Wish you were here!

Mark O’Connell | 10 Mar 2020 | General

Instead of being in Cannes this week at MIPIM with 26,000 other visitors and 3800 exhibitors, all vying to attract the attention of more than 6000 investors, I am self-isolating alone with my thoughts on place marketing.

Why would more than a hundred cities from around the world, year after year, spend on average €250k for a stand at MIPIM to showcase their vision and ambitions for their city if they didn’t get something from it? Indeed it is interesting to see how these booths have evolved and are heavily sponsored by private sector intermediaries (lawyers, developers, banks, accountants) who all want a slice of the transactions. More significantly, Universities and centres of excellence are also centre stage in the larger city pavilions like Paris, London, and Moscow underscoring the importance of talent availability in the battle to secure investment.

For many sceptics place marketing is a cynical waste of public money, and at worst superficial me too branding and logos to flatter and indulge the whims of Council and civic leaders and ensure their legacy.

There is an increasing realisation that effective place making and place marketing requires a joined up effort. It’s clear that some place factors may resonate more with the investor, student, tourist or individual but their mutual inter dependency is also mission critical.  All actors want security, attractiveness, amenities and opportunities to thrive economically. And the top talent is discerning and will select places that also offer experience and uniqueness. Place making can no longer be regarded as the sole domain of the local authority – we’re all place makers now.

Taking the place proposition to market through effective place marketing campaigns is the only way to harness and focus the assets and ambitions of a city or region but very few still get it right due to an institutional silo mentality.

An effective place marketing campaign must embrace:

(1) the live, study and work experience, and

(2) the invest, innovate, enterprise agenda underpinned by

(3) the visit/tourism/cultural offer while ensuring that

(4) a sustainable physical and digital infrastructure is up to the task of accommodating the ambition.

To get the various stakeholders around the table and speaking in one voice is a significant ask, especially when you sprinkle on divergent political views, different measures of success, and an aggressive media wanting to divide and embarrass the powers that be. But taking time to engage in a democratic, collaborative process will pay dividends for place success, not least as the combined budgets go further.  We’ve seen this at first hand through working with Cork, Milan, Columbus and Cardiff where the stakeholders understand the power of their aggregated assets and going to market with one coherent and compelling narrative.

Drivers of economic growth for the next decade will be around skills availability, technology infrastructure, environmental sustainability as well as tolerant and inclusive social policies. These tend to live in cities rather than countries. Exploitation is bad for business and economic power has shifted from faceless multinationals to SMEs, funders workforce with strong personalities and much more connectivity to the communities where they work and invest. Look no further than Amazon HQ2.

The people have spoken. So place marketing campaigns must resonate and engage new and diverse audiences who tend to vote with their feet and wallets.

We hope to be back in the sunshine in Cannes in early June, but until then…..power to the people.