As cities grow in autonomy and become economic powerhouses in their own right, their branding has never been more important. Julietta Dexter, CEO & Founder of London based The Communications Store, explains why!

Any quick Google search tells you instantly that Barcelona, Siem Reap, Cape Town and so forth rank the highest as best cities in the world. So I guess the branding, PR and communications of these cities are getting the most positive messages across. Well done to their marketing teams. The objectives are simple, to make a city as aspirational as possible to the widest possible market. Solid communications plans are based on the obvious – what are you, what do you deliver and who are you for, who is your target market, who you’re trying to “sell” to. Furthermore, the consistency of messaging, a city hanging its proverbial hat onto whatever “hook” they decide upon and then sticking with it most often has better success. A good logo doesn’t go amiss either – a sticker of a city’s logo travels a long way.

This form of positive marketing and PR is based on a number of things. The weather has a massive impact here. And the weather is changing. Our travel and lifestyle teams used to sell, say, holidays in the Maldives only at very specific times of year (winter sun). Now however, the weather patterns have made the Maldives a great place to visit almost year-round. Regrettably, the weather is a pleasant marketing attribute as opposed to cities now having to be concerned about their air quality which becomes a serious health issue. One quickly moves from light pleasantries about the wonder of the weather in the city to its air quality, or lack of. This immediately becomes a crisis comms piece of work in trying to reassure visitors, but more property buyers and families that the city is a great place to raise healthy children.

Terrorist attacks follow suit. As I write I am sitting in our office in NYC. A member of staff told me today that her parents did not want her to visit Europe (or our office in London) due to the fear of further terrorist attacks. This despite the fact that the recent terrorist attack in Manhattan happened within .5m of our NY office. Trying to reassure people of a city’s safety is extremely difficult, and without wanting to do myself out of a job – takes a long time. Fear and uncertainty don’t often get quickly forgotten. Having said that, the frequency of terrorist attacks that have rocked so many cities across the world make it difficult to remember which city, when, how many.

To this end, cities have to focus even further on their branding and comms strategies. What are they wonderful for? It is interesting that as the world globalises, cities, rather than countries become the marketing focus of aspirational brands. When you discuss alcohol brands, marketing efforts quite literally focus on “hot spots” within cities, not more generic marketing to a whole nation – but being seen and enjoyed in “hot” cities and hotspots. Pinpoint marketing. Think Faena Miami as a perfect example. And not without significant investment either. Luxury fashion brands will look at a country and decide exactly what cities within it they want retail bricks and mortar in, where their key customers hang out. The property and retail renaissance of Covent Garden is a great example of a city destination being massively re-invigorated, re-branded, re-positioned.

Money also does make cities go round. In the post-Brexit European block, smart-money wonders where it should go? And the creativity in a country’s tax advantages, the search for passports with wider opportunities, interesting income tax, CGT and succession tax advantages make for interesting dinner party conversation as the wealthy decide which city they will collectively descend upon, make “cool” and enjoy whilst preserving and increasing their wealth.

And finally – food. When it actually comes to it, outside of secondary attractions or survival – our interest in food never seems to wane. The chat around food, where people ate in cities comes a very close second to the sunshine they enjoyed or the air that they breathed. Our obsession with food, restaurants, different cuisines and chefs abound – and cities are doing a great job of marketing this.

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