Meet the IPM: Interview with Marta Hereźniak

Marta HereźniakMarta Hereźniak is associate member of the Institute of Place Management and Adjunct Professor at the University of Lodz, Poland. She is the author of the first in Poland doctoral dissertation and the first book about nation branding, expert of Polish Chamber of Commerce and the Institute of Polish Brand. She is a consultant in brand-related projects for companies, public institutions (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Regional Development etc.) and local governments and a member of Brand for Poland project. She is a leading consultant in the project on Kazakhstan country brand and Co-author of European Funds Brand strategy in Poland. Her research interests include place brand identity development; measurement of place branding effectiveness, stakeholder engagement in place branding, place of origin branding.

Marta Hereźniak, you are one of the first people to write a PhD in Poland on nation branding. Where did that interest come from?

Marta Hereźniak: The story of my involvement in nation (place) branding dates back to 2002 when I started my PhD programme with the intention to write a thesis on the positioning of Polish brands on the EU market. Poland was just two years away from accession and the subject seemed very much needed at that time. Literally a couple of weeks later I learned about the Institute of Polish Brand, a think-tank affiliated with the Polish Chamber of Commerce (PCC). Very soon I showed up at their doorstep offering my enthusiasm and dedication to the subject and – to my own surprise – I was accepted. Later, everything happened very quickly: the PCC commissioned Wally Olins to work on the brand for Poland and I was fortunate enough to be involved in this project for many years. During that time I had the opportunity to observe and learn about the political and business dynamics of nation branding process and to confront some creative and organizational challenges that happened along the way. It was an invaluable experience whose results went far beyond the completion of my Ph.D. thesis on managing country-of-origin effect within the framework of nation branding programme, which, to my knowledge, was the first one in Poland to tackle this issue. I wrote a book on nation branding (published in 2011), met people who influenced my way of thinking about places and its reputation – just to mention Wally Olins and Simon Anholt and became involved in the popularisation of place branding in Poland both in the academic and practical sense.

You have worked extensively with public authorities in Poland, what has your experience been until now? Can you give us some examples of projects you’ve undertaken?

Marta Hereźniak: I have worked with many public institutions both on local and national level. I consider these experiences essential for understanding how place branding and place management work in practice. I find cooperation with these entities especially satisfying as there is usually less time pressure and more conceptual freedom. Of course, one needs to realize the political nature of these institutions and its consequences for place branding. Thankfully, more and more Polish public authorities have a better understanding of what place branding is, the approach of young professional public officers facilitates the work of the consultants. Still however, the promotion/communication oriented approach to place branding prevails among the representatives of such institutions so usually the initial meetings are dedicated to elicitation of the common understanding of such terms as brand, branding, promotion, reputation etc.

During the past years I worked as a consultant with, for instance, the Polish Chamber of Commerce, Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Brand for Poland, Ministry of Regional Development on the brand strategy of European funds in Poland, Lodz Voivodship on their brand strategy and the City of Lodz on brand effectiveness indicators and Expo 2022 brand strategy.

You have been involved in a project about the Kazakhstan country brand. Can you tell us more about that challenge?

Marta Hereźniak: I was invited to take part in a 3-year long research project funded by the Ministry of Science and Education of Kazakhstan in 2012/ 2013 as an external consultant to work on the concept of the country’s brand. It appeared that the researchers from one of the Kazakh universities were familiar with my book on nation branding and they contacted my university to start a formal cooperation.

I have to admit that the responsibility I felt for the outcome of this project was immense but process itself was truly fascinating. Of course, the biggest challenge in this case was to immerse yourself in the culture of the place, the character of its people, the landscape but also in its political, economic and social reality. With this kind of work there has to be the kind of understanding about the place that makes one open to the client’s point of view and respectful towards their sense of identity. Our work lasted effectively about six months and we produced a detailed brand concept for the country together with the proposal of implementation system. It was a scientific research project, however, we cooperated with a number of Kazakh institutions: ministries, universities, foundations, associations and other to acquire their insights and expectations of a country brand. Before me and my colleagues joined the project, our Kazakh fellow researchers did substantial quantitative research on the identity and image of the country so there was a lot to work with.

The two brand reports that we presented as the final outcome of our work was very favourably received however this was a scientific project, not in any way binding for the country authorities who will eventually decide upon its implementation.

You are a member of the Institute of Place Management. What do you expect from such an organization?

Marta Hereźniak: IPM is a great organization, which integrates scholars and practitioners involved in branding and managing of places. Providing networking opportunities, being a knowledge centre, publishing, executing research and consulting projects – this is to my mind what most members, including myself, expect from the Institute. I think IPM should continue to integrate people from various backgrounds to give more depth and recognition to the discipline.