7 Tips on How to Make a Career in Place Branding: Leading Professionals Give Advice

How to become a place brand professional and build a career in place branding is one question we hear more and more. If you are an early career professional or recent graduate interested in the fascinating field of place brand development, management and marketing, then this is for you.

“I don’t see many opportunities for full-time place branding only specialists employed at the local and regional level. However, I do believe that place branding and brand management should be integral responsibilities and priorities for all destination marketing executives and economic development executives.”

What we can learn from above quote by Bill Baker is that Place Brand Manager is a new profession which is not yet widely spread in the USA and most other parts of the world, but likely to become much more important in the future. City and destination executives will want to work with – and hire – professionals who understand destination marketing as much as economic development, and who know how to unite brand development, reputation management, and place promotion.

In Europe, place branding practice is more widespread and becoming an important skill, judging by this quote from Martin Boisen:

“In the Netherlands, we’ve seen a huge leap in the amount of civil servants and public-private partnership employees dealing with this topic in the last five years.”

Likewise, Robert Govers sees tremendous potential in place branding as academic discipline – or rather, interdisciplinary domain, albeit not for those seeking a smooth academic career (if such a thing still exists):

“You will be a pioneer, carving out a new territory with contributions from many different areas of study. In other words: it is hard work and a battle for recognition from the mainstream disciplines. Rewards are there, but if you are looking for a smooth academic career without too many hurdles it is possibly easier to follow the mainstream, unfortunately. The sooner you realize this and make a conscious choice, the better.”

The following 7 pieces of advice by leading place brand researchers and strategists will help you get prepared for a career in place brand development and management.

How to make a career in place branding

1. As a student, aim for one discipline, then specialize within it

Says Keith Dinnie:

“As there don’t seem to be any dedicated place branding degree programmes, students need to decide what they want to focus on – is it trade and investment, tourism, cultural relations, public diplomacy, etc.? Once they have decided that, they can search for appropriate degree programmes that may allow an opportunity to do a dissertation that is specifically about place branding, even if the degree programme itself is not limited to place branding.”

Martin Boisen agrees:

“I’d strongly suggest that students study something else before engaging themselves with place branding. For example “Human Geography & Planning”, “Urban Sociology”, “Urban Economics”, “Urban and Regional Governance”, “Tourism, Hospitality and Destination Management” or something of that sort. Places are inherently complicated and work in mysterious ways. So are and do the people who live their lives in them.”

In his view, “a good, established study program in one of the place-centric disciplines above would be the best basis, accompanied by courses in marketing management, multi-level governance and other relevant topics that deal with managerial and political aspects of places”.

2. Be flexible, think interdisciplinary

Linked to the above, Nadia Kaneva stresses the need to “be flexible, for example by stepping outside of your disciplinary comfort zones and by finding ways to engage with scholars and ideas across disciplinary lines.”

For Robert Govers, by studying or building a career in place branding “you will be a pioneer, carving out a new territory with contributions from many different areas of study.”

Flexibility isn’t only required when pursuing a research career in the field. Malcolm Allan, a highly experienced place maker and urban developer based in the UK, recommends to “try to work for a variety of types of places and, on the other side of the fence, for different place brand strategy agencies and avoid advertising agencies.”

3. Be ready to challenge the status quo

Because this is a young field of research and practice led by pioneers, you need to be prepared to challenge the status quo: ‘the way things are done because that’s how they’ve always been done’.

Economic development pioneer and Brand America expert Ed Burghard recommends:

“Needs change constantly and you need to continuously stay in touch.  Don’t be afraid to challenge the status quo. Just because something has always been done one way doesn’t make it the best or even the right way to do it.”

Flexible thinking and acting will be essential to avoid frustration, which can easily happen from cooperating with place managers and stakeholders, as Magdalena Florek recalls from her own experience.

“Not being afraid to ask big questions is the one trait any pioneer or entrepreneur needs. Make sure you tick that box before embarking on a career in place branding.”

4. Bring the right skills

There are a few skills which will help you succeed in building a successful career dedicated to the brands and branding of places. Here’s what Bill Baker suggests:

“Beyond a qualification in understanding branding there is a need for brand management skills and experience. That is, knowing how to creatively and consistently use the elements of a brand strategy and embed them into relevant programs. It has to be much more than simply painting a logo on everything around town.”

According to Ed Burghard, equally important are skills in strategy development and conflict resolution.  Both will serve you well going forward.

5. Find a mentor

Finding the right mentor is an important part of succeeding in any career or business. The advice of Andy Levine of Development Councillors International (DCI) is to look for “someone you deeply respect who is committed to helping you grow in your new position. Listen carefully to their advice but don’t be afraid to challenge the conventional wisdom.”

6. Build a network

Equally important, you’ll want to build yourself a network and connect with like-minded professionals around the world. Not just for advice, but to join them in building the reputation of place branding as area of research and profession, from which all will benefit.

Existing networks include the International Place Branding Association with its annual conferences.

Tip: Another good way to learn about the topic and to get to know the key people in this area is to join us as skills-based volunteer.

7. Understand the principles of place branding

This point by Bill Baker almost goes without saying: make sure you understand the principles of place branding! Many ‘old school’ local government managers or destination marketers have never heard about the holistic approach to place branding which is advocated by leading professionals through The Place Brand Observer.

In the current marketplace, place branding understood as strategic, managerial approach to the development, management and communication of places for the sake of a favorable reputation (long-term) is essential knowledge for anyone in charge of presenting a place to the outside world.

Martin Boisen:

“I sincerely believe that one should aim to understand how people, companies, institutions and governments relate to places and try to influence them to serve their own aspirations.”

You might also be interested in:

  • Guides for place professionals;
  • Services offered by The Place Brand Observer team;
  • Reviews and summaries of academic literature on topics linked to place branding;
  • Our fortnightly email newsletter: join our mailing list here.

Enjoyed those seven tips with expert advice on how to make a career in place branding? Share and spread the word!


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