wonderful Copenhagen
Nanna Thusgaard, Senior Manager for Sustainable Tourism Development at Wonderful Copenhagen
“Sustainability isn’t just about environmental sustainability – it’s about creating something that’s durable and long-lasting. To do that, then you need to have high quality solutions, so it’s about keeping in mind what your core values are, and developing quality products, experiences and services from that, and then working closely with your partners and stakeholders to achieve it. And to remember that the one stakeholder that is most important is the locals. More than ever it’s important to develop the destination in a close dialogue with the locals.”

Aradhana Khowala, Red Sea Development Company
Aradhana Khowala, Chair of the Red Sea Development Company
“The tourism industry cannot ignore these changing standards and consumer demands and will need to put sustainability at the core or risk significant loss. The industry currently accounts for 10.3 percent of global GDP and one job in every ten worldwide. This will only increase in a post-pandemic world with more and more people wanting to explore unchartered territories, whilst also ensuring they reduce their carbon footprint. Luxury tourism destinations need to understand that sustainability is a growing priority for consumers, and an urgent matter for our planet.”

Susan Aitken, Glasgow City Council
Susan Aitken, Council Leader for Glasgow City Council
“We already have more low carbon businesses and industries than any UK city outside of London and more of them generating all the time in the city innovation districts we have established. Our host status [for COP 26] allows us to amplify that, to generate the interest and, hopefully, secure the investment to grow our green economy and boost our economic recovery from COVID.
“And if we can combine that with the social justice message, with saying that as we tackle climate and  carbon emissions, we are simultaneously tackling health inequality, fuel poverty, the skills gap… then we have a remarkable legacy.”

On rethinking purpose in your organisation and your  marketing…

Laura Aalto, Helsinki Marketing
Laura Aalto, CEO at Helsinki Marketing
“One mistake that many cities make is that they think they need to be for everyone. That they need to reach every single person on this planet – but that’s not the point. We need to be the best destination, the best city, for those who share our values and for whom we are the best city. And then to target those people more precisely. We don’t need everyone here, but we do need those that share the Helsinki mindset.”

Inga Romanovskiene, Go Vilnius
Inga Romanovskiene, Director at Go Vilnius
“Bold ideas attract attention. We are open to bold and creative ideas, and we also know what it takes to stand by a bold idea or a non-traditional way to market a destination. My advice to other cities? First of all, be sincere and creative at the same time. People are tired of sterile images, perfect people and clichés. The winner will be the one who doesn’t try to be something that isn’t there, who isn’t afraid to be different, who is looking for new forms and who is trying to make a real connection with their audience.”

On promoting the wellbeing of your citizens and your employees…

Alison Treaster, Allegheny ConferenceAlison Treaster, Senior Director of Talent at the Allegheny Conference on Community Development
“We’re not the most diverse region, and we wanted to prioritise that because we want to ensure that we’re an inclusive, equitable community and that people feel comfortable and welcomed here. One event we added [to the Pittsburgh Passport] this year that we got really positive feedback on was a partnership with Vibrant Pittsburgh, which is a local non-profit that focusses on welcoming and connecting people of colour and diverse candidates to opportunities, to mentorship, to programming, and helping them really settle in here.

“We held an event where we had professionals from multiple organisations come in and have candid conversations about what it’s like to be Black, Latinx, LGBTQ, Asian, or a veteran in Pittsburgh. It wasn’t recorded – they had private breakout rooms, and it was an opportunity to really speak about what it is like to be here. We’re planning to do some of those sessions into the fall and next spring as well, as a way to break down barriers and recognise that it’s a challenging time in a lot of places for a lot of reasons. However, candid conversations and continuous learning can be valuable.”

Dana Young, Visit Florida
Dana  Young, President & CEO at Visit Florida
“Just because an organisation is working remotely does not mean that you have to lose the personal connections that keep your organisation at its best. Making sure that the organisation is constantly in communication across all departments and siloes is very important. We’ve actually refined some of that working from home even better than when we were all in the office because we took for granted that we were cross-pollinating and that people were sharing information, and maybe we weren’t doing it as well as we could have been because now we’re doing it in a very robust way and it’s working well. So my suggestion is for people to look for ways to keep communication strong, and not to lose that personal connection.”

On re-imagining KPIs for a more resilient future…

Karen Bolinger, BestCities Global Alliance
Karen Bolinger, Strategic Advisor at BestCities Global Alliance
“The measurement of “beyond tourism” impacts is one of the most complex and frustrating measures to deliver I believe – it’s why it’s not so cut and dry. It is a long tail outcome and can be spread over several areas which aren’t immediately visible. Social transformation takes place over a period of time and has many influences beyond the government of today, hence why cities find it difficult to measure. The days of “heads in beds” will be left behind eventually and it will be those forward-thinking cities that look beyond and see the impact on society where the real value will occur.”

Sirpa Tsimal, Switzerland Global Enterprise
Sirpa Tsimal, Director of Investment Promotion, Switzerland Global Enterprise
“One aspect of FDI where I do think that our industry lags is being more creative about how the impact of an IPA is being measured. Current standard at many IPAs is to count how many jobs have been created by a new company settlement. But if more and more corporate teams work remotely and services are delivered digitally, we need to adjust how we measure ROI and take a more holistic approach how EDOs work and how we measure their impact for a community and the local economy.”

On collaborating with all your stakeholders…

Sylvie Gallier Howard, Philadelphia
Sylvie Gallier Howard, member of the Philadelphia Global Identity Partnership & Founder & CEO of Equitable Cities Consulting, LLC
“At the end of 2019, I had told myself that 2020 would be the year of collaboration because we can accomplish so much more when we—the public and private sectors along with anchor institutions—work together to find solutions. By including more perspectives at the table, we can identify even stronger solutions. When the COVID-19 pandemic began to impact Philadelphia, we immediately reached out to counterparts in surrounding suburban counties, along with our other partners on the ground… We have so many leaders in the region who are doing incredible work and this is a time—now more than ever—when we need that. The prosperity of our city depends on us all developing a collaborative and innovative approach that will help rebuild a successful new economy for a new era in time.”

Leigh Dawber, Cape Town Tourism
Leigh Dawber, CMO at Cape Town Tourism 
“There has to be creativity and innovation in long-term visions; however, this should not be at the expense of collaborators, nor at the expense of the buy-in of your citizens. A very innovative, yet single-minded and inflexible approach that alienates either of these stakeholders or doesn’t take them along the journey with you, is very likely not to work in the long-term even if it produces short-term results.”

We look forward to putting the spotlight on more inspiring women throughout the year and at our 2021 conferences.

Related reading

Hall of fame: 15 of the best place branding and marketing campaigns

Solidarity, public health, and the impact of soft power

The roadmap for sustainable recovery

Putting resilience at the heart of post-pandemic placemaking

'Hear, here': the sound of place branding

Live, work, play: the story behind London's latest restoration project

The place branding bookshelf

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