From the beginning we have defined our programme as a city cooperation in which our students work on specific cases forming mixed teams. Our students take advantage of the fact that although they work from different cities they share some specific city life modus, the more since all of them are students of higher education studying and often also living and working in an European City such as Paris, Barcelona or Amsterdam.
We quickly became convinced that internationalization is an indispensable part of quality in education since it offers the needed references to acquire knowledge and understanding in every particular field or discipline.
The interaction with other institutions in Barcelona offered us, for instance, the chance to see that from the Netherlands, generally speaking, the vision of the world of South European spots like Barcelona was perceived as a synonym for the word holiday. I still remember that some of our students were wearing beach shorts during the initial end of term Final Presentations at the University of Barcelona. On the other hand, we could see that students in Barcelona had their own preconceptions about The Netherlands and Amsterdam too. They couldn’t wait to prove and experience the tolerance of the city in its coffee shops. The problem was not only this apparent mismatch but especially that our students based their recommendations to enterprises abroad on their own lack of knowledge about other realities and didn’t incorporate more contemporary insights in their marketing approach.
Later on, and thanks to experts on Places, Branding and Reputation such as Simon Anholt, we have learned that prejudices about places reputation are a “logic” phenomenon. Instead of denying prejudices we have developed a programme in which all those aspects could be seen as important factors of the complex matter of “marketing a place”. Nowadays, we show our students that products are intrinsically linked to their places of origin, and that we all positively associate Italy with food and Germany with efficiency rather than Italy with efficiency and Germany with food. We also try to show them that it takes lots of sincere evidence, perseverance and decisiveness to gain a positive place reputation and that a positive reputation can also be lost.
The Minor Programme
Thanks to the new knowledge and experiences gained through the IVCF we have been able to improve along the years. In 2010 we started the first minor edition of the IVCF called City Marketing in Europe. The new step enabled us to enlarge our programme to a 30 credits minor open to motivated students from many fields of study.
This meant, among other things, that we could design an important introductory part of the course which has become the Exploring the City Phase. This phase is inspired in the nice walks and in the interesting conversations with all kind of urban stakeholders that we have had the chance to have over the last few years.
That’s why we can say that with the right observation skills, walking through the streets, sitting in a bar or attending a festival can be a valuable “city marketing learning experience” as well.
As lecturers we are now prepared to manage those combinations and to supervise our students not only in cooperation with other students in international teams but also in the complexity of the cases they are required to work on. In short, we help students to take the experience of life in ‘the city’ and transform that experience into real academic and career footholds.
About City Marketing
In prior editions well intentioned students recommended us to use a unique book on city marketing instead of all the different pieces of reading that are actually conforming the compulsory reading list. They thought that maybe this could help to create a better feeling of clarity. While such a recommendation is understandable the truth is that our choice for an heterogeneous corpus of material has been a thought out decision. City marketing as such is a relatively new field of study but one can already see that there is a very clear evolution in the way it is approached. In the very beginning some city marketing practitioners interpreted city marketing as ‘selling the city”. The result was a rather confusing situation in which all kind of cities started to use promotional marketing tools. Professor Hospers (who will be giving you a master class the last week of Exploring the City) noticed during this period that there seemed to be a kind of rule: “the smallest the place, the biggest the promotional website.”
Although, as you will see, there are various definitions of City Marketing, our minor starts with a perspective closer to the definition suggested by thinkers such as Erik Braun. For them City Marketing is a set of tools to match the uses of needs of different stakeholders with the uses and facilities of a city.
But, as you also will see, to really understand City Marketing you will need to combine this marketing concept with others such as Brand and Reputation.
Barcelona and Berlin:
As an example of a successful story of recent City brand development in Europe, a large amount of literature has been centered on the cases of cities such as Barcelona and Berlin. The conclusion of the more reliable research has been that success stories cannot be just reproduced and applied to other places, as a formula.
The rehabilitation and positioning of Barcelona, for instance, cannot be separated from exceptional political circumstances and the general feeling of empowerment that people experienced during the last years of the Franco dictatorship and the first years of the recuperation of democracy in Spain. And the emergence of Berlin as one of the coolest cities in the world is not thinkable without the impact of the celebratory images of the fall of Berlin’s wall.
In both cases, Barcelona and Berlin, the new story of the city has recuperated the narratives of splendid periods such as the Modernism of Gaudí and Cadafalch in Barcelona and the Golden 20’s in Berlin.
Nevertheless, the fact remains that although significant historical moments are essential as a trigger, a city should also be a place capable of renewal in the future. As Simon Anholt beautifully explains the reputation of a city is something that needs constant and substantive maintenance. This means that, to be convincing, mantras such as “we are the best” will always need to be substantiated by real stuff and evidence.