City Marketing

Introduction

Classic city slogans like ‘‘I ? New York’’ and ‘‘Glasgow’s Miles Better’’ are so embedded in the popular consciousness as to have long outlasted their official use by their respective municipalities, chambers of commerce, and convention and visitors bureaus. Cities and towns are increasingly associated with symbols, slogans, or taglines (‘‘What Happens Here Stays Here. Las Vegas’’ or ‘‘Johannesburg. A World Class African City,’’ for example). These slogans are the most widely recognizable elements of an interconnected group of contemporary strategies know by a number of names including, urban entrepreneurialism, civic boosterism, urban branding, and city marketing. They are intended to enhance a city’s competitive advantage over others in the context of zerosum competition for resources, investment, jobs, and tourist revenue. While the ubiquity and persuasiveness of city marketing strategies often makes them appear as natural and normal activities of city governments and business organizations, geographers and others have shown that citymarketing is a social process with a history, a geography, and a political economy. Through the empirical study of city marketing and through efforts to conceptualize the contemporary process in terms of its political, economic, and social contexts, geographers have identified how the character of city marketing has changed through time, how it draws on certain aspects of the built environment, and why and in whose interests city marketing has developed into its present form.

These themes highlight a number of myths, tactics, and intended audiences that characterize most city marketing strategies. Key myths that permeate city marketing schemes include: the city as welcoming and safe, vibrant and fun, tolerant and accepting of social and cultural difference, environmentally friendly, culturally rich, business friendly, and as strategically and conveniently located. Favorite tactics of city marketers, beyond sloganeering, include: the provision of packages of business incentives, the (re)building, policing, and cleaning of the urban built environment to keep its appearance in line with the city’s marketing image, and continual efforts to maintain coherence in the city’s marketing message by keeping disparate interest groups either ‘on message’ or out of the spotlight. Finally, many city marketing strategies are characterized by their attention to a range of audiences or niche markets: potential business investors, potential residents and workers, tourists and conventioneers, the promoters of mega events like the Olympics, grant giving agencies, and local residents. In this regard, city marketing is not only strategic; it is also powerful and political. It involves struggles by different groups seeking to shape cities in ways that satisfy their interests.

City Marketing in Historical–Geographical Context

City marketing did not emerge fully formed from the heart of the Big Apple, nor was it a child of Mr. Happy, Glasgow’s cartoon symbol. Rather, the legendary New York and Glasgow campaigns of the 1970s and 1980s marked only the beginning of the contemporary phase of city marketing. While contemporary city marketing has important distinguishing contexts, features, and impacts, it is worth pointing briefly to earlier examples of the phenomenon. Place marketing has occurred in various forms since at least the middle of the nineteenth-century. In the United States at that time, the development and sale of railroad towns on the Anglo frontier was facilitated by advertising in the East and elsewhere. In the first half of the twentieth century, resorts and newly built suburbs became major foci of place marketing efforts in Britain and the US as mass tourism burgeoned. In these and other contexts marketing was driven largely by private actors.

By the last third of the twentieth century, a series of political–economic restructurings set the context for the contemporary era of city marketing. Geographers generally regard the economic crises of the early 1970s as marking a series of political and economic shifts that fundamentally changed the character of cities and urban governance. This was a time, in the Western world, of deindustrialization, high rates of unemployment, and a growing turn to fiscal austerity at all levels of the state. These conditions paralleled and precipitated the growing popularity of a neoliberal ideology that advocated the benefits of a market logic and for the ‘rollback’ of the state through, for example, the privatization of nationalized industries. In the many industrialized cities that had enjoyed economic prosperity in the post war period, local governments and chambers of commerce had largely managed the economy and social reproduction but had not engaged in the sort of boosterism characteristic of private actors in earlier years. With the drying up of tax revenues and flows of funding from other levels of government, these actors found themselves compelled to act entrepreneurially in order to gain a competitive advantage as they sought to fix flows of resources, jobs, and capital in their city rather than see them stream into another.

Placing City Marketing: Geographical Approaches

Urban entrepreneurialism, then, sets a context for understanding contemporary city marketing, as do the activities of coalitions of political and economic elites.

Urban Entrepreneurialism, Growth Coalitions, and City Marketing

Urban geographers’ conceptualization of contemporary city marketing is heavily influenced by David Harvey’s classic article, ‘From managerialism to entrepreneurialism’. Harvey makes three related claims. First, that since the early 1970s, city governments have had to take an entrepreneurial stance in relation to capital as a result of the changes described above. Second, this shift has entailed a relocation of control over, and risks emanating from urban economic development. Control of local governance is increasingly vested in private and unelected institutions. Local state agencies are, thus, left playing a facilitative role in urban policy making while assuming more of the risks of development. It is the relocation of risk that Harvey sees as distinguishing contemporary entrepreneurial city marketing from earlier forms of civic boosterism. His third argument is that the entrepreneurial impulse has encouraged an initiatory or speculative ethos in entrepreneurial cities that leads coalitions of private and public actors to focus more resources and attention on the construction of spectacular sites or built environments that will, it is hoped, prime the pump for further private investment. In this case, the geographical lens at work is one focusing on specific scales of action (such as the global, national, and local) and on the ways in which processes generally seen to be operating at one scale are, in fact, thoroughly imbricated with the others. This perspective provides a great deal of insight into the structural conditions for and practices that constitute city marketing.

Who are the actors involved in contemporary city marketing and what are their key interests? Entrepreneurial urbanism has not sidelined the types of business interests involved in nineteenth-century marketing. In fact, these locally dependent place entrepreneurs, or rentiers, are crucial to the process because their economic interests are based in drawing rent from land and buildings in a specific city. Therefore, it is generally in their interests to advocate for policies that will increase land values and intensify land uses in their locality. In order to achieve this goal, rentiers (i.e., developers, construction companies, property financiers, the real estate industry, etc.) must bring local politicians – a group that is as much, or more, locally dependent than they are – into a growth oriented coalition. The largescale political–economic conditions that Harvey identifies in the post 1970 period make local policy makers increasingly likely to engage wholeheartedly in such a coalition, offering as it does an opportunity to increase tax revenues. These actors join with other institutions and groups who view their interests – economic or otherwise – as lying with local economic growth. The other institutions include local media, utilities, local arts and entertainment organizations, and universities. As members of a private–public growth coalition, locally dependent actors propagate the myths and engage in the tactics of city marketing in order to attract and fix mobile capital in their place.

The Role of the Urban Built Environment in City Marketing

Geographers have also employed a second, not unrelated lens to the study of city marketing. It involves a concern with the mutually constitutive relationship between the built environment and social action. This approach seeks to understand the ‘rewriting’ of the city through marketing strategies in (1) textual and representational terms and (2) a physical sense.

City marketing frequently entails the writing and rewriting of a particular ‘script’ or story about a city, particularly – but not only – for cities that are attempting to rebound from economic crisis and decline. There is an intent by the actors described above to present what they see as the most attractive essence of their city to the world via an assemblage of cut and pasted tangible and intangible elements of its landscape, economy, society, and culture. This brand is not only captured in a slogan and a logo but also involves the careful managing and presentation of specific images of the city through city websites, marketing brochures, and, where possible, via stage managed media events. The recent millennium celebration, for example, was used by cities across the globe to present their best and most spectacular face on live television by carefully staging their midnight fireworks celebrations against backdrops of their most picturesque or significant landscapes. Paris used the Eiffel Tower, Mumbai employed the Gateway of India, Moscow’s fireworks exploded above St. Basil’s Cathedral and the Kremlin, Rio de Janiero’s lit up Copacabana Beach, and so on. Yet, the use of the urban built environment in urban image making is hardly a once in a millennium endeavor. Cities like Sydney, which have successfully competed for mega events like the Olympics, offer their iconic landscapes as stage sets for global media consumption during those events. More prosaic still, cities such as Barcelona use elements of their built environments, like unique styles of architecture, to convey specific meanings to particular audiences.

While the urban built environment can be used as part of a carefully constructed writing and rewriting of a city, geographers also note the ways in which the writing of cities for marketing purposes can provoke the reshaping, policing, and managing of its physical spaces. This form of physical reworking involves: (1) the building or renovation of elements of the built environment to enhance or correspond to a marketing goal and (2) the policing, cleaning, and managing of urban public spaces with the express intention of making them correspond to a carefully constructed brand and, thus, to make them feel safe and welcoming for those who the growth coalition sees as its most valuable clients. Examples of the first strategy abound. The most renowned ones in the literature are Baltimore’s Harborplace development and the surrounding Inner Harbor and Boston’s Faneuil Hall Marketplace but examples of these ‘festival spaces’ intended to contribute to revamped city images can be found across the world. A recent addition has been the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, which has been credited with markedly enhancing that city’s global image and tourist economy. Indeed, the phenomenon of urban growth coalitions copying successful development models from elsewhere led Harvey, in his classic article, to identify a problematic ‘serial reproduction’ of the sameness across urban landscapes which, by definition, crowds the marketplace and dilutes the competitive advantage that the festive space, aquarium, or sports stadium provides to a city.

Every brand – its slogan, its logo, its iconic landscape elements – has a shelf life and the expiration dates seem to arrive all the more quickly when marketplace crowding compels other growth coalitions to innovate and find new marketing styles and strategies. The production of an urban brand is, then, an ongoing process, not a one off event. Not only does it entail careful monitoring of the representational strategy (including which elements of the built environment to foreground) but it also involves the constant policing and management of the city itself, so that its public spaces – and even its people – or at least those who are on public view in spaces likely to be traversed by tourists or business people – correspond to and enhance the brand. A number of related tactics are involved in this element of a branding strategy. At a general level, the city is frequently divided into ‘frontstage’ and ‘backstage’ areas. The former are tourist and/or business and shopping zones like Central Glasgow. The latter are areas seen as dangerous, unpalatable, or of little interest to highly valued visitors and residents. More or less subtle representational strategies can be used to channel valued populations in certain directions including, for example, the careful construction of tourist maps to focus the tourist gaze on specific sites/sights.

This channeling of people through the urban built environment is now frequently the purview of employees of Business Improvement Associations, Business Improvement Districts (BIDs), or their equivalents. These are private organizations, funded by special localized levies and taxes, that have, under conditions of neoliberal entrepreneurialism, assumed the formerly public functions of managing clearly delimited areas of the city (frequently the downtown). These private governance agencies not only offer tourists advice, but also frequently provide street sweeping services in their area and contract with private security firms to enforce bylaws and guard against so called ‘quality of life’ crimes (e.g., panhandling, public intoxication, graffiti tagging, and prostitution). BIDs, then, are inspired by and seek to reinforce some of the central myths of city marketing – the city as safe and friendly, fun, and without obstacles to commerce. The Sharp Edge of the Hard Sell: Managing and

Policing the Branded City

Many have noted that the attempts by tourist agencies, chambers of commerce, and BIDs to mange the urban environment in correspondence with a particular marketing strategy are often armored with a hard edge of high technology and ‘zero tolerance’ policing strategies. These strategies frequently involve the blanketing of city neighborhoods with closed circuit television (CCTV) surveillance, the reintroduction of neighborhood police stations, and the strict enforcement of laws for even the most minor infractions, under the ‘broken windows’ model of policing. While many applaud the ‘cleaning up’ of cities where these tactics are deployed, others argue that this sharp edge of image conscious urban governance marks a new high (or low ) point in a mean spiritied, ‘revanchist’ war against the poor, and particularly the homeless, in contemporary cities.

Many of these strategies and the politics around them are epitomized by Times Square in New York. In the 1990s, under the guidance of Mayor Giuliani and a private–public development partnership, this neighborhood which was renowned as a ‘red light’ district but was also regarded by many as the vibrant heart of the city, was transformed into what proponents see as the welcoming face of the new tourist and business friendly Manhattan and skeptics regard as a bland, and literally Disneyfied space of consumption (featuring a Disney store, Disney theaters, and a studio of Disney owned ABC Television). The square has its own BID, whose street cleaners patrol constantly, a police substation, and is in Midtown Manhattan, a neighborhood where almost every square foot of public space is covered by at least one CCTV camera. Of course, the rewritten square is also the site of the annual, internationally televised street party to welcome the New Year – an event staged to convey the city’s image as a friendly, safe, vibrant and fun, if sometimes chilly, place.

Know Your Audience: Targets of City Marketing

It is already evident from the discussion above that city marketers tend to have more than one audience in mind when they create a brand. Clearly tourists, potential residents, and business investors are in the sights of most urban growth coalitions when they charge marketing consultants with enhancing their city’s image. It is worth elaborating on the range of audiences – and the audience specific tactics – that have been identified in studies of city marketing, however.

Potential business investors are enticed with talk of a generally ‘business friendly’ environment, tax incentives, a willing and well trained workforce, ongoing economic growth, an already existing cluster of similar businesses and suppliers, help with customized facilities, proximity or easy transportation to markets, and high quality of life for CEOs and valued workers. Potential residents, who in many but not all cases would be workers in the city, are enticed with the promise of jobs and abundant career opportunities, a low cost of living, and high quality of life, encompassing everything from proximity to attractive natural environments and recreational opportunities adjacent to the city, to bike paths, high quality recreational facilities and spectator sports, good schools and colleges, abundant ‘high’ and ‘street’ culture, and so on. The combination of economic development and quality of life discourses has certainly been at the heart of many city marketing campaigns in the last 15 years. Marketers seek to present their city as an economic boomtown and, simultaneously, an ideal hometown. Among potential residents and workers who have become particularly coveted since the turn of the millennium in North America has been the so called creative class of young workers employed in the technology and design industries. Cities pursuing this market niche have sought to highlight their vibrant neighborhoods, coffee shops, active (rather than spectator) recreational opportunities, diversity, cosmopolitanism, and ‘cool’. Urban elites who market to tourists and conventioneers are, for their part, likely to touch on some of the same quality of life and ‘quality of place’ images outlined above but are more likely to foreground the more immediate, visceral, and ephemeral experiences available in the city – from art galleries to night life. Yet, the tourist market is highly segmented and city marketers are careful to tend to a variety of niches within it.

There are other important audiences for city marketers beyond the ‘big three’. For example, certain cities spend a great deal of resources on marketing themselves to the organizers of spectacular mega events, such as the Olympic Games, the soccer World Cup, or to those, like the officials of the European Commission, who can bestow titles like ‘Capital of Culture’. These bids take a great deal of effort from a range of institutions and volunteers and involve often quite detailed marketing strategies. The time, care, and money put into these bids indicates the substantial nature of expected returns and legacies from events like the Olympics, particularly as a result of the expected global media coverage. Clearly, various print and electronic media are used by city marketers, yet the marketers do not necessarily always control the ways their city will be portrayed. Thus, the media become not only an agent of city marketing, but also a target audience as city marketers seek to persuade them to present their city favorably in feature stories, travel articles, and the increasingly ubiquitous rankings of the best cites for business, quality of life, young people, etc.

Each of the audiences discussed here requires a different set of marketing tactics. Two more audiences, which also necessitate specific marketing styles, are worth noting. First, while cities’ relationships with funding streams from other levels of government have changed since the 1970s, this is not to say that central government, for example, is no longer important as a source of revenues. In some cases, like the UK, there is evidence of a focus by local elites on competitive bidding for grants from central government. Therefore, urban governments, private–public partnerships, etc. must present themselves in a particular way through the grant proposal process. Second, it is worth noting that city marketing is not always externally focused. Marketing often entails a focus on the population of the city itself. This is frequently seen as part of an effort to legitimize the policies and objectives of governing elites, to emphasize that entrepreneurial growth strategies are ‘value free’ (i.e., they benefit everyone in the city) or, in the case of the ‘‘We are LondONErs’’ campaign, to shape a particular identity among the population. London’s campaign was developed in response to the bombings of 7 July 2005 and is intended to portray the city as multicultural but united.

Staying on Message: The Politics of City Marketing

As the London campaign suggests, city marketing has a number of political motivations and implications. The importance marketers place on creating and managing a coherent, singular brand for a city necessitates political activity intended to persuade a wide variety of interests within a broad growth coalition to get on and stay on ‘the same page’. Growth coalitions comprise interests from a range of economic sectors, as well as state actors and representatives of other institutions, such as universities. Therefore, there can be different foci within a coalition. This ‘silo’ effect can be exacerbated in larger cities – or in urban regions where numerous cities have combined their resources to construct a single marketing strategy – since even interests from the same sector might find themselves at odds over development strategy due to their embeddedness in certain neighborhoods or municipalities. Thus, a continual politics of consensus building and persuasion within the coalition is necessary if a single brand is to be articulated and maintained. While this pluralistic political context does produce successful long term agreements on coherent marketing strategies, other examples such as that of the Ontario cities that brand themselves as ‘Canada’s Technology Triangle’ have highlighted the difficulties in maintaining coherence under a single marketing banner.

The politics of persuasion and consensus building operates not only within growth coalitions but also between the coalition and the larger population of a city. In order to present a unified and welcoming marketing image, marketers must find ways to dampen opposition to their particular branding and development vision. Thus, it is necessary to build what Cox and Mair call a ‘localist ideology’ where most residents of a city are persuaded that they are worthy, deserving, and unified in relationship to the ‘outside world’. Not surprisingly this sort of hegemonic discourse is never complete or entirely convincing. Not all residents will be persuaded by a marketing strategy or a particular development agenda. There will be protests, as there so often are before and during Olympic Games, as activists for groups whose interests and identities are elided by the marketing and development strategy coalesce around their own counter slogans such as ‘‘Healthcare Before Olympics,’’ and ‘‘Homes Before Games’’ (two oppositional slogans referring to Vancouver’s successful bid for the 2010 Winter Olympics). The failure of the politics of persuasion and the rise of dissent within or without a growth coalition can, in some cases, be quite damaging to a brand and can provoke elites to try even harder to put what they see as a city’s best face forward.

Future Directions

The study of city marketing has been a vibrant element of urban geographical scholarship since the beginning of the 1990s. Yet, there are aspects of the phenomena that have been less covered than others. Furthermore, there is a danger of the literature becoming rather uninspiring. In the latter regard, it seems that with a few exceptions, most approaches to city marketing come from the political economy perspective outlined above. While that is a powerful and valuable approach that is worth continuing to pursue, it is one that seems well worked out, conceptually. Therefore, there is a danger that new studies will, ironically, engage in a ‘serial reproduction’ of their own – one producing new case studies of slogans and strategies without furthering conceptual understandings. On the other hand, there are signs that the recent turn toward questions of affect in critical human geography and the relatively well established interest among geographers in psychoanalysis might lead to new insight into the ways in which brands, symbols, and slogans move their audiences on a variety of levels.

In the former regard, it seems that while some work is being done in the following three areas, more is necessary. First, the increasingly common way in which urban policy professionals, such as city planners, market their ideas, models, and achievements to their colleagues elsewhere through professional networks and organizations, international ‘best practice’ clearinghouses, and through the Internet is a very specialized type of city marketing, but one that has an effect on cities and one that can both inform and be informed by burgeoning geographical literatures on policy transfer and mobilities. Second, more detailed analyses and evaluations of the effects of marketing strategies are necessary. Can campaigns intended to attract new workers or investment be measured in order to evaluate their direct and indirect consequences? Third, as city marketing becomes more common beyond the Western industrialized world, it seems reasonable to assume that analyses conducted in a variety of different historical, cultural, and political–economic contexts would benefit from and lead to theorizations of postcoloniality and international development. Are standard theoretical perspectives tenable, for instance, if they are employed to study city marketing in socialist, post-socialist, post-apartheid, or developmentalist states? These are open and interesting questions.