Improving high street performance by communication

As part of a town or city’s marketing communications, communication strategies need to highlight retail change and need to encourage customers to change their shopping habits in a way that will sustain such change (Kirkup & Rafiq, 1999; Warnaby, Bennison, & Davies, 2005).

A good example of this is communicating changes in opening hours. For example, late night opening initiatives can fail if shoppers are unaware of the extended opening times.

Whilst place promotion and communication strategies to shoppers are, on the whole, improving; communication between traders on the High Street is very poor. A study we undertook in 2005 showed that only 40% of
SME traders were in any sort of network to receive information about their sector or location.

There is more commentary about communication contained in our blogs on collaboration, engagement and networks.


Kirkup, M. H., & Rafiq, M. (1999). Marketing shopping centres: challenges in the UK context. Journal of Marketing Practice: Applied Marketing Science, 5(5), 119–133.


Warnaby, G., Bennison, D., & Davies, B. J. (2005). Marketing communications in planned shopping centres: evidence from the UK. International Journal of Retail & Distribution Management, 33(12), 893–904.


Journal of Place Management Development grows by 33%

The following blog summarises the JPMD’s usage.

There have been 33% more article downloads this year compared with this time last year.

In 2013 we had 16,835 downloads.  There are over 1,500 institutional subscriptions to the JPMD worlwide.


largecover   Click here to access the Journal of Place Management and Development

Special Issues:
The following table shows the top 5 most popular special issues by articles downloaded during the last 12 months:

3rd Place Branding Conference (5, 1)  2012 1,969 downloads
2nd Place Branding Conference (4, 1) 2011 1,683 downloads
Marketing cities: place branding in perspective (2, 1) 2009 1,326 downloads
Place management: collecting definitions and perspectives (1, 1) 2008 1,277 downloads 

Call for papers : Place Management and Branding Conference. Sustainability, liveability and connectivity. 6-8th May 20145. Poznan Poland.

Top Institutions:
The following institutions have downloaded the most articles from JPMD during the last 12 months.

Universiti Teknologi MARA
University of Strathclyde
University of Greenwich
SEGi University
Manchester Metropolitan University
University of Cape Coast
University of Tehran
Universiti Utara Malaysia
NHTV Internationaal Hoger Onderwijs Breda
Erasmus University Rotterdam


Top Countries:
The following countries have downloaded the most articles from JPMD during the last 12 months.

United Kingdom
South Africa


Top Articles:
The following articles published in 2014 have been downloaded the most during the last 12 months:

Salman Yousaf, Li Huaibin (2014), “Branding Pakistan as a “Sufi” country: the role of religion in developing a nation’s brand”, Journal of Place Management and Development, Vol. 7, No. 1, pp 90-104 177
Cathy Parker (2014), “Foreword”, Journal of Place Management and Development, Vol. 7, No. 1 124
Earl Bailey (2014), “Redefining comprehensive urban management, in the Kingston Metropolitan Region, Jamaica”, Journal of Place Management and Development, Vol. 7, No. 1, pp 27-56 96
William Wee Lim Hew, David Yoon Kin Tong, Gerald Guan Gan Goh (2014), “Revitalisation of the Old Township of Ipoh, Malaysia”, Journal of Place Management and Development, Vol. 7, No. 1, pp 57-73 52
Andrea Ciaramella, Valentina Puglisi, Tommaso Truppi (2014), “Environmental performance assessment for urban districts”, Journal of Place Management and Development, Vol. 7, No. 1, pp 74-89 44
Joseph Akinlabi Fadamiro, Adeniran Joseph Adedeji (2014), “Recreational experiences in parks and gardens, Ibadan, Nigeria”, Journal of Place Management and Development, Vol. 7, No. 1, pp 5-26 36
Stella Kladou, Antonios A. Giannopoulos, Ioannis Assiouras (2014), “Matching tourism type and destination image perceptions in a country context”, Journal of Place Management and Development, Vol. 7, No. 2, pp
141-152 23


The following articles published in any year have been downloaded the most during the last 12 months:

Erik Braun, Mihalis Kavaratzis, Sebastian Zenker (2013), “My city – my brand: the different roles of residents in place branding”, Journal of Place Management and Development, Vol. 6, No. 1, pp 18-28 1,140
Mihalis Kavaratzis (2012), “From “necessary evil” to necessity: stakeholders’ involvement in place branding”, Journal of Place Management and Development, Vol. 5, No. 1, pp 7-19 1,026
Efe Sevin (2013), “Places going viral: Twitter usage patterns in destination marketing and place branding”, Journal of Place Management and Development, Vol. 6, No. 3, pp 227-239 893
Melodena Stephens Balakrishnan (2008), “Dubai – a star in the east: A case study in strategic destination branding”, Journal of Place Management and Development, Vol. 1, No. 1, pp 62-91 762
Andrea Lucarelli, Per Olof Berg (2011), “City branding: a state-of-the-art review of the research domain”, Journal of Place Management and Development, Vol. 4, No. 1, pp 9-27 651
Emma Björner (2013), “International positioning through online city branding: the case of Chengdu”, Journal of Place Management and Development, Vol. 6, No. 3, pp 203-226 492
Sebastian Zenker (2011), “How to catch a city? The concept and measurement of place brands”, Journal of Place Management and Development, Vol. 4, No. 1, pp 40-52 470
Leonard A. Jackson (2008), “Residents’ perceptions of the impacts of special event tourism”, Journal of Place Management and Development, Vol. 1, No. 3, pp 240-255 463
Andrea Insch, Benjamin Sun (2013), “University students’ needs and satisfaction with their host city”, Journal of Place Management, Vol 6, No 3, pp 178-191 445
Vishwas Maheshwari, Ian Vandewalle, David Bamber (2011), “Place branding’s role in sustainable development”, Journal of Place Management and Development, Vol. 4, No. 2, pp 198-213 368

Place marketing and sustainable places

Recently, Piccadilly Gardens was voted Manchester’s worst attraction on Tripadvisor. The designers of Piccadilly Gardens, Arup, say “Piccadilly Gardens transforms Manchester’s central park from a problem area into an effective public space”. On the other hand tripadvisors say “Designed by numpties. Dirty, rotten, awful area. Avoid at all costs. Shameful display and use of civic area.”

Piccadilly Gardens is a ‘great’ example to use to illustrate the complexities inherent in place marketing and how the practice must change if it wants to be relevant in the context of sustainable places. In the last couple of months I have been asked to speak about the topic of place marketing and sustainability at three international tourism conferences. Most recently, this was at the 1st Corfu Symposium on Managing and Marketing Places.

What visitors (and many locals) don’t like about Piccadilly Gardens is the rubbish. Traditionally the role of place marketing has been to attract mobile investment, like tourists or to boost economic activity, such as ‘the evening economy’.

Place marketing activity is designed to draw additional inputs into the system – but with little or no regard for the unwanted outputs created, like litter. If visitors and residents are seeing something as simple as rubbish build up – then that’s saying the system isn’t working. Worse than that – our most recent research demonstrates, unequivocally, that rubbish is impacting on peoples’ place attitudes and increasing their anticipation of witnessing other sorts of incivilities – such as harassment, drug-dealing and public drunkenness. This then makes them wary of the very space that is supposed to be attracting them, illustrating how more interconnected place marketing activity needs to be with other aspects of place management. Is the place marketing budget better spent on more place promotion or more tidying up?

We can tip-toe around the eggshells here – but being blunt – a lot of place marketing activity conflicts with the philosophy of a sustainable place. Place marketing based on the mantra of place competition is always about attracting resources away from somewhere else. Meaning there is winners and losers. Sustainability is about everyone surviving.

Place marketing’s obsession with drawing resources from the ‘outside in’ (inward investment) means, at the moment, it does not have much to offer those trying to create more sustainable forms of development, from within. The empty shops on the UK High Street and the empty hotel rooms in Corfu show how destructive global systems can be on specific places. International property developers, retail chains and tour operators all see location as a key part of their business strategy – but have no loyalty or attachment to any one particular place.

Gold and Ward (1994) stated that “Public or quasi-public policy should embody notions of public good and social benefits, but not promote one place at the expense of another” so to be relevant in the future, place marketers should take heed of this advice (better late than never).

Marketing has evolved from the transactional, one-dimensional activity it once was. It has become more strategic, theories such as the service profit chain, demonstrate the value of service companies investing in their staff, as employee satisfaction is a driver of customer satisfaction. Relationship marketing proves the value of keeping customers rather than attracting new ones. The trouble is these developments in marketing theory don’t reach many of the people practicing place marketing.

The opportunity for place marketing is to shift its focus to endogenous development. Recently, Cambridge was identified as the best city to find a job with 0.22 jobseekers per vacancy. 100 less than in Salford. Whilst Cambridge University competes on a world-stage to attract talent…..that talent often stays. Local firms are supported – there is an home-grown innovation supply chain. Successful companies say you are only two phone calls away from what you need.

If we accept sustainability is a legitimate (perhaps the ultimate goal of a place), then place marketing has an important role in communicating this vision and helping to glue everything together. If it continues to just promote and ‘sell’ places, then it becomes just another destructive force, taking much needed public funding away from building a more sustainable future for our towns and cities.

Top 10 downloads Journal of Place Management and Development

1. My city – my brand: the different roles of residents in place branding by Erik Braun, Mihalis Kavaratzis, Sebastian Zenker.
2. My place is not your place – different place brand knowledge by different target groupsby Sebastian Zenker, Suzanne C. Beckmann.
3. Places going viral: Twitter usage patterns in destination marketing and place brandingby Efe Sevin.
4. Slum tourism, city branding and social urbanism: the case of Medellin, Colombiaby Jaime Hernandez-Garcia.
5. International positioning through online city branding: the case of Chengdu by Emma Björner.
6. A study on the delivery of city branding advertisements in China: City branding advertisement on CCTV, 2007-2010 by Wen Chunying.
7. The business of place: critical, practical and pragmatic perspectives by Ares Kalandides.
8. Developing a collective capacity for place management by Tore Omholt.
9. University students’ needs and satisfaction with their host city by Andrea Insch and Benjamin Sun.
10. “Are you happy here?”: the relationship between quality of life and place attachment by António Joaquim Araújo de Azevedo, Maria João Ferreira Custódio and Fernando Pereira Antunes Perna


1. My city – my brand: the different roles of residents in place branding

Erik Braun, Mihalis Kavaratzis, Sebastian Zenker

Residents are largely neglected by place branding practices and their priorities are often misunderstood, even though they are not passive beneficiaries but are active partners and co-producers of public goods, services and policies. This paper highlights that only meaningful participation and consultation can produce a more effective and sustainable place brand strengthening brand communication and avoiding the pitfall of developing “artificial” place brands.

“The paper is based on theoretical insights drawn from the combination of the distinct literatures on place branding, general marketing, tourism, human geography, and collaborative governance. To support its arguments, the paper discusses the participation of citizens in governance processes as highlighted in the urban governance literature as well as the debate among marketing scholars over participatory marketing and branding.

The paper identifies three different roles played by residents: as an integral part of the place brand through their characteristics and behavior; as ambassadors for their place brand who grant credibility to any communicated message; and as citizens and voters who are vital for the political legitimization of place branding. These three roles make the residents a very significant target group of place branding.”

2. My place is not your place – different place brand knowledge by different target groups

Sebastian Zenker and Suzanne C. Beckmann

Place branding is increasingly popular in urban management. This paper highlights the challenge of diverse target audiences in this process and discusses implication for an advanced place brand management.

“Cities increasingly compete with each other for attracting tourists, investors, companies, or residents. Marketers therefore focus on establishing the city as a brand, disregarding that the perception and knowledge of a city differ dramatically between the target audiences. Hence, place branding should emphasize much more the perceptions of the different target groups and develop strategies for advanced place brand management. The aim of this paper is to assess the important discrepancies between the city brand perceptions of different target groups with the help of network analysis.

In two empirical studies, the important discrepancies between the city brand perceptions of different target groups are assessed with the help of network analysis. Study 1 consists of 40 qualitative in-depth-interviews and study 2 uses an online qualitative open-ended-question survey with 334 participants.

Structural differences for the city brand perceptions of two different target groups and the differences between perceptions of an external and internal target group are highlighted. The results and the managerial implications for place marketers are discussed.

The study investigates the brand associations for the city of Hamburg brand with two target groups and this limits the generalizability of the results. However, the focus was on measuring for the first time the difference in the place brand perception of different target group and the results helps to understand how an advanced place brand management could deal with this challenge.”

3. Places going viral: Twitter usage patterns in destination marketing and place branding

Efe Sevin.

The findings of this research have practical and theoretical implications. On the practical side, this research sheds light on how Twitter is utilized, and creates recommendations on how destination marketing projects can widen the broadcasting of messages and reach target audiences. On the theoretical side, this research tests the explanatory powers of Kavaratzis’ influential city branding framework.

“This is a comparative study of five Twitter accounts belonging to five destination marketing offices (@enjoyillinois, @onlyinsf, @visitidaho, @texastourism, and @visitmilwaukee). This research looks at two different types of communication activities on Twitter: one-way communication (i.e. broadcasting messages), and two-way communication (i.e. conversing with other users). A total of 5,582 tweets created between October 10, 2011 and October 10, 2012 were analyzed in terms of main topics and subjects covered, and main communication activities engaged.

The research found that destination marketing projects tend to use Twitter pre-dominantly to share about events – such as festivals, concerts, and fairs – taking place in their jurisdiction with their followers. These projects do not necessarily make use of interpersonal communication and networking capabilities of Twitter. Rather, this social media platform is used to distribute information online.”

4. Slum tourism, city branding and social urbanism: the case of Medellin, Colombia

Jaime Hernandez-Garcia

The purpose of this paper is to explore the contribution of informal settlements to a tourism strategy and to city branding. It takes the case of Medellin, Colombia, which in recent years has developed several projects in their barrios using a policy called: “social urbanism”.

“The paper is based on a case study, that of “social urbanism” in Medellin, and the relationship with what is called slum tourism and city branding. After a brief theoretical exploration about informal settlements in Latin America, slum tourism and city branding; the paper presents the urban and social transformation of Medellin’s dangerous and stigmatized barrios with the “social urbanism” policy. Then the relationship between social urbanism, informal settlements and city branding is discussed.

Medellin, perhaps without noticing or anticipating, has found a role for informal settlements in branding the city, and promoting tourism to those areas. With “social urbanism”, it is also helping to build an image of the city more authentic and distinguishable from other cities in Colombia and Latin America.”

5. International positioning through online city branding: the case of Chengdu

Emma Björner

The aim of the study is to add to the existing research on online city branding by studying how metropolitan cities are internationally positioned using the internet and online branding. The focus is on objectives and strategies, method and expression (including five illustrations), and challenges in online city branding.

“The article relies on a single-case study approach, using the Chinese city of Chengdu as a case and illustration. Methods used are interviews, observations and documentation (including online material). The study illustrates how Chengdu uses online city branding in its international positioning. Chengdu’s online branding is influenced by certain imagery, as well as challenges. Collaboration and endorsement crystalize as central elements in Chengdu’s online city branding.
The study offers insights to practitioners on how online city branding is carried out in a Chinese context and in the city of Chengdu.”

6. A study on the delivery of city branding advertisements in China: City branding advertisement on CCTV, 2007-2010

Wen Chunying

The purpose of this paper is to monitor the changes of delivery of city branding advertisements in China and to try to find a tendency of city branding ads in the delivery for the future.

“The quantitative research methods used in this paper study the advertisements with city image messages in 13 China Central Television (CCTV) channels that appeared between the year of 2007 to 2010 – a total of 320,653 advertisements. This paper is based on several data sets: advertisement producers, regional distribution of producers, advertisement time slots, types of advertisings, and other such categories. In addition, they have also studied city branding advertisings from international producers in terms of channel selections, program choices, and media outlet choices and so forth.

Through an analysis of quantity and total duration of city image advertisements, it can be concluded that first-tier cities have been reducing the broadcasting of city image ads domestically yearly, and third-tier cities are proving to be a significant power in producing city branding advertisements. Significantly, the eastern littoral region has surpassed the central and west region both in the duration and in growth rate of city branding advertisements. Moreover, between 2007 and 2010, a total of nine foreign cities have produced city branding advertisements on CCTV channels. Unlike cities in China, international cities have scattered their ads widely across different periods of one day.

Finally, based on analysis of advantages and disadvantages in city image advertisements strategies applied by those advanced cities at home and abroad, this author hopes this study can offer some scientifically based reference point for other cities.”

7. The business of place: critical, practical and pragmatic perspectives

Ares Kalandides.

This editorial is available online. Please click link above.

8. Developing a collective capacity for place management

Tore Omholt

The purpose of the paper is to develop and demonstrate an integrated framework for planning and supporting place management development and practices. This paper shows how the complexities facing place development can be conceptualized and dealt with in an effective and practical manner.

“First, the paper uses social systems theory as a meta-theoretical framework to integrate various theoretical perspectives on place interventions to deal with problems of uncertainty related to place development. Second, it shows how a combination of place interventions can be organized to deal with the uncertainties and contribute to a collective capacity for action. Finally, it concludes with presenting an integrated framework for planning and supporting place development, and applies this in two cases of place development to illustrate how it works.

In summary, effective place development requires a combination of information processing interventions to deal with the uncertainties facing place stakeholders. The success of the proposed framework has been repeated in several case replications and indicates a potential for supporting practitioners but the literature on social systems theory is on a high level of abstraction and further case applications are needed to assist practitioners.”

9. University students’ needs and satisfaction with their host city

Andrea Insch and Benjamin Sun.

Tertiary student perceptions and satisfaction with their host cities have been largely ignored. This study addresses this gap by identifying which attributes of cities are important to students, gauging students’ perception of their host city according to these attributes, and identifying the city attributes driving their satisfaction with their host city.

“The purpose of this study was threefold: to identify which attributes of the host university city are important to students; to assess students’ satisfaction with the key attributes of their host university city; and to determine the drivers of students’ overall satisfaction with their host university city.

A two stage, mixed methods research design was selected for this study. Focus groups comprised the first stage and a survey of 159 full time university students attending the university of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand, comprised the second stage.

The survey findings indicate that students at the university of Otago perceive accommodation, socialising and sense of community, safety and cultural scene as the most important attributes of their host university city. Alternatively, the results of the regression analysis which assessed the relative strength of city attributes in explaining their overall satisfaction with Dunedin, demonstrated that shopping and dining, appeal and vibrancy, socialising and sense of community and public transport were the key drivers of their overall satisfaction with the city.

Students’ overall satisfaction with the city is relatively positive and they are most satisfied with socialising and sense of community, community assets, and the city’s natural environment. Overall, students’ expectations of the city’s attributes were reached and exceeded. However, their satisfaction with accommodation, the attribute that they ranked as the most important, was unmet. This shortfall in expectations has the potential to negatively impact the university’s image and encourage students to transfer somewhere else for further study if their most important need is not addressed.

As an important city stakeholder for university cities, students’ perceptions and satisfaction with their host city need to be given priority. University administrators in collaboration with city place managers should put effort into maintaining the city attributes which are important to students and which drive their satisfaction with the city experience, since they represent a large proportion of residents in university host cities. The consequences of their inattention to students’ needs could be harmful in the long-term.”

10. “Are you happy here?”: the relationship between quality of life and place attachment

António Joaquim Araújo de Azevedo, Maria João Ferreira Custódio and Fernando Pereira Antunes Perna

This study aims to develop a new insight (focused on residents) into the measurement of place attachment, self-esteem, self-efficacy and perceived happiness, in order to provide public policy makers with performance indicators for place marketing strategies.

“A survey applied to 641 residents of Portimão, the second most populated city in Algarve, in the south of Portugal, was conducted to assess the quality of life attributes and place attachment measures.

Findings revealed that the city’s quality of life attributes (comprising six dimensions) influence place attachment – which is significantly correlated with self-efficacy, perceived happiness and active citizenship behaviours.

As an input for the city policy makers, this research can contribute to a better knowledge and management of the factors that influence the residents’ well-being. For residents, it provided an opportunity for participation which may influence the public planning of the city.”

Using the Sustainable Communities Act

An update from Local Works

Following two years of campaigning, the government have made regulations that give town and parish councils the right to submit proposals under the Sustainable Communities Act.

This is a real ‘game changer’ for the Act: citizens and community groups can now submit proposals for specific actions from government to help their communities, local economies and the environment via their town or parish council as well as via their local authority. We expect to see a lot more proposals coming forward.

On Thursday 21st November Local Works are holding a public meeting in East London as part of their ongoing work to tell people and councils all about the Act and help them use it.

Anyone interested in East London can attend.

Details are as follows:

Thursday 21st November, 7pm to 9pm

Venue: Hackney CVS, 84 Springfield House, 5 Tyssen Street, London E8 2LY

Chair: Aimee Brannen, News Editor, Islington and Hackney Gazettes

Cllr Sophie Linden, Deputy Mayor of Hackney Council
Shanaz Khan, Chair, East Trades Guild
Michael Calderbank, Sustainable Hackney
Steve Shaw, Local Works, National Co-ordinator

There will be free food and drink!

The Teenage Market

Brothers Tom and Joe Barrett created the Teenage Market in Stockport to give entrepreneurs and performers a chance to share their products and skills with consumers. In their first market 70 young people ‘produced’ the teenage market along with 100’s of mainly young consumers.

44% of the young traders had never visited the market before but 53% are now considering it as a career option.

One trader, local artist Lucy Shaw, is funding her advanced studies through her business.

The Teenage Market is being offered, through licence, as a real world counterbalance to the growth of the digital marketplace.

Their on-line portal, driven by WordPress (another Stockport business), allows traders and performers to link and collaborate but always results in a physical teenage market event. It also allows market managers to ‘manage’ the mix of the event – in terms of the type of retail and performance.

Additionally the licence offers full marketing, promotion and other support.

The licence is £700 per year or £1000 for two years

A fantastic innovation. You can find out more at

Finally, I was delighted to hear that Tom is a graduate of Manchester Metropolitan University. Tom and Joe told their story to conference delegates at the National Association of British Market Authorities Annual Conference today in Torquay.


Place Branding and Marketing in Ireland

Today, Ireland’s Sunday Business Show on Today FM (presented by Cónáll O’ Morian) had a special feature on place marketing and branding. I was invited to contribute to a panel discussion along with Joanne Grehan, CEO of Mayo County Enterprise, Paul Keyes CEO of Team Sligo and Eoghan Predergast who is leading the marketing of Limerick. This blog takes a look at current place marketing activities in Ireland.

Mayo County Enterprises is behind “Recipes for success: The business of food“, an initiative to create a county level food vision.

Team Sligo is a Chamber of Commerce movement to promote enterprise and tourism and Sligo as “a location for new, expanding and relocating businesses” and by 2014 aims to be the most improved destination in Ireland for visitor numbers. It’s slogan is “Sligo: set your spirit free”.

Finally, the Limerick Marketing Company aims to double visitor numbers and income as Ireland’s first dedicated place marketing company. The marketing of Limerick is a strategic objective of the Limerick 2030 spatial and economic plan.

Whilst these organisations, partnerships or initiatives may be relatively new, the process of promoting places “has been, practiced consciously or unconsciously for as long as cities have competed with each other” (Kavaratzis, 2008). Ever since roads, canals, railways have linked towns and cities together they have competed to attract people and investment. Even whole nations have marketed themselves to attract population (like Canada and Australia) – just look at the emigration poster from 1948 below.

At first, from looking at the literature available on the Web, Team Sligo seemed to take a traditional approach to place marketing – in that it aims to attract investment (both mobile and fixed) to the area – it’s focus is external and transactional – new visitors, new businesses – attract them in, then attract some more. More contemporary place marketing is less about this type of exogenous development and more about endogenous growth, developing the place product through internal resources – growing businesses, up or re-skilling the workforce etc. It was good to hear that Sligo also recognises the importance of “grass roots integration” and during the programme Paul made it clear that future success was going to come from more successful partnership working amongst the existing stakeholders who voluntarily want to make Sligo better.

Both types of development are referred to explicitly in the Limerick 2030 vision for both foreign direct investment and “endogenous business growth”. Eoghan referred to the complexity of place marketing and the multi-dimensional nature of place. Whilst Limerick wants to re-brand around the principles of being “authentic, innovative and progressive” this seems to be an ‘organising principle’ (Kavaratzis, again), to encourage stakeholders to be part of the change process, rather than a constraining strap-line.

Likewise, the Mayo food vision is being created by local people and businesses – the collectivisation of the various parts of the ‘product’ being the first and most crucial step. However, like the other place marketing initiatives discussed today there is a preoccupation with making money out of place initiatives. This is explicit in Mayo’s “Recipes for success: The business of food”. But food is more than a business, and so are places.

Critics of place marketing and branding see the adoption of business principles as the creeping commodification of place. “Places are being increasingly packaged around a series of real or imaginary cultural traditions and representations” (Hall, 1997). So food could be promoted at the expense of other traditions, such as music or things which cannot be so easily sold such as folklore or story-telling.

As Cónáll pointed out, many places are ‘competing’ against each other but with exactly the same offer – food, culture, creativity etc. and a word that came up a lot in our discussion was ‘authentic’. Place marketing and branding has to accurately represent the place product. Otherwise it is just empty rhetoric.

On the whole, the three initiatives we discussed today reflect a shift away from rhetoric and towards reality. Place marketing and branding is finally becoming more substantive and about time! The idea that slogans, iconic buildings or a few more tourists, on their own, can change the fortunes of a place in decline is rather desperate. Nevertheless, a lot of place marketing activity is publicly funded – so we should continue to be vigilant and ensure the local people that fund these initiatives get a suitable return on their investment.

You can download a podcast of the programme here.


Out-of-town town – Plaza Mayor

I have just come back from Malaga, Spain and this is a picture of Plaza Mayor. A typical Spanish streetscape? Look closely, and things are not quite what they seem. There are no actual windows at first floor level. The recess in the window frame has been painted to look like a window. Likewise, the life-size horses and cows dotted around are not real. That’s a real clue that Plaza Mayor is a fake. I am a regular visitor to Spain and have never seen horses and cows wandering around freely in town centres.

Plaza Mayor comes complete with plazas, fountains and orange trees but devoid of local businesses, people (rather than shoppers), or the 200 years of history the architecture initially suggests.

Instead, Plaza Mayor has just over 10 years history as an out-of-town retail and leisure centre built to look like a small Andalusian town.

Like some other towns, its leisure offer is separate to its main retail offer. This was added in 2008 and, I guess, built far enough away from the original centre so as to avoid any disruption to existing trading by the construction works.

So, as the photo below demonstrates – Plaza Mayor’s plaza mayor (main square) is now a 1100 space car-park.

This may be quite an apt development and one that shows that even fake towns suffer the same forces of change as real ones.

At 8am yesterday morning there were plenty of cars in the car-park before the centre was even open. With all that free parking and being next to a railway station on a commuter line to Malaga (it takes 20 minutes) it is obviously playing an important role for local people, as the original marketing literature said it would, but I suspect transport interchange was not what the developers were thinking.

At 8pm the evening before the centre was busier – but certainly not attracting the 20,000+ visitors per day it was when it opened in 2002. Interestingly, the addition of more retail in 2008 is housed in a more ‘traditional’ development – in terms of looking more like a run-of-the mill shopping mall. It seems to be doing well as the only vacant units are in the leisure half. At 9pm there were shoppers in the retail half – but many of the restaurants and bars in the leisure half were empty.

I may be just one of the 10,000,000 tourists to the area who prefers the reality of Malaga, Torremolinos or Marbella to the hyper (or hypo) reality of Plaza Mayor. An out-of-town town just isn’t the same.


Portas Pilots – One Year On

There’s been a lot in the news this week about the Portas Pilots – so here is a round up and my view on some of the key issues that have been discussed.

Why have the Portas towns got high retail vacancy rates?

There are some forces of change that work on a national or even international level, affecting all town centres, such as the recession – people have less money to spend and e-commerce – more of people’s spend takes place on-line.

Then there are factors that impact on individual town centres, such as the size of the catchment – whether more or less people are living in the area, how many people work in the town centre, the retail and service offer, for example comparison or non-food retailing has suffered the most in the recession, food and service business have done better.

Other factors include its location (northern towns have higher vacancy rates than those in the south), size (small centres are more resilient than large) and their accessibility or the ease with which people can travel to other competing centres.

In the case of the Portas towns, what is more important is the long term vacancy rate. For example, pre-recession Stockport’s vacancy rate was 12.7% compared to a national average of 10.3% A long-term vacancy rate higher than the national average indicates a long-term problem, and in most cases, an over supply of retail floorspace.

Whilst the Town Teams can get behind the existing retail, this is difficult if it is spread all over town. A strategic approach to concentrating retail into the right-sized centre is also necessary.

Have the Portas Pilots got high churn rates?

In a word – no. You could not pick out a Portas Pilot accurately on the basis of the number of shops opening and closing in its centre. Croydon has the highest churn rate – but then it probably had the highest concentration of multiple retailers, and due to the amount that closed last year (HMV, Comet, Clinton Cards, JJB Sports, Blockbuster, and Thomas Cook etc.) it’s not surprising they have more of their share of 4,000 empty shops to fill.

As Croydon is in the more affluent south, then retailers are likely to be more attracted to relocate there, rather than Nelson in the poorer North.

Churn rates are higher everywhere.
There has been a dramatic fall in the length of leases on commercial properties over the past five years. Before the recession, the average length of a high street lease was 10 years. There’s no doubt the economic climate has meant property owners have had to offer more flexible lease arrangements –a third of high street leases are now less than 5 years.

So, retailers can relocate to more profitable locations – areas with higher footfall – or larger, more efficient retail space, more easily. In other words they are not so ‘trapped’ in locations, which previously kept the churn rate down.

Also, with shorter term and pop-up leases, rent and rate relief, more independent retailers are being attracted into premises that would not have been feasible for them before. However, like other small business, their failure rate is high. A small shop has about a 40% chance of being in business 5 years after opening.

In a survey we did of 600 small retailers in the UK less than a quarter had a business plan, many of them had no previous retail experience and did not invest in training. We found a significant relationship with having a business plan the number of years the shop was in business and turnover.

Without a business plan and some grounding in retaiing, new entrants may be making the wrong location decisions – based upon supply side factor considerations like the price of the unit, rather than whether there is real market demand for their offer and whether the shop is in a location that attracts enough footfall.

How can the Town Teams increase footfall?

In the short term – by making the most of the space and the assets they have. Markets, vintage fairs, festivals, promoting existing retailers through guides, websites etc. Free or cheap parking on its own will not encourage people to the centre if what they want isn’t there, if there is nothing to attract them, if they can’t find it – or the town is dirty or feels unsafe.

But longer term, towns need to have an offer that meets the needs of their users. Retail and consumer data should be used to undertake an analysis of the retail area and work out what is missing and what sort of businesses would do well. Small in-town or edge-of-town supermarkets are associated with lower vacancy rates. Towns should actively encourage certain types of retailer – by going to other locations and seeing what is missing and who they could attract. If a town doesn’t want a supermarket then it should consider options like a local food market.

Towns will need to accept that retail floorspace has to shrink by between 20-40% and should help surviving retail outlets concentrate in the same part of town. This is the strategic stuff that needs some vision and leadership. Towns should be thinking about what the other space can be used for, in terms of uses that will bring more people into the town centre; offices, education, sheltered housing… in the next 10 years over 12.4 million people will be over 64 so more people will need live near to locally accessibly shops and services as they may not be mobile enough to travel to shop or visit their GP.

How can the towns improve their image?

There’s been a lot of investment by towns and cities into rebranding. But behind every good brand you have to have a good product, so there’s no shortcut to the investment and effort needed in terms of getting the place product right.

However, place perceptions can offer lag behind reality – and if a town has a poor image it can take a long time to change that. Place ‘ambassadors’ should be engaged; these could be the local press or key stakeholders like local retailers, for example. Basically, people that can and are willing to ‘talk-up’ the town.

A rebranding exercise can be useful, if it is thought of as the ‘organising principle’ for integrating measures (e.g. events, media relations, residents’ participation). But it needs to capture the place’s distinctiveness and shouldn’t just be a trite slogan – like “open for business”. What town wouldn’t be open for business?

What’s all this about the night-time economy?

Reports by the Local Government Association show that the public and council offers are concerned about the proliferation of sex shops, betting shops and food take away outlets. But if a property is empty landlords will want to fill it. The problem is the landlord is very unlikely to live in the town that seemingly becomes plagued with late-night bars and take-aways etc.

Councils can stop operators by using licensing restrictions, but they may well be challenged – and this is expensive at a time when they have no cash. Splitting the economy into day and night isn’t very helpful. The economy should be seen as a whole – if a late-night takeaway causes a litter problem that puts people off using the town in the day then the net effect on the economy may be negative.

What sort of retailers are doing well?

Well it is not all doom and gloom on the high street. Primark has seen its sales shoot up 24% in the last 6 months (to March 2013). Unlike other retailers, it is not going on-line as it is concentrating on growth in its existing market and profitability from improving retail operational efficiency. So, for example, it is expanding the sales floor area in shops so it can sell even more.

Even though there is a decline in comparison retail (electricals, toys etc.) Argos has seen its sales grow by 3% because of its successful click and collect service. Whilst consumers like the convenience of shopping on-line, the delivery aspect can be very inconvenient – so the ability to order something and know you can pick it up is very compelling. Likewise, John Lewis and Waitrose have seen big growth in click and collect sales.

And lastly, footfall in towns that participated in last years ‘Love your Local Market’ increased by 4% (against a backdrop of 6% decline). There is a growth of the Totally Locally movement, and after the horsemeat and other scandals, more people want to know where their food comes from, and smaller food retail businesses can offer this more personal connection with the supply chain and this reassurance.

So, one year on – the same questions are being asked and answered – this is worrying as we need to move on to real action if we want to support our towns and high streets to change so they have a sustainable role in the future.

Too many betting shops?

Saturday saw a small group of people protest against the proposed opening of Manchester’s 26th betting shop in the city centre.

I was asked to comment this morning for BBC Radio Manchester on whether betting shops are a good or bad thing for the high street.

On the positive side a new betting shop, like the one proposed, in a prime retail area is likely to employ between 4 and 5 people. It will pay around £40,000 per year in business rates. It will also contribute about £100,000 in tax to central government. Finally, according to a report by Ladbrokes, 80% of their shops open in vacant premises. So the argument is that it’s better a retail unit is occupied and paying business rates and tax than just left empty.

The recent growth of retail betting shops on high-streets demonstrates that they are successful in attracting people in to spend their money. £200 million in Manchester alone according to city centre councillor, Kevin Peel.

The problem is money spent in a betting shop does not circulate very well. Compared to something like a restaurant which is much more labour-intensive, only a small amount of the turnover goes into paying staff.

Also the UK betting shop market is dominated by 4 national players who have 82% of all shops. So profit goes back to head offices that are not based in Manchester.

So the argument is money spent in betting shops cannot then be spent elsewhere in businesses that are more beneficial for the local economy.

But is 26 betting shops in the city centre too many? Some smaller towns like Rochdale have an even higher concentration of shops in relation to their population. On the other hand the UK currently has about 7000 betting shops less now compared to the 16,000 it had in the 1970s.

So the problem may not be how many we have, but where they’re located. The betting industry strongly refutes the accusation that shops are proliferating in areas of economic and social deprivation. But the on line mapping serviceprovided Geofutures certainly shows how clustered betting shops are around poorer areas.

Again, the industry argues that because they need to locate in areas of high football these are obviously going to be in town centres and high-streets. But their argument is not particularly convincing. Even their own research suggests that it is poorer people that gamble. They find a relationship between participation in gaming activities and household income only between households that earn under £36,000 a year.

Historically, activities that are not perceived as being particularly good for us are heavily regulated.

Before 2007 betting shops were not allowed to open next to each other. The reason we are seeing so many new betting shops in areas is partly the relaxation of this control but it is also a direct consequence of legislation that limits the amount of fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs) to 4 in each outlet.

It’s these high-stake, roulette and casino machines that make up most of the shop’s turnover and also account for 50% of their profits.

A regular better i.e. someone that visits a betting shop at least once a month spends over £1200 per annum on FOBTs compared to £427 on over-the-counter bets.

A report by the Local Government Association indicated that half the public in their sample were concerned about betting shops. In particular, the ease at which empty retail outlets can be taken over by this type of operator.

Mary Portas singled out betting shops as being bad for the high street, but the concentration of any one type of business in a small area is usually bad, unless a location is looking to specialise, for example a street of fashion or second-hand book stores.

Many empty units like banks and building societies will not require any change of use to be granted before they can be turned into betting shops, therefore no planning permission is needed.

But all betting shops have to be licensed. Only one council so far, Newham, has turned down a license application for a betting shop. This is on the grounds that the shop’s primary activity will be gaming on machines rather than traditional over the counter betting.

This decision is being appealed against by Paddy Power and is up for review by local magistrates in June. I expect the licence will be granted as the operator is not proposing to do anything illegal.

Barking and Dagenham Council have launched a more strategic approach to their management of retail units. They have published supplementary planning guidance to give businesses 12 months notice of their intention to regulate the number of betting shops locally.

If gambling is the problem that Saturday’s protesters claim it is, then it won’t be long before national government will have to act. Perhaps that’s why the betting shop operators are so keen to get in quick, take over empty retail units quickly and make as much money as possible from the gaming machines whilst they can.