Climate Emergency: What Place Branders Can Do Right Now

By Malcolm Allan – The focus of this blog post is on the key role which place brand strategists and brand managers can play in helping their city or region to recognise the value and importance of including in those strategies and their communications about them, the action they are taking in mitigating the threats and challenges of the climate emergency..

To define this role let’s start with a basic question – what is it that place brand strategists do? Well….we help places to define their offer, to identify and understand the target market audiences for that offer, to identify proposals for improving or increasing the offer, to communicate the offer to the audiences, telling engaging stories about it, and working with providers of the offer to manage it effectively and identify new providers to help build the offer.

Until the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic the most obvious challenges being faced by place branders were a) the competition from other places for the mind space and spend of target market audiences, and b) the ability of their key stakeholders to come together in partnership to develop, manage and invest in their offer – be it in tourism, culture or inward investment attraction – and collectively promote it.

Now, with the advent of Covid – a present challenge and a very strategic one, is to support and enable cities and regions to plan and take action to mitigate the currently identified effects and impacts of Covid, as well as to convince target market audiences that the place and its offer are safe and still open for business.

Into this mix has been added the desire to “build back better” and “now build green”, seizing the opportunity to avoid returning to the old normal and to define what might be a “new normal” or the “next normal” for their offer. Recognising that the scale of their mobilisation to mitigate the effects of Covid also offers an opportunity for places to take seriously the known and potential challenges and impacts of the climate emergency, to increase their resilience to it.

So….if places are minded to treat the impact of the climate emergency with the seriousness and urgency it requires, recognising that they now need to plan for and take ‘active action’ to begin to mitigate its likely impacts (“active action” being agreeing policies and  then actively implementing them) through creating increased resilience, then what might be the role and responsibilities of place brand strategists?

If you are responsible for developing, implementing and managing a place brand strategy  for your place (be it a country, region, city, urban area or a destination) then there are a number of actions you can take, including those summarised in the short-list below:

  • Persuade your colleagues and political masters of the importance and urgency of taking active action to build the resilience of your place in the face of these threats and the importance of communicating this honestly to your target market audiences.
  • Identify who, among your colleagues, has knowledge of the known and potential impacts of the Climate Emergency on your place and any action being currently taken or being planned to mitigate its impacts.
  • Significantly increase your own knowledge of the many ways that the Climate Emergency is already impacting on places like yours and what those places are doing about it. It’s no shame to learn from others ahead in the game.
  • Conduct, with colleagues, an audit of the known and potential impacts that the Climate Emergency could have, or already has had, on your place; and, in doing so, identify who are the climate change deniers and the climate change realists in your midst. This audit could include, for example, the extent of damage from bush fires, storm flood damage, poor flood water management, the extent of house building in flood plains, the scale of health problems in your population being created by pollution, the chief polluters in your place, the scale of carbon being released into the atmosphere by them, the scale of retrofitting older housing stock required, its insulation and its heating systems, changing from fossil fuels to green energy powered public transport, etc.
  • Then, conduct an audit of the action already being taken to mitigate those challenges (such as the examples in the above point) and identify where no action or little action has been taken to date and assess the risks of not doing so. A number of studies indicate that the costs of taking mitigation action are likely to be considerably less than dealing with the damage of increased impacts of the climate emergency. For example, ask the major polluters in your place to share their plans and actions to reduce their level of pollution and celebrate and promote those actively committed to net zero carbon emissions by declared dates.

In taking part in this audit activity your role should be to ensure that your colleagues, your political masters and your key stakeholders are being completely honest in their identification of potential impacts, in identifying the scale of the action currently being taken and the scale of the action likely to be required now and in the future to build the resilience of your place. This cannot be the equivalent of “green-washing”.

And, if you are asking “why me”, then who if not you? As a place brander in this Covid ravaged world, in this Climate Emergency, it is surely incumbent upon you to act responsibly in framing the proposition of the brand of your place, in framing it honestly, in honestly addressing the concerns of your target market audiences about the safety of your place and its offers, in stating honestly how you are building the resilience of your place to mitigate the effects of Covid and the Climate Emergency. You are responsible for the message. You had better make sure it is honest, comprehensive and based on fact, agreed policies and identifiable actions being actively implemented and their impacts.

The next post in this series on place branding and the climate emergency will focus in more detail on actions that can be taken to build the resilience of urban areas to climate change and significantly reduce their carbon emissions and levels of health risk pollution.

A contribution by Malcolm Allan of Bloom Consulting. More about Malcolm in our interview.


If you would like to hear more about Malcolm’s thinking on the climate emergency and its implications for place branding, listen to our recent podcast conversation with him or check out his previous post on the topic.


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