Making cities, countries brand names

  • 2002-11-21
  • Ib Alken

Experts from state and local information agencies, entrepreneurs and corporate CEOs as well as private sector public relations and marketing experts pondered for two days last week on what puts cities and states on the map in international marketing.

Riga-based Birojs 2000, a marketing organization that over the past two years has demonstrated an acute awareness for bringing concepts to the Baltic region, hosted the forum.

British branding guru Wally Olins, one of the world's most experienced experts on corporate identity and branding, particularly the branding of regions and nations, helped organize the event.

Olins helped create the success story of promoting Spain. At the Riga forum he emphasized that this could only have happened thanks to the will to modernize and change of the entire Spanish people after Franco's death in 1975.

President Vike-Freiberga opened the forum, expressing great interest in the topics on the agenda.

In contrast, however, Riga Mayor Jurij Bojars chose not to come to the forum, though he was billed as the host for the event. Even more surprising, Bojars stayed away from the forum panel where he was scheduled speaker to present Riga's own branding plans.

Forum participants were left with the impression that the host city feels secure in its position in the global market.

Nevertheless, the increasingly competitive market for foreign direct investment and tourism makes international marketing a growing area of public and private interest.

Forum participants heard both success stories and problems connected with developing state identity as a sellable brand, as well as how cities and capitals can facilitate development of their country's image.

Marketing mistakes can be very costly, and it is important to know what works, stressed several panelists.

In a discussion on marketing of culture products, for instance, Maria Naumova's name came up as the symbol of next year's Eurovision contest.

In the words of Latvia Television's General Director Uldis Grava, it is largely irrelevant whether Eurovision is a cultural event or kitsch entertainment, as long as for several hours one May evening some 150 millions viewers will zoom in on Riga.

The development of regions as brands could facilitate competitiveness in globalization but is very complex to put together, according to participants.

The forum heard a report on the Danish-Swedish failure to identify the potential of the Oresund region after the 2001 opening of the magnificent bridge connecting Copenhagen and Malmo. Without political sponsorship and popular support, regional concepts will not develop, said the participant.

Discussing the role of personalities in developing nations as brands, Estonian MP and academic Marju Lauristin delighted the audience in recalling how The Baltic Chain in 1989 put the three republics back on the map of the world. The non-violent demonstration of solidarity and will for independence showed the power of shared ideas about history and identity.