Professor Dominic Medway is an international authority on place marketing and management based with the Institute of Place Management at Manchester Metropolitan University, and Academic Editor of the Journal of Place Management and Development.
His recent research has addressed issues such as stakeholder interaction in urban place partnerships, how litter affects people’s perceptions of space, and the potential role of smell in the marketing of places. You can follow his developments on twitter @dominic_medway, and read about his latest research on the IPM website at: http://www.placemanagement.org/latest-publications/
Ares Kalandides: Dominic Medway, you are considered a leading expert in issues of city marketing. What does it mean for you? Do you think cities really need it or are municipalities wasting their time (and money)?
Dominic Medway: City marketing is arguably anything that helps promote what a city has to offer to its various audiences (residents, tourists and business organisations). It can encompass activities such as place branding, advertising and PR. City marketing can have a number of different, but often interconnected, goals. These include boosting the city image to its audiences, attracting inward investment, attracting tourists and tourist spend, building a sense of civic pride, etc. I think cities do need to engage with marketing activities, as there are increasing levels of competition between urban centres at a global level, and good city marketing is one way of trying to ensure your particular city does well in this environment. A potential problem with city marketing is when it leads to an obsession with league-table comparisons between cities on the basis of various metrics. Indeed, one might argue that such an approach de-emphasises a city’s unique qualities, and is therefore, arguably antithetical to what city marketing is trying to do.
“I think cities do need to engage with marketing activities, as there are increasing levels of competition between urban centres at a global level, and good city marketing is one way of trying to ensure your particular city does well in this environment.”
Do I think cities are wasting their time and money on marketing? No, but I do think there are cases out there where city marketing could be done a lot better. To me that means spending more time listening to what city users have to say about the place – what they like about it, what they don’t like, how they think it could be improved – and then responding to that, not only in how you promote the place, but also in terms of trying make the city better in any identified areas for improvement. This may involve city marketers having a more open dialogue with city managers, and better understanding some of the challenges of city management, even if they are not doing it directly.
Ares Kalandides: Do you recognize any particular current trends in the field of place marketing internationally? What direction do you think research and practice are going to?
Dominic Medway: From my own perspective, I believe there is a growing critical reappraisal of place marketing in theory, and hopefully in practice too, as being too top-down rather than bottom-up in its orientation. What I mean by this is that marketing is a management activity, which unfortunately means it often occurs behind closed doors in board rooms, where a small group of people decide what they believe of is best for a place and how that place might be marketed.
“I would prefer to see a greater efforts to understand what a place already has – the unique qualities of, for example, its people, it built and material form, it cultural capital – and then to celebrate this using marketing communications approaches.”
I don’t think this approach is ideal as it disenfranchises many place stakeholders by diminishing the importance of their connections with, and understandings of, a place, all of which may contribute to place identity. I would prefer to see a greater efforts to understand what a place already has – the unique qualities of, for example, its people, it built and material form, it cultural capital – and then to celebrate this using marketing communications approaches. Indeed, I have argued elsewhere that such a process is less about marketing a place and more about ‘place curation’. In many ways we are all curators of those places we feel we have a stake in – our hometown, a loved holiday destination, a regular work destination.
Ares Kalandides: A paper that caught my eye was the one you co-authored with Gary Warnaby in 2014 for Environment & Planning A on “Toponymic commodification”. Can you explain the concept?
Dominic Medway: Well a toponym is simply the technical term for a place name. One of the things we were referring to in this paper was the growing trend of trying to use toponyms as brand names for places. In some ways this works quite well, such as when the toponym is tied to tangible goods that come from a place – e.g. parma ham from Parma, or champagne wine from the Champagne region of France.
“Developers and property agents have been guilty of in cities – renaming areas of urban space without any consultation with local residents or other stakeholders, largely in an attempt to boost land and property values.”
But I think toponymic commodification becomes more problematic when it moves beyond associations with tangible goods from the place to the place itself. What I mean by this is where place markers and managers attempt to change a place’s toponym to make it sound more attractive, or to use the toponym like a brand name in sloganizing and straplines for the place in question. If not done very carefully, this kind of place marketing and place branding activity appears to trivialise the place. It is something developers and property agents have been guilty of in cities – renaming areas of urban space without any consultation with local residents or other stakeholders, largely in an attempt to boost land and property values. An example would be the renaming of Fitzrovia in London to ‘NoHo’. In many ways, this kind of activity is just another example of the perils of a top-down management approach in place marketing effort – disenfranchising place stakeholders and giving place marketing a bad name.
Ares Kalandides: One of your research projects was “Smell and the City”. What was that about and how is that linked to your other research topics such as retailing and city marketing?
Dominic Medway: That’s a good question. What we have been looking at here is the fact that a lot of place marketing effort is invariably focused on the ocular sense. What I mean by this is that place marketing typically zeros in on things that are visually arresting in a place, and then attempts to promote these to a wider audience, using marketing communications techniques in which the visual register is again dominant.
“How places smell, how they feel to the touch, how they sound and taste, are potentially important parts of their multi-sensory place identity.”
Our suggestion in the ‘Smell and the City’ project is that this focus on the visual ignores the other four senses, particularly the sense of smell. How places smell, how they feel to the touch, how they sound and taste, are potentially important parts of their multi-sensory place identity. As place marketers we need to find a way of capturing this and then promoting it. In terms of the latter, using marketing communication techniques that move beyond the standard visual approaches may help. There are some examples of this out there already, such as odour-impregnated visitor guides that include classic and traditional smells of a place, or soundtracks conveying recognisable place-related noises that can be broadcast to potential place users.
Ares Kalandides:What do you think that the Institute of Place Management can offer its members?
Dominic Medway: I think the Institute represents a unique space that brings together academics and practitioners who care about making places better. As academics we undertake a lot of research on places that practitioners might find really helpful, but we are often quite bad at conveying the findings of that research to practitioners in a meaningful and digestible way. I think the Institute is very good at bridging this gap between academics and practitioners. The research section on the IPM website is a great example of this. It takes academic papers of 6000+ words and breaks them down into 500 word summaries with some key take away messages. This is a great service for academic members of the IPM, as it gets their research viewed by a much wider audience than would normally be expected – something of critical importance with the growth of the impact agenda Equally, practitioners are getting access to a vast network of research activity that would be expensive to obtain
You can find out more about Prof Dominic Medway, including some of his most recent publications by visiting the IPM site.