When Public Diplomacy Meets City Branding: The Case of The Hague, Netherlands

Connecting the dots between place branding, public diplomacy and economic development is one of the five topics for researchers to explore in 2017. In this research insight and case study on the Hague Peace and Justice project in the Netherlands, Ingrid de Beer and Arthur van Buitenen illustrate how beneficial close cooperation can be for developing and communicating a city’s unique identity.

Learn about:

  • What led to this city branding case study;
  • The key findings from the study;
  • Challenges of using city branding to promote peace and justice;
  • What makes The Hague’s approach to city branding innovative and unique;
  • Main insights gained from the project.

Arthur and Ingrid, why the interest in The Hague, place branding and public diplomacy? What brought you to the topic?

Ingrid: What strikes me time and again is the enormous influence of the combined international law and justice knowledge in The Hague. It truly makes a difference in people’s lives all over the world and so few people know about it. My public diplomacy contribution is to help all these organisations in The Hague, from courts and tribunals, to NGOs and knowledge institutions and journalists to tell the good and powerful stories and make people aware that there is no peace without justice.

Arthur: What fascinates me in the Project Peace and Justice is the collaboration between such a diverse group of organizations: the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, other ministries and the City of The Hague, judges in the courts and tribunals, legal experts, journalists, NGO representatives, just to name some. My interest as a researcher is to find out what it is that makes these people work together—to analyse the dynamics.

You just had your case study on ‘The Hague, City of Peace and Justice’ published in Place Branding and Public Diplomacy. Which are your key findings?

Ingrid: An important goal was to share our experiences in the Project Peace and Justice as a model of modern networked public diplomacy. What we learned is that an event-driven approach was crucial to get things done. If you ask experts to come to an agreement on a text it easily takes months, but if you tell them their president or chairperson is on a public panel in two weeks and needs a joint position, there suddenly is a deadline and they will agree.

Arthur: Another key learning is that the project coordinator was positioned at arm’s length of all participants, which established a trustful working relationship with all involved. It meant that events balanced out and served a combined interest. Quite an accomplishment and a dynamic we tried to pinpoint and describe in a way so that others can learn and implement.

In your view, which are the main challenges with regard to using city branding to promote peace and/or justice?

Ingrid: Interesting you mention branding. As a public diplomacy programme, the Project Peace and Justice is mainly policy and stakeholder oriented. We are now aligning the Holland Branding and The Hague City Branding programmes with public diplomacy.

The power of branding and stakeholder-driven public diplomacy combined is a great driver for strengthening reputation.

Everyone working in either field will appreciate the challenge of aligning these programmes in terms of different dynamics, instruments and messaging. The question is: how do you make marketing professionals and diplomats work together?

Arthur: Probably an interesting dynamic to research and a topic for a next article.

Has your view on The Hague’s place brand strategy and public diplomacy impact changed since you conducted your research?

Arthur: To be honest I didn’t have a very strong view when I started our research. What I noticed is that Holland branding and The Hague city branding at the one hand and the more policy and stakeholder oriented public diplomacy on the other hand over the years developed a mutual understanding.

One of the dynamics I, for one, did not expect was the outside-in interest of the Dutch missions abroad. Their call was to align the various programmes, as they had to choose out of too many.

The Hague was awarded best place brand strategy of the year at the City Nation Place Forum last November. In your view, what makes this such an innovative or exceptional case?

Ingrid: What makes the case of The Hague stand out is the truly unique combination of peace and justice. The Hague is the international city of peace and justice. It houses the International Court of Justice, the only principle United Nations institution outside New York.

The iconic Peace Palace is unique in the world, and around it, more than two hundred organisations work day in, day out on preserving international justice. This provides an exceptional case and great material to build a strategy around.

Do you know examples of other cities where branding was used for the purpose of promoting peace?

Ingrid: Other cities and countries also use their contributions to peace in communications and public diplomacy. Geneva, Vienna, Oslo, Copenhagen just to mention a few.

What makes The Hague stand out is the combination of peace with international law and justice. To my knowledge, The Hague is the only city that makes use of this unique combination.

Which would you consider the most important insight of your research for city developers or managers?

Ingrid: What helped in developing the Hague Project Peace and Justice is that we were able to build on a unique feature: the Peace Palace. To have such an icon truly helped to build momentum, both for the public diplomacy approach and the branding programme. So my advice is to look for the truly unique feature of your city.

Arthur: My advice is to engage with others around the same issue. So not necessarily ally with other cities, but with those parties that share the same issues or problems, even if they are outside your comfort zone. Diversity is an attribute of strong stakeholder coalitions.

Thank you, Ingrid and Arthur.

To explore this topic further, read the full case study here. More about the City Nation Place awards here.

About the authors

Ingrid de Beer The HagueIngrid de Beer

is coordinator and programme manager of the Hague Peace and Justice Project. Previously she worked as senior public diplomacy advisor at the Dutch Embassy in Washington DC. Living in Ghana, she profiled The Netherlands in Western Africa.

Ingrid studied law at Leiden University and public diplomacy at the University of Southern California.

Connect with Ingrid de Beer on LinkedIn

Arthur van Buitenen, The HagueArthur van Buitenen

is PhD candidate at Leiden University, Faculty of Governance and Global Affairs in The Hague. He researches influence and coalition building in global private governance regimes aimed at sustainability.

Arthur studied political science and European and international environmental law at Leiden University.

Connect with Arthur van Buitenen on LinkedIn

About Place Branding and Public Diplomacy

Place Branding and Public Diplomacy is the first and only journal to concentrate on the practice of applying brand strategy and other marketing techniques and disciplines to the economic, social, political and cultural development of cities, regions and countries.

The Place Brand Observer has teamed up with the journal’s publishers, Springer and Palgrave Macmillan, to share with you key research insights and findings.

Learn more about the journal here or read the stories of the journal’s editors, Robert Govers and Nick Cull.

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