Eva Jilkén on How to Attract Talent to the Countryside: Example Landsbyggare in Sweden

Migration from rural areas to cities in the search for better opportunities is a global trend. But city life doesn’t always turn out to be as great as expected. Owing to the desire to seek a quieter life closer to nature, a growing number of entrepreneurs and talent are actively looking for locations that can provide the right investment climate and community feel. 

In this interview, Eva Jilkén, Project Manager at Leader Höga Kusten explains how her team used social media for campaigns like Landsbyggare, to highlight the charm of living a rural life away from the hustle and bustle of a city. With the right infrastructure, the picturesque High Coast of Sweden now attracts new residents interested to settle and let their creativity thrive.

Our interview with Eva is part of a special series of interviews with speakers at the 2020 Nordic Place Branding Conference, which will take place in Oslo this November (you may have seen our reflections on the preceding conference webinar).

Eva, do you remember when you first heard about “place branding” – and your initial thoughts?

I can’t remember the exact moment, but I think it has always been a part of what we have been working with, at Leader High Coast of Sweden. To create better circumstances for entrepreneurs and the local community by showing others how wonderful and fulfilling life in the countryside can be.

How is Landsbyggare using place branding to attract investors and talent?

The attitude towards the countryside matters. To attract talent and investors to the countryside in the High Coast of Sweden, we need to challenge the negative perceptions associated with the countryside. We can achieve that by highlighting existing opportunities to create meaningful jobs and a great quality of life.

With Landsbyggare, we want to show the life and passion of driven and skilled entrepreneurs, and non-profit associations that ‘build’ the country and create an attractive place that draws other skilled entrepreneurs, to be a part of the place and the community.

Our target group were creative, skillful, cooperating entrepreneurs and non-government associations that want to develop the countryside of the High Coast of Sweden. Aged between 25-50, they live in – or wish to move to – the High Coast of Sweden. We invite them to become a part of the entrepreneurial community and to enjoy a great quality of life.

The strategy to reach this goal has been a mix of place branding and place development, based on three pillars:

  1. Stimulate skill development and networking to inspire driven entrepreneurs and associations through Landsbyggare Dag. Including seminars that create opportunities for long-term partnerships, community building, and innovation through the Leader method. We also want to foster pride and togetherness through the annual Landsbyggare of the Year award, for people and entrepreneurs who have helped to create a more liveable and creative countryside.
  2. Inspire and broaden the target group of people that potentially want to move to the High Coast of Sweden, through social media campaigns portraying entrepreneurs, called “Landsbyggare”. With this campaign, we want to inspire the target groups to get to know life here – through Landsbyggare – that is, those who have already taken this step. Show them the possibility of working and living in the rural parts of the High Coast of Sweden, to start their company or develop their ideas.
  3. Influencing/opinion-shaping: through the campaign we wanted to create a positive perception of rural areas in the High Coast of Sweden. This included opinion articles, speeches/workshops or entrepreneur fairs, and conferences. Also, change-makers share their positive reviews of the possibilities and the countryside on our website, to spread the word.

What are the main challenges of rural place branding? And where do you think are the main differences compared to the branding of cities?

More and more people dream of a life with a greater work-life balance, more free time, and close to nature. The countryside has all of this.

One of the main challenges in rural place branding are prevailing negative perceptions and comparisons between what life in the countryside can be and what a successful life is. Through our work we challenge those ideas, by showing an attractive and true picture of the countryside with all the possibilities of a perhaps more fulfilling life.

Maybe one of the biggest differences between city branding and the branding of rural regions is that place development has been especially important in our project. Here we have the opportunity to work actively towards building the community. We do that by connecting people, giving hands-on advice and support to those who contact us and who would like to move to the High Coast of Sweden.

How has the overall perception of the Swedish High Coast changed after the Landsbyggare campaign?

Everybody knows that it is important and equally difficult to measure attitude. Therefore, we did a baseline measurement to start with, at the beginning of the project, to be able to track the results later on. We made a follow up about two years later and saw some good results regarding the awareness of the term ‘Landsbyggare’ and a positive attitude towards entrepreneurship.

Moreover, entrepreneurs in our area – and now all over Sweden (since the webpage and campaign went national) – are proud to call themselves Landsbyggare. This is the most important result, together with people actually moving to the High Coast of Sweden, and the growing community as a result of our project and activities.

Vi Landsbyggare was a finalist in the Placebrander of the Year 2019 initiative, lauded for its unique focus on villagers. How has this recognition helped you internally – e.g. have you received more support for your place branding strategies?

Our goal was to increase the positive attitude towards entrepreneurship and to create an attractive image of the countryside in the High Coast of Sweden, with the purpose of getting companies and people moving to our region and to creating a local community. Our work has also been about facilitating collaborations between companies and NGOs, and to create a desire for wanting to be a part of the community of Landsbyggare.

The recognition has led to greater awareness of our project, which boosted our credibility and has made it easier for us to work in our area. It has also helped us expand this concept to the rest of Sweden so that we can together create an attractive image of the Swedish countryside to attract talent.

How important was the buy-in from locals and their involvement in the process of creating the Vi Landsbyggare campaign?

The very idea of the Landsbyggare brand is community involvement, especially engaging driven entrepreneurs who inspire others and who nurture a sense of pride. Landsbyggare is the key, and this is something that we created together – developing a feeling of wanting to belong and also, to attract people from the outside.

Landsbyggare also turns to ambassadors of the place, as the voice and message are more powerful and authentic when coming from someone who truly believes and shares their experience about this way of life.

We must build the brand from within by starting with the people living and working in the High Coast of Sweden. Like all other marketing and place branding, the image we create and nurture has to be true and deliver what it promises, to be perceived as credible and appealing.

Which other region do you find especially innovative and inspiring, in how they have used place branding strategies for attracting talent, visitors or investors?

Jämtland Calling: this is an inspiring and successful campaign that also attracts talents to the countryside in our neighbouring area, Jämtland.

Anything else you’d like to mention?

Right. now, we are concentrating on sharing the method and to develop a step-by-step guide (already available in Swedish and soon also in English), so that other regions can use the concept. Together we can then re-position the countryside throughout Sweden and also in other countries, through the Landsbyggare approach.

Thank you, Eva.

Connect with Eva Jilkén on LinkedIn.

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