by Valentin Schipfer
What does Place Branding actually mean? Is the theoretic fundament clear or is it questionable? Can already more clarity be provided in its definitions and methods? Is there some progress made in this field by the scientific community? Into which directions has this field developed? Are there any new influences to this interdisciplinary discourse? All these self-reflecting questions were asked by the community during the International Place Branding Conference Special Edition in Utrecht from 20th to 21st of January 2012. Of course not all of them could be answered at once.
In cooperation with the city of Utrecht and the University Utrecht the two-day conference took place at the Centraal Museum of the fourth biggest Dutch town. 83 participants took part on the first day and listened to the welcome adress held by Hans Sakkers, the Head of the Department of Public, International and Subsidy Affairs Utrecht and by Ron Boschma, the Director of Urban and Regional Research Centre Utrecht. This was followed by a Keynote by the urban and regional geographer Martin Boisen.
After a short coffee break the participants from 21 different nations had the chance to choose between two parallel sessions – both dealing with the Roots of Place Branding. Just to name a few: The conflict between place brand identity and cultural identity was highlighted in an interesting contribution from a Polish cultural studies student. An American PhD student gave insights into her latest results about urban design and its influence on place branding in the entrepreneurial city. A presentation on the influence of place of origin on agricultural products evaluation was held by a participant from Mexico.
For the first afternoon a parallel session about defining and measuring methodologies for place branding had been arranged. One of the presentations showed how empty, damaged spaces could be turned into long-term lively places and new destinations for communities in Belgium. A speaker then depicted how a film festival in Greece could be used as a branding tool for a peripheral town. While another important input by a Swedish participant focused on employer branding and its contribution to place branding.
Before the end of the first day, Robert Govers, a co-editor at the Journal of Place Branding and Public Diplomacy spoke about the roots and boots of place branding. After these exhausting but worthwhile sessions and keynotes mostly everybody enjoyed the 5-course finger-food welcome dinner with the traditional Arretjescake at the Court Hotel.
The second day started with a keynote by the City Branding -author Keith Dinnie who gave an introduction into the politics of branding cities and nations. According to this keynote the morning sessions then also dealt with the politics of place branding. Listeners were confronted with topics like the mediating role of respect in citizen participation by a german PhD from the Erasmus University of Rotterdam. Hence a presentation from Russia introduced the audience in city marketing plans of a former gold-mining city. A participant from Sweden then presented strategies and governance of place branding in Chinese mega-cities.
After a short coffee break in the revitalized vaults of a former church Mihalis Kavaratzis and Gregory Ashworth gave an important keynote. It was titled “Place Branding and Culture: Disconnection instead of Synergy?” which thematically introduced the last sessions. They all treated topics concerning place branding and culture. A speaker from the Great-Britain depicted a project branding the memory of a former coal mining community in the South Wales Valley. Another innovative approach was pictured by an African consultant showing how a state in Nigeria can effectively brand itself through cultural festivals. All the sessions enjoyed a balanced number of listeners.
The closing panel was then moderated by Ares Kalandides who also described his thoughts here. Jan Brown, Gregory Ashworth, Robert Govers, Martin Boisen and Keith Dinnie took part at the panel.
Summing up the conference’s feedback was more than positive. The presentations and keynotes were even on a higher level than at the first one in Bogóta. A maturing process of the Place Branding discourse is foreseeable and encourages to start already to prepare the next place branding conference in Manchester from 18th – 20th January 2013 together with the Institute of Place Management . Some of the papers, handed in by senior academic participants , will be selected and will appear in a Special Issue of the Journal of Place Management & Development.
Thanks to all the participants once again, for your contributions and for your useful questions.