Fred Dixon on New York City Branding and Reputation Management

City branding in New York City is one of the topics which we discuss in this interview with Fred Dixon, President and CEO at NYC & Company, the official destination marketing organization for the five boroughs of New York City. Learn about the New York City brand, how to balance national versus international market messaging, and how place identity and placemaking are interlinked. He also shares five tips for city brand managers eager to ‘do it right’.

Fred, how will New York prevail in what looks like a difficult time for tourism in the US, given the presidential campaign built around isolationism?

We are confident in our brand position as one of the world’s most diverse, welcoming and inclusive cities and the ability of that message to connect with travellers in a genuine way. We also are confident that the continued investment in new hotels and attractions, along with our burgeoning neighbourhood and culinary scene, creates a storyline that will keep excitement and interest in the destination high.

Our latest forecast from February shows we will end the year in record territory for visitation once again, but there are real challenges in the international market. The strong dollar continues to be a hurdle, but the policy discussions and rhetoric from Washington are without question complicating factors.

How do you balance the national versus international market messaging, while staying true to the core New York brand?

In moments like this, you must remember your audiences and speak to them authentically. It is a challenge for sure and we have bifurcated our message of late. For the national audience, we have not changed strategy and maintain our core tactics.

Outside the US, we have pivoted to one central idea – NYC welcomes all travellers with our new campaign “New York City – Welcoming The World.” The campaign has two simple goals – to assure international travellers that we haven’t changed and that we will not shy away from our global position.

What do you do to make sure that it’s easy for travellers from culturally different places to enjoy New York the most?

Without question, NYC offers something for everyone. It’s easy to find yourself here and that is central to our messaging. As one of the most culturally diverse cities on the planet, we celebrate and showcase our rich array of offerings.

We work closely with content providers, media and the trade around the world to present NYC through myriad lenses with curated experiences and content that offer something for everyone.

How do you compete with other popular U.S. destinations, like Miami or Los Angeles?

As the most popular destination for international travellers to the US, New York City offers an experience that is unique in the world. No other destination can offer the breadth and depth of experiences in culture, art, cuisine, nightlife, fashion and entertainment that NYC delivers.

As the largest gateway to the rest of the US, we don’t view other destinations competitively, but always as complimentary. We each have distinct personalities and unique offerings that enrich travel to the US and together we make a compelling case for repeat visits to our shores time and time again.

What do you understand as the “brand” of places, and what is place branding all about? What role does placemaking play?

To put it simply, a place brand to us is the sum of a place’s identity that differentiates it from others. Place branding is all about capturing that essence and becoming its steward.

Brands are living, breathing entities. Good place branding will enrich, polish and shape a place’s perceived identity to meet community goals.

Good placemaking plays a vital role in making sure the elements, support, programming and resources are there for success from the start and that the brand continues to evolve and deliver.

In your view, which is the biggest misconception that the global audience holds about New York?

That NYC is expensive. Yes, you can choose to spend large sums of money here and have a fabulous time. You can also choose to spend very little money and still have a remarkable experience.

The amount of free activities like enjoying our parks and public spaces, such as the High Line, Central Park and Brooklyn Bridge Park, coupled with the multitude of affordable experiences like our legendary museums, can make for a thrifty holiday. Especially if you are adventurous with your feet and palate to explore any one or more of our fantastic neighbourhoods across the five boroughs.

How do you calculate the impact that your city/destination branding activities have on tourism, and the overall city economy?

In 2016 the travel and tourism industry in NYC generated $43 Billion in visitor spending and $63 Billion in economic impact. Those numbers have grown 30% in just the last 6 years. We don’t attempt to draw a direct line correlating our work with those numbers but instead position the efforts of the broader hospitality community in tandem with our overarching messaging as the secret sauce to our continued momentum.

New York seems the golden standard in place branding, but do you look to other cities for inspiration?

We always are looking on the horizon for great work in other cities. There are great ideas being implemented in cities large and small and we aren’t afraid to admit we can learn from any of them.

What is the main challenge you face in your day to day running of NYC & Company?

So many great ideas, so little time.

What are the biggest challenges that New York will face over the next few years, from a brand(ing) perspective?

Our greatest challenge could be issues of perception at a higher level that will test our reach. The current political climate and policy rhetoric could have a significant impact on how the entire nation is viewed. We can have our message fine-tuned at the local level but travellers still have to choose to cross the US border to get to us.

Five tips for city brand managers eager to ‘do it right’?

  1. Authenticity is everything.
  2. Never forget your audience includes the local community and always bring them with you on your journey.
  3. Accept that your brand is a living, breathing thing and the power that represents.
  4. Check your ego at the door.
  5. Have fun with your work because we have the greatest jobs in the world.

Thank you, Fred.

Connect with Fred Dixon on LinkedIn or learn more about the work of NYC & Company here.

City Nation Place ForumThis interview with Fred Dixon is part of a special series of interviews with professionals speaking at the City Nation Place Americas conference in New York City, 15 June 2017. More info on the conference and other events by City Nation Place here.

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