Footfall signatures research wins best paper prize

Nikos Ntounis shows off our best paper prize at this year's AM conference
Nikos Ntounis shows off our best paper prize at this year’s AM conference

Our new £1m Innovate high street and retail project may have just started, but the research underpinning our successful bid for the £1m ‘bringing big data to small users’ project has been awarded a ‘best in track’ prize for retail at this year’s Academy of Marketing Conference, held at Newcastle Business School.

The research identified new footfall signatures and town types the team had found in their preliminary analysis of footfall data, provided by Springboard, who are leading the new project.  The findings were presented in a competitive paper “Radical Marketing and the UK High Street: Towards a New Typology of Towns” authored by Cathy Parker, Nikos Ntounis, Simon Quin and Ed Dargan.

Radical changes in the retail environment, such as the proliferation of online shopping and the advent of omni-channel retailing, are putting immense pressure on the UK High Street and town centres. The aim of this study was to examine, after many years of mono-functionality focused upon retailing, and with the shift of some of this activity to the Internet, how UK town centres and high streets are actually adjusting to this change. The research examined footfall data from 50 UK towns over a 30-month period. The findings suggest that a new typology of town centres based on footfall signatures instead of their position in the traditional retail hierarchy was feasible. The authors provided rationale for this ‘new’ typology of town centres by extending Bucklin’s product/retail classification to marketing channels. Finally, the team proposed that new multi-functional town centres could really benefit from using activity levels like footfall as key performance indicators, rather than relying on more static measures such as the amount of multiple retailer floorspace.
The research team has been invited to submit a full version of the paper to this year’s special Academy of Marketing issue of the Journal of Marketing Management, which will contain all the outstanding research from this year’s conference, and will be published in 2017.

Working together for stronger towns

On the 4th July 2016 I was invited to take part in the inaugural Oxfordshire High Streets Conference.  I  am saying inaugural as the delegates found the day very useful so we hope there will be another one! As a place management scholar, there is nothing better than sharing place insight and debating its relevance, in a local context. As a researcher, I get to know a lot about problems and I get to know my data intimately.   But, my work tends to be read by academics and other people who also focus on the data/problem side of things.  This means I don’t always connect with the people who want to put our research findings into practice.  To get the opportunity to present our research on footfall signatures at the event was especially rewarding.  Having the chance to hear directly from representatives of towns that feel their centre’s profile is changing from one of comparison shopping to one that is more focused on community retail and services, for example, was really useful.  I got a chance to take part in the important debate about what this change means ‘on the ground’, in terms of managing the offer, attracting the right type of businesses, changing opening hours and communicating all these changes in the community.

As the Keynote Speaker for the event I was also invited to give a couple of radio and TV interviews.  One of these was for Howard Bentham’s Radio Oxford Breakfast Show. His questions were typical of what people want to know about High Streets. Namely, how much research is there telling us what works on the high street? Are there answers or is everyone making it up as they go along?  What are the main factors that determine whether a high street is successful or not? Will the Internet kill the high street?  And, finally, what would I do if I was in charge of a town (I am not used to getting this last question!). I use the rest of this blog to give some answers to these questions.

How much research has been done into what works on the high street?

A lot. Our High Street UK 2020 project, funded by the ESRC, found relevant articles and commentary dating back to 1892. Academic researchers have been predicting many of the problems we are currently facing today – as long ago as the 1960s. Despite there being a lot of useful information, it’s taken more popular figures like Mary Portas and Bill Grimsey to bring these findings to people concerned about the high street. What seems to happen is that technology changes, consumer behaviour changes but there is too long a time lag before town centre stakeholders (e.g. property owners, the council, retailers) adapt their decision making/operations in response to these major changes. We need our town centre decision makers to take a bit more notice of the research and predictions our academics and other experts make, so they can anticipate change and respond more effectively, rather than just wait until everything goes a bit ‘pear shaped’!

What have been the consequences of town leaders making decisions without evidence of what works?

Wasted funding, wasted effort and declining high streets. But it’s not just town leaders – its also decision makers at higher levels.  For example, retail planning policy is a national issue.  Our research has shown that the impact of out-of-town shopping is more negative than internet shopping on traditional retail areas like high streets. But, in England our town centre first policy has been gradually eroded – allowing more edge and out-of-town retailing to be built, whereas in Scotland they are very protective of their high streets – and are doing everything they can to ensure retailing and other services are in town centres.

What are the main factors that determine a high street’s success?

Number 1 is the range of shops, services and other attractions it offers – and whether these match and adapt to the needs of the people using the high street.  Attractions are not just shops.  Parks, leisure activities, schools and hospitals, public transport hubs and employers all attract footfall. The question is – how integrated are all these attractors into an overall town centre experience? For example, do business open later to cater for large numbers of commuters, ‘attracted’ to railway stations.

Number 2 is the accessibility of the high street – using a range of transport options – public transport, walking, cars or cycles etc. High streets can be forced into unnecessary decline by moving bus stations and stops, for example. And that’s why we hear so much about car-parking. But, as a rule of thumb the weaker the town’s offer (see above) the cheaper the car-parking needs to be. Strong towns do not need to worry about the price of car-parking!

Number 3 is competition to the high street from edge-of-town or out-of-town retailing.  Retail parks are seeing a rise in footfall – because they are not just a collection of retail sheds anymore, they have restaurants, gyms, cinemas – and free parking. In effect, they are becoming more convenient (for car-owners) replacements to the traditional high street.

Is the internet killing the high street?

No, the Internet is not killing the high street, but it is transforming it.  The Internet is speeding up the reinvention of the high street into something more suitable for today’s consumers.   Bodies like the Royal Town Planning Institute think that the UK has an oversupply of retail floor space – perhaps as high as 30%.  Now people are buying bulky physical products online, our town centres do not need to be full of fridges, freezers, mattresses, TVs and sofas etc., which take up a lot of room! This space can now be used for other uses.  As a result, many smaller town centres need to become more compact.  The retail and service offer needs to be concentrated – and town centre decision makers need to facilitate this to make it happen.  A town with a fragmented offer is not convenient as it is not easily walkable.

If you were put in charge of an average English town, what would be your first priority?

Run to the hills! After all my time researching town and city centre change I know place management is not an easy job! Towns are full of lots of different types of people, shopkeepers, independents, multiples, residents, civic societies trying to protect history and heritage, transport planners trying to facilitate cycle paths, motorists wanting to park outside shops.  All these people have got competing expectations and requirements. So, the first priority should be establishing a realistic and shared vision of what the town centre offer needs to be – to meet the needs of the people that use it.  Our recent High Street UK 2020 project has shown that the sort of research work that is needed to reposition the town, so it meets the needs of its current catchment, is sorely lacking in the average English town.

Finally, I have put together a Storify from the tweets that were shared during the Oxfordshire High Streets Conference.  It really was a great event and I look forward to the next one. You can find out more about the event below.

World Towns Leadership Summit 2016


The World Towns Leadership Summit was organised by Scotland’s Towns Partnership, The International Downtown Assocation, Association of Town and City Management and Business Improvement Districts Scotland.

Around 200 delegates from around the globe gathered to discuss, debate, disagree, defend and develop a new, collective approach to thinking about, talking about and, most importantly, taking positive action in our urban places.

A key result of the Summit was the World Towns Agreement.  Co-produced with the Academy of Urbanism, Centre for Local Eeconomic Strategies and Architecture and Design Scotland. A milestone in urban development for the 21st century, the Agreement will be shared worldwide to help influence international authorities and governments, and to drive forward a new vision of civic governance.

IPM have contributed an evidence commentary to the development of the agreement, based on research work we have undertaken over the last few years, showing how this underpins the four guiding principles of identity, economy, government and citizenship and environment. A reference list is also available.

IPM was represented at the World Towns Leadership Summit by Simon Quin, Gary Warnaby and Cathy Parker (who presented the findings of HSUK2020).  We were delighted to bump into lots of old (longtime!) friends, like Jane Jenkins, Senior Fellow of IPM and Jim Yancula (Editorial Board Member of the Journal of Place Management and Development). Below you can read some of the ‘twhighlights’ of the Summit.




IPM Study Tour to Berlin June 2016 – Place Management in Action

From the 2nd to the 4th June IPM ran a 3-day accredited educational trip to Berlin to learn more about place management in the city.  The tour was a combination of site visits, lectures & workshops as well as meetings with local place managers (local partnerships, markets, town centre management, local initiatives, local tourism etc.).

The Study Tour was hosted by Dr Ares Kalandides, Professor Cathy Parker and Simon Quin, from the IPM at Manchester Metropolitan University. It took place in cooperation with New York University, Berlin (NYU Berlin).

Below is a short reflection on the three days, compiled from the tweets and photographs taken during the tour.

The High Street and technology: Friend or foe?

The Internet is a transformative technology. It is changing retailing. At IPM we have been lucky enough to have access to Springboard’s historical footfall data. We have analysed over half a billion shopper movements, and the overall picture is that town centres and traditional retail areas like High Streets are in decline.

Whilst much has been made of the ‘restorative power’ of innovations such as click and collect, in general retailing is shifting on-line and out-of-town. Springboard’s footfall figures from Black Friday demonstrated this, measuring a 10% decline in High Street footfall, compared to the same day in 2014. In 2015, many multi-channel retailers were keen to offer higher discounts online, perhaps to avoid the more shameful displays of in-store consumer behaviour we have seen in previous years. Similarly, many shoppers picked up a car boot-full of bargains, enjoying the convenience of driving to their local retail park (where footfall was up 3%, compared to Black Friday 2014).

Whilst national statistics can be very useful, averages can be misleading. When we drilled down into the Springboard data we found many centres with stable or increasing footfall, even over the Christmas period. And we think we know why. Those centres with a clearer collective offer perform significantly better than those whose offer is unclear. So far, we have identified 3 generic types of centre offer from their footfall profiles. Comparison, speciality and convenience/community towns. Comparison shopping towns still have significant retail floor space. The anchor is clearly retail. These towns and cities are where multichannel retailers are concentrating their offer. In contrast, speciality towns are not anchored by retail. They tend to have a strong tourist offer instead. Convenience community towns are anchored by services that people need frequently, if not daily. Like transport hubs, employment or food retail.

What’s interesting is that size does not always predict centre type. We are releasing a report early next year with our findings but the headline message is this….

“retailers will perform better if their offer is congruent to the overall offer of the location”.

In other words, if retailers collaborate with other stakeholders and help deliver the overall experience customers want from a location, they will attract more footfall. For example, a failing comparison centre should be concentrating its retail offer geographically if the catchment usage and profile suggests the town needs to adjust to becoming a convenience/community town. The Internet makes this possible as so much comparison shopping has already shifted from smaller centres online. Shops selling stock have a big physical footprint – they take up space (remember the size of an average Woolworths?) Without so many of these ‘public warehouses’, centres can shrink and become more walkable and convenient for regular – in some cases, daily visits. Some comparison retailers should be thinking of more congruent store formats to suit convenience/community or speciality locations. The big four grocery retailers have already showed how they can shrink the size of their operations significantly and slot into existing units in traditional centres.

We see many opportunities for the disruptive power of the Internet to save some of our failing physical retail environments. However, in many instances we are concerned that it just won’t happen. Strategic decision making skills and the analytical skills needed to use evidence to inform change are poor – so many of the positive opportunities technology can bring will be missed. Through our High Street UK partnership with 10 UK towns, we have already identified the 25 priorities that will improve footfall in physical retail centres and technology can facilitate many of these. For instance, intelligent waste disposal and more responsive or even automated street cleaning can improve levels of cleanliness. And these seemingly basic aspects of the customer experience take on even more importance when people have a choice not to visit physical locations at all.

In summary technologies can help physical centres – but they need grasping and integrating. And this shouldn’t be just the responsibility of the local authority. Because if retailers invest in strengthening the locations they are in, in the way our research suggests, they will see a return on investment, in the same way they invest in back-room operations to improve the bottom line.


Journal rankings – do we care?

Last month the latest version of the Journal Citation Report (JCR) was released by Thomson Reuters. This publication is viewed as the ‘industry standard’ in terms of establishing a publication’s impact. The report does this by calculating a variety of metrics which stem from the number of citations an article in any given publication achieves.

With over 11,000 journals now publishing peer-reviewed research, it is not surprising that individual researchers and their employing institutions find the sort of statistics and rankings contained in the JCR helpful.

Researchers want their work to make a contribution to knowledge, so the average number of citations per article for a journal is a useful way of seeing if previous research published in that journal has a higher (or lower) citation rate. The more people that cite articles – the more those articles are likely to be influencing the development of theory or knowledge in an area.

Likewise, universities want to know that they are investing in influential research (and researchers), in terms of funding activity and promoting their best academic staff.

But what about journal editors like us? What do all these metrics and the rankings mean to the Journal of Place Management and Development?

Well firstly, as a relative new journal (published since 2008) we are not currently reviewed by Thomson Reuters. Therefore we do not appear in the JCR. Game over? Well, not quite. As we have already said, rankings and listings are a popular and simple way by which a journal’s impact is judged. Therefore, if we want to attract authors, reviewers and Editorial Board Members we need to give some indication as to how well JPMD performs.

Despite not being included on the Thompson Reuters JCR list, it is still possible to compare the citations of JPMD articles, using other, publicly accessible sources, such as The SCImago Journal & Country Rank. This uses information from the Scopus® database (Elsevier B.V.), which does include the Journal of Place Management and Development.

This year, our cites per document over a 2 year period (which is calculated in the same way as the Thomson Reuters journal impact factor) is 1.45 which puts JPMD in the top quartile of journals in Urban Studies (12th), Business & International Management (51st) and Geography, Planning & Development (80th). And it means we are also above ‘average’ in Strategy & Management, Tourism, Leisure & Hospitality Management, and Marketing too.

So what does this mean? Well, we are fairly specialist and have not published that many articles. Therefore, there is a fairly ‘tight’ community around the JPMD, which makes it more likely that the authors that publish in it are building on each other’s work. However, as a group we must be careful that we do not ‘game’ and skew the results – by, for example, only citing authors that also publish in JPMD or, even worse, self-cite too often. All of this gets monitored and could result in the JPMD being blacklisted in future rankings and listings.

The ease by which the 2 year citation average (Impact Factor) can be manipulated is probably why it is frequently criticised. Nevertheless, other metrics, such as the SJR indicator go one step further to measure the “scientific influence of the average article in a journal” and express how central to the global scientific discussion an average article of the journal is. This metric also includes where the citations are to be found, as well as how many are counted. Therefore, SJR includes both a measure of quality and quantity. The results using the SJR indicator for the JPMD are the same as for the 2 year citation average, which means we are also performing well in terms of our articles being cited in higher quality / more established journals.

So, whilst there are different ways of measuring, listing and ranking, we do care how well JPMD does as it shows how relevant the research we publish is to other academics. However, it is the individual articles that, collectively, make up the journal’s position, so the only way to improve our standing is to attract the best quality research and provide an excellent service to our authors. In our first Editorial of 2016 (Volume 9, Issue 1) we will explain how we intend to do this. But, as always, we are very open to your ideas and suggestions.

Cathy Parker and Dominic Medway

Note : If you are interested, and want to make comparisons with other journals, you can see the JPMD’s performance in the SCImago Journal & Country Rank for yourself here.

Journal of Place Management and Development Awards for Excellence: Who won and why

Yesterday, Emerald Group Publishing, publishers of our Journal of Place Management and Development, (JPMD) announced the 2015 awards for excellence across the whole of their journal portfolio.

First of all, on behalf of the Editorial Board and Team, I would like to congratulate our JPMD winners listed below. It is not easy to be chosen for one of these awards. As many of our articles have high download figures and citations, we also take into account other factors, especially the contribution of a paper to the aims and objectives of the journal, when we are judging. Likewise, as we are lucky to have such a wonderful body of knowledgeable and reliable reviewers, we have to look for other outstanding qualities, to recognise our award-winning reviewers.

So, here are the JPMD, 2015 Outstanding Authors and Reviewers along with a short commentary from me explaining why they were chosen.

Outstanding Paper

The award of Outstanding Paper 2015 goes to Staci M. Zavattaro, for “Re-imagining the sustainability narrative in US cities“, Journal of Place Management and Development, Vol. 7 Iss: 3, pp.189 – 205.

Staci takes a critical look at how US cities are communicating about sustainability, through reviewing content on their websites. The findings suggest rather a myopic (environmentally-focused) view of sustainability is often portrayed, ignoring social and economic goals. However, of more concern, is the place marketing activity analysed. This promotes ‘sustainability as consumption’ which Staci notes is unsustainable. As well as these findings, there are four other reasons which, together, we feel makes this paper outstanding.

First, the paper is interdisciplinary – combining theory and methods from political science, public administration, marketing, management and tourism. The literature reviewed is rich enough to fully analyse the research problem identified, in this case the ‘gap’ between the long-term aim of sustainability for the planet and the current communication practices of specific cities.

The research problem also deserves special mention, as the second reason this paper was enjoyed by the judges. It is a ‘real-word’ problem, affecting most places. It is not merely an academic endeavour, so ultimately the findings can be adopted/adapted/interpreted by place managers to make better, more sustainable, places.

Third, the method was appropriate and ‘scientific’ in its application. As a piece of qualitative research it was clear what content had been chosen to analyse and how it was analysed.

Finally, Staci has identified recommendations for practitioners – as part of the overall methodology adopted (in other words, these are not just an afterthought – but their development is an intrinsic part of the study). As the official journal of the Institute of Place Management, where the great majority of our members are practitioners, there is an expectation that articles in the journal will be useful outside of academic circles, and can have genuine impact. It is not much help to a busy, and usually under-resourced, place manager to read ‘critical reviews’ which only identify the faults and flaws in current practice and do not offer solutions or recommendations to improve the status quo.

Highly Commended Paper

The award of Highly Commended Paper 2015 goes to Salman Yousaf and Li Huaibin, for “Branding Pakistan as a “Sufi” country: the role of religion in developing a nation’s brand”, Journal of Place Management and Development, Vol. 7 Iss: 1, pp.90 – 104.

Salman and Li present a very different type of paper. It is almost a ‘worked example’ of a specific policy recommendation – to associate Pakistan with the many positive aspects of the Sufi religion – in contrast to the existing, widely-held, negative perceptions of the country. As a journal that seeks to publish research of international importance, this article has the potential to make a real difference to a whole nation, if the recommendations are adopted by policy makers. The passion and conviction with which the authors write is also unusual in journal articles. But perhaps not in the Journal of Place Management and Development, where ‘place’ and ‘people’ are valued as an intrinsic part of the research inquiry.

Outstanding Reviewers

The awards for Outstanding Reviewers 2015 go to Javier Lloveras and
Eduardo Oliveira, for similar reasons. Both Javier and Eduardo have recently completed their PhDs. However, when they were both in their final year, preoccupied with the stresses and strains that come with the fast-approaching deadline of ‘hand-in’, they both found time to review for JPMD. Despite being new to the process, their responses were extremely detailed, offering lots of guidance and advice for the authors if aspects needed to be improved or, if they felt the paper was not good enough, very specific feedback explaining their decisions. It is really good to see academics at the start of their career share their skills and knowledge of their subject areas so willingly.

Congratulations Staci, Salman, Li, Javier and Eduardo! Our outstanding class of 2015.


The Outstanding Paper is available to download, free of charge, until 1st June 2016. Staci M. Zavattaro, “Re-imagining the sustainability narrative in US cities“, Journal of Place Management and Development, Vol. 7 Iss: 3, pp.189 – 205.

The Highly Commended Paper is available to download, free of charge, from 1st to 31st July 2015. Salman Yousaf and Li Huaibin, “Branding Pakistan as a “Sufi” country: the role of religion in developing a nation’s brand“, Journal of Place Management and Development, Vol. 7 Iss: 1, pp.90 – 104.


3 distinguishing characteristics of a functional market town

On Wednesday, on our #HSUK2020 tour, we were in Altrincham to discuss what makes a market town. Altrincham received its market charter in 1290 and is currently positioning itself as a ‘modern market town‘.

The UK footfall data supplied to us by Springboard suggests there are two types of market town (see Figure 1). The first, rather sadly, is more of an ex-market town, that really no longer functions as one. These towns do not have a strong weekly market and have lost other important services, such as, for example, their cottage hospital or registry office. These ‘ex-market’ or dysfunctional market towns (1) have a footfall profile equivalent to a community/convenience centre – in other words, footfall is fairly stable across the months, with no noticeable peaks.


                                                                                                      Figure 1 : Footfall profiles

In contrast, the functional market town, has a different type of footfall profile, with noticeable peaks around Easter and July and a gradual increase in footfall from September to December.

Comparing the footfall profile of a functional market town to other town types, it would appear that the modern market town has a little bit of everything. Which, of course, it always did have. It offers convenience; those important everyday products and services like food shopping, a library, doctors and opticians etc. It has leisure, recreation – and entertainment like gyms, sports fields or a swimming pool, a cinema or a theatre. And there are places for the community to meet; coffee shops, cafes, pubs and restaurants.

The functional market town also offers some comparison shopping; clothes, homewares, maybe a bookshop or two, as well as some more important services to the surrounding area, maybe a hospital or FE college. This all comes packaged in what might be a fairly ‘low-key’ but nevertheless historic environment which offers a pleasant visitor experience and an important link with the past.

Of course, this description applies to a great many small or medium towns. So, in our workshop with Altrincham Forward we explored some of the fundamental characteristics of a market town and what these might look like in today’s market towns.

The 3 defining characteristics of a modern market town.

1. There is a market and it is an anchor.

Seems obvious, but if your town hasn’t got a market building, a market place, or temporary market ‘space’ (such as a high street), then it can’t be a market town. Even if it has the physical space for a market, it’s imperative that whatever is in it (the collective offer from all the operators) is behaving as an anchor – and is generating significant footfall to the town.

Marketplaces represent prime retail space in market towns – in terms of delivering on the ‘brand’. They can’t afford to be occupied by operators who do not provide the merchandise or collective/relevant opening hours and service that will actually drive footfall – in contrast to just ‘ticking over’. This isn’t to say all markets should be gentrified. For example, Bury Market is a very successful traditional market, selling a wide range of value products, which brings in coach loads of people from all over the North.

2. The market town plays an important role in the network of nearby places. (2)

Market towns served the surrounding hinterland – not only with commerce and a market but also by providing other services, as well as being the seat of local government. Again, these are important drivers of footfall. Losing a health centre, council offices or a college reduces a town’s relevance to its catchment – and undermines its power.

Market towns should remain a focus for local supply chains and the local economy, providing financial and professional services, such as banks, architects, solicitors and accountants, as well as office space and employment. Altrincham, for example, has nearly 3000 businesses in and around the town centre.

But market towns are not only important economically. Once or twice a year, market towns were transformed into very special places for the community, during annual fairs and festivals. These events really would be the highlight of the year to many people. To what extent does the modern market town position itself as the heart of the community – with such celebrations? And how hard does the modern market town work to strengthen and reinforce the network with nearby places? Does it compete when it should be collaborating?

Finally, market towns should be relevant to the whole community, old and young. In Altrincham we heard that young people didn’t feel the town had anything to offer them. In other towns, the success of the Teenage Market and local music festivals proves that young people can be persuaded to come into town centres.

3. The market town is the one most accessible to most people.

Originally, people would travel to their nearest market town. It might be a two hours’ walk – but the other options might be three or five hours’ away. A modern market town will be accessible by a variety of transport routes from the smaller centres and hinterland, including public transport, cycle paths and maybe even the original footpaths. The modern market town, one that maintains its status, is likely to be the most accessible market town to the most people in an area.

Because of their location, in relation to other towns, and because their important status was ‘protected’ through the control of market licenses, market towns had no competition. Nowadays, it is a very different commercial landscape. There are bigger centres, like cities nearby; or other destinations, like out-of-town retail parks easily accessible by car. There are even other retail channels, like on-line, competing for consumers. But none of these can replace a market town with its special mix of convenience, community, retail, services, leisure and entertainment, history and heritage all packaged up at a compact and manageable scale.

For a town like Altrincham, a huge conurbation has grown up around it, since it received its market charter. This means it is now accessible and relevant to an urban ‘hinterland’ devoid of many traditional and rural connections. Recent improvements to the canal tow path means people can now walk or cycle safely from Manchester or nearby suburbs.

The footfall data suggest that the town is punching way above its position in the retail hierarchy. With its tram line, train station, and canal path it is now the most accessible and important market town to a population of 350,000 people in a 5 mile radius. Perhaps the modern market town has not changed so much, providing a weekly fix of a bit of everything, in a distinct but reassuring setting. Market towns have a scale, format and offer we are very used to and, it would seem, fond of. They are, perhaps, a tangible representation of many people’s perceptions of what a town should be.

Cathy Parker, Nikos Ntounis and Simon Quin.


2. Action For Market Towns, 2005, Healthcheck Handbook.

You can find out more about the High Street UK2020 project at

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.”