Meet the IPM: Interview with Mihalis Kavaratzis

mihalis kavaratzisMihalis Kavaratzis is Associate Professor of Marketing at the School of Business, University of Leicester, UK. He holds a PhD on city marketing from the University of Groningen, Netherlands and has taught marketing and tourism related courses in the Netherlands, Hungary and the UK. His research focuses on the theory and application of place marketing, place branding and tourism destination marketing. Mihalis also acts as an adviser and delivers workshops for local authorities on Place Marketing and Place Branding. He has published extensively on those topics including the co-edited volumes ‘Towards Effective Place Brand Management’ (with G.J. Ashworth, 2010), ‘Rethinking Place Branding’ (with G. Warnaby and G.J. Ashworth, 2015) and ‘Inclusive Place Branding’ (with M. Giovanardi and M. Lichrou, 2017). Mihalis is a Senior Fellow of the Institute of Place Management.

Mihalis Kavaratzis, you are one of the most prominent and I believe most original thinkers in Place Branding? How did you come to be interested in the field?

Mihalis Kavaratzis: I studied Business Administration and then Marketing before working in what we call ‘the industry’. During my years in the industry, I kept thinking that there must be better ways to use my marketing knowledge. It will sound romantic but I wanted to find a way to use marketing for purposes other than helping rich companies get richer… An assignment I had written for my Masters had been on place promotion (a predecessor of place branding) and this had helped make the crucial link between my acquired passion for marketing and my more natural passion for tourism and places. That’s how I decided to go back to academia and, as they say, the rest is history… The truth is that this field keeps me excited. Branding applications in the context of urban development and tourism are particularly challenging as traditional branding theories are not necessarily helpful. So, it’s a fascinating field.

Besides writing, teaching and researching you have been involved in consulting projects. Can you tell us about your experiences in some of them?

For an academic, it is always very exciting to see the world of practice with its political constraints, tight deadlines, limited budgets and urgent problems. I think this has helped me ‘ground’ my research work more to the realities of practice and I like to think I offered a more holistic view. I have experienced a certain degree of misapprehension about the nature and potential of place branding so I have developed training programmes for local authorities. This is very beneficial as I can engage with practitioners more closely than in consultancy situations. It is also funny to see peoples’ reactions to things you consider obvious or common sense. For example, I was doing a project in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, with several streams of branding activities. To my surprise, what attracted the attention of the local press, was my very simple suggestion to provide training for taxi drivers across the U.S. border in El Paso. I find it very satisfactory to be able to assist other peoples’ work so I plan to continue doing this.

Place branding has evolved both as a concept and a practice. What are the main lines of development?

Mihalis Kavaratzis: Yes, place branding has come a long way I think. In the past, it used to be considered equal to the design of a logo and the development of a promotional campaign but currently there is a wider understanding of the several tools and methods that go beyond these. Another positive development is the increasing realisation that places are very peculiar branding objects. People have turned to geography and political studies to understand more about what we are trying to brand. While this is a theoretical issue, I think it has become evident in practice as well. The development that I am mostly glad to see is the shift of attention to the role of various stakeholders and the attempt to engage them more in branding. This takes various forms, from simple tourism campaigns that are based on what locals say about their place to more elaborate participatory strategies. All these have been assisted by a better integration of ideas and practices stemming from several fields like place making, heritage management and tourism and I must say that organisations such as the IPM have really facilitated this integration.

You are a Senior Fellow of the Institute of Place Management. What can the IPM offer in terms of bringing Place Branding and Place Management together?

Mihalis Kavaratzis: I was honoured with a Senior Fellowship, which I am very excited about. As I just said, the IPM has already been a catalyst for the advancement of the field. The IPM has, in my view at least, based its development and interventions on a combination of in-depth understanding of places with a practice-oriented approach and what I call a “make-a-real-difference” mentality. This is great to see and has been very inspirational so I am proud to be part of the IPM’s community. It is important to continue this work and I would like to highlight the contribution of the Journal of Place Management and Development (the IPM’s official journal), which has hosted several great articles about place branding. I think that with its online platform, the workshops, the study trips and other events, the IPM is offering a lot both to place branding and place management as well as places in general. I am personally looking very much forward to the Study Trip to Athens coming up in a few months.