N.Mehenni: "You cannot promise a thing, which will never happen"


The proper place branding may alleviate attracting new investors, tourists or work force to the city. Kotryna Tamkutė of IQ Magazine talked to Nahim Mehenni, director for Place Branding at "The New York Times", about the most important steps to take when implementing a successful marketing campaign and several good examples, which could inspire Klaipėda to strive for exceptional results.

What does the concept of place branding” mean?

Place branding is any source of marketing action dedicated to make a promotion of the place, territory. So, it can be advertising, public relations, events, social media campaigns, inviting influencers, organizing events for companies abroad to make promotion of the place, so any sort of marketing actions dedicated to promote territory is what we define as place branding.

There are three types of objectives. First one is to attract more visitors, or more valuable visitors, we are talking here about tourists and any job that is being done by tourism boards attracting more travellers, much better travellers, travellers who are going to spend more money when they travel.

The second objective is attracting more investors, or specific investors. You can take Berlin as an example, for the moment city of Berlin they are looking and attracting tech entrepreneurs coming from USA, from California, to come and set up their business in Europe. They are doing a lot of place branding actions to attract those decisions makers from California to come and to set up their business.

And I would say that the last objective is to attracting new talents. Here we are talking about workers, people that come and work with their families come and set up. So the task here is regarding the place and country is to find a solution to a situation when they have a work force shortage, maybe they do not have a work force in their own country, maybe the level of unemployment is very low and companies are having difficulties to find out to fill very specific positions. So the places are making marketing promotions to attract foreigners from foreign countries to come and to work in their place.

You have mentioned the city of Berlin as an example, do you have any other “success stories”?

I mentioned Berlin because we are working with the entity that is called “Berlin partners” that is in charge to make economic promotion of the city, so it is the city plus several private entities that can be start-up companies, hotels, shops, museums, you know all type of companies that are having interest to come and visit the city of Berlin, and we work for them for the very specific story to attract tech entrepreneurs to Berlin. That's why I gave you that example.

At the beginning of this year, we launched the campaign, making the promotion of Berlin as the best place to set up start-ups and tech companies. So, the type of stories that we produced for them is very focused on this four-five key messages: talents prove, easy access of financing, the spirit of innovation that you can find in the city and the way of life. You can see that they are trying to convince to tell beautiful story to their target audience in order to attract them and make the select Berlin as a place where they are willing to locate their companies in the EU. And it works, I spoke with the clients last week and the confirmed that they had many many requests that were directly coming from the US, that were directly linked to the campaign that they done, so we were pretty happy to hear that. In the end of work, the story telling were the communication program that we had set up for Berlin and partners is very efficient and works well because the objectives were to tell a story for their audience, but the core objective for them obviously was to attract company and then they told us that they have a very god contacts with tech companies that are looking at removing, setting up their company in Berlin, we were very proud of that.

What are the first and further steps to work with “place branding”? What should a city, a region or a state do in the first place?

The way we work with places, if they are national entities or local entities linked to cities and to regions the first thing that we propose to do is to have a survey. Further research and we have created very specific research product for places it is called the territory perception research and we can, what we do actually, is that we can build a questionnaire where we are going to get some insights of the global audience of the new York Times linked to the place. I give you an example, let's say we are working for investing Paris agency. The first thing that we are going to do before designing any sort of content before working on the story we are going the insights from the audience. What are the readers global readers of the New York Times in the US, in Europe, in Asia, the Middle East what do they think about Paris, when it comes to investment in Paris: what are they key positive insights that they have and this is where magic happens, what are the negative perceptions insights that they have on the city of Paris: do they have a misperception of the city, do they have wrong idea about, for example, public transportation in Paris or the existence of the start-ups, incubators in the city. And then we can provide clients full report, analysis, perception of their territory, and this is really the first step to go through having any sort of communication. This is really the most important because when you have the objective to shift a perception of place you really need to know what is your starting point, where are you starting from: what is the perception of the audience you have, is it positive, or negative, or wrong image, because then using very accurate insights of our global audience we are going to design a story that is controlled by the clients and designed with the journalistic approach by news agency integrated by the New York Times. And we are going to deliver story for the right audience, so this is how we sort of create communication program, we start with the insights, with the intelligence then we are going to feed the design of the story at this stage when you design the story this is something that we do with the client, because they do control 100  percent of the narrative, that is being produced for them unlike working with the journalist, when you do not control the outcome, the article that is going to be produced. While working with the New York Times they guarantee a message that is totally in control, that is aimed to produce with the journalistic approach and we make sure that we apply the right audience targeting to distribute the content and the right story to the right audience. At the end we make an evaluation of the campaign: did it work, have we seen the improvements in the image of the place among the target audience, are we seeing the right changes. Working with the New York Times for place branding purposes guarantees to have one single partner to control the entire communication program.  It is not like you have to go to the research company, then you have to go to public relations agency then you go to the media to make promotion of your content and then you go back to the research company to make an evaluation. The New York Times has the capacity to make everything internalized and directly managed by one single team.

What is the difference between advertisement and place branding campaign?

Advertisement is one part of the place branding - any marketing action aimed to make the promotion of the place. Advertising is one of the tools that you can use to make the place brand. Advertising is the method that you take the message and give to the audience. You can do great staff to attract investors but if the message does not reach the right people it is not the point.

But we are integrating advertisement into more global communication program and what we do can be considered as branded content, storytelling, more than advertising. Of course we are using advertising because in order to attract our readers to the stories we are using advertising: display, formats, banners, printed advertising. But they are just a tool to make a promotion of the story. But the core is really integrated solution with research, intelligence and designed content.

We guarantee precisely the number of the viewers on the content that we produce for our clients. This is very important. Again, if you have the best content, but no one sees it, it's not efficient. We try to propose the best content of the world and the best distribution solutions to attract the target audience the country wants to attract.

It seems that the best way to attract people is to tell a story, though?

It is up to the place and its aims. The first thing is to make sure that the message that you are going to communicate in line with the reality that is in your country and your city. There is nothing worse than promising something that people will not find what you are promising. I will give you an example. We all have in mind the beautiful image of Paris and its Eiffel Tower. Paris at night, the lights and so on. But what is happening now in Paris is due to the security issues they are building the glass wall around the Eiffel Tower, so you cannot really approach it the way you could in the past. So, if you are communicating to the audience the great experience of visiting the Eiffel Tower, and then your reality is that you come close to the reality and you have to wait in the queue for 1-3 hours before approaching the tower and being able to go to the tower, then you have a bad experience, because you had in your mind something that was great and what you are experiencing in the reality is far from the reality.

The same is with the place branding. If you promise great infrastructure, very great wages, career opportunities for the person that is coming to work, great social and family life in the place and then the reality and the experience is that the city and the place has not stated everything correctly and made over promises in its advertising and communication strategy, then it is a problem. So first advice would be that make sure the content and the message that you are going to advertise is in line with the reality, don’t make any false promises, because this is bad and this is damaging the image of the country and place in general.

Choosing to make communication on attracting talents or on attracting investors it is up to the city and clients: do they need companies, investors or do they believe that they have some sort of shortage in their work force and they need to attract talents because the people of cities do not have certain knowledge, training to apply to the jobs. It is not the decision that has to be made by the New York Times or by the advisor communication.

What is your experience working with Klaipėda?

We have proposed them a very specific message that is very interesting to them to make their promotion. I know that they have 2030 economic strategy that is having a subjective to make Klaipėda a global level city and the solution that we proposed were around the blue economy and the story that we wanted to tell was do you believe that the blue economy is the next investment opportunity? If yes, look what Klaipėda is doing and the second was called the tech-innovation. Here we had a story that was more in line with tech and the tech industry.

How to be safe from the broad content?

There is two different elements: the first is the readers responses you and the concern what we have as communication experts of efficiency on the communication program that we are creating for the clients and the second aspect is what the clients, the city people have to promote. And we must find the right balance between the story that is specific enough to be interesting to the audience, I mean if you make a very broad image of the country, no one is interested, people like stories. If you have a specific story, you can engage the people. But for some places firstly you need to make a presentation on the city. Firstly you have to raise the awareness on the city in the first time and the maybe have a specific story in the same line.

The New York Times is here to help. In order to be efficient we have to engage the readers. To do that you have to have a story that is specific enough to attract their attention, to make them stop on this specific article on Klaipėda and deliver them a story, information, that they didn’t had before. Our mission is to find a balance between general promotion and the story.

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