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The Warsaw Voice » Business » April 8, 2009
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Billboards for Cities
April 8, 2009   
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Cities and regions need well-planned and coherent campaigns and good strategies carried out by specialists, Janusz Malinowski, president of the managing board of the Stroer Polska outdoor advertising company and the organizer of the Promotion Festival of Cities and Regions, tells Magdalena Fabijańczuk.

The third Promotion Festival of Cities and Regions will take place at the end of April. What are the main topics at this year's festival?
Most discussions and lectures will be devoted to promotion through sports and culture. Naturally, these topics are prompted by the European soccer championships, which Poland and Ukraine will organize in 2012, and the aspirations of Polish cities to become the European Capital of Culture 2016. Poland is not taking adequate advantage of the Euro 2012 championships for publicity purposes. Our guests in the discussion will include the mayors of Gdańsk and Wrocław, two of the Euro 2012 host cities. The conference will also be attended by Mirosław Drzewiecki, the minister of sports and tourism, and Marzena Bogdanowicz, the marketing director of the British Olympic Committee, has also been invited. She will tell conference participants about her experience in London.

How have cities changed their attitudes toward building a strong brand for themselves since the festival started two years ago?
The first festival, held in 2007, gave cities and regions some general knowledge of promotion. Local governments in Poland at the time had a very vague idea about building brands; they predominantly focused on advertising tools such as mugs, key rings and events. Today, cities develop promotional strategies where memorabilia are just one element in the pursuit of a specific promotional goal. Cities no longer see promotion as a financial burden, but a thoroughly considered investment they expect to pay off. I am happy that as the organizers of the Festival of Cities and Regions, we helped prompt the changes.

I would like to take the opportunity to mention the year 2002 when the first direct local elections became a turning point for promotional initiatives. Instead of being chosen by councils, since that year mayors and community administrators have been elected by residents, to whom they are answerable. This means mayors and administrators have to respect residents' opinions much more than before and inform them about what they are doing for them.

Does this mean the promotional activities of local governments are becoming professional?
It was hard in the beginning. In their first promotion attempts, local governments held various events. Interesting cultural and artistic events are absolutely important, but consistent creation of a place's image takes greater commitment and a strategy. The next stage was reasoning in terms of tools, as in, let's do an outdoor campaign. Nowadays, this attitude is being slowly but surely replaced by strategies in which such campaigns are just one part, and it is perfectly clear what we want to show in a campaign and why.

Mayors are also beginning to understand that promotion cannot be randomly assigned to the next available official. They are finally realizing that cities and regions need well-planned and coherent campaigns and good strategies carried out by specialists.

Cities have begun to commission surveys and analyses of shortcomings and assets. This is the right way. It is also important to help residents join in the process. One noteworthy example is Rzeszów. When I last visited the city and took a taxi from the railway station, the taxi driver told me Rzeszów had very good roads and a lot of interesting things were going on in the area. I found out some time later that the Rzeszów mayor met with taxi drivers every other week, seeing them as good ambassadors of the city. After all, for many visitors, taxi drivers are the very first contact they have with the place.

What are most popular promotional activities among local governments?
We tell officials: before you start creating events, check out what you already have. Watch community initiatives, see what is going on around you and give your support to whatever is valuable. Cities need to hear their residents and get to know them better. Every region has its unique selling points, potential, history and customs. That is something it should draw on first. You cannot build the image of a city without considering its identity and the locals. Promotion is not some separate reality; it is about projects derived from what is "ours," what is good, and what makes us special.

Can you name some positive examples in Poland?
One of the leaders is Szczecin, which has adopted a development strategy for the city until 2050. All subsequent authorities will be required to carry out that vision. Some modifications obviously will be necessary, but let me say this again: a coherent strategy is a vision that brings everybody together and guarantees coherent action in all areas. That is crucial for promotion.

Another example of well-coordinated activities is Lublin, which supports cultural diversity from graffiti to religious heritage. ŁódĽ, in turn, advertises itself as a post-industrial city, having turned its weak points into assets in just a couple of years. The PR people in ŁódĽ realized that post-industrialism was in fashion and took full advantage of the trend.

And what continues to be the problem in promoting Polish cities and regions?
Local governments should find a way to get professionals to take care of promotion. This is a problem due to low salaries on the one hand and overstaffing on the other. I know cities whose promotion departments employ 35 people and yet the city is pretty much non-existent in terms of promotion. In cases like those, it would be far better to hire two competent people and a PR agency. Cities still outsource such projects very rarely.

Are Polish cities investor-friendly?
This keeps improving and cities are learning from one another. Some local governments are very investor-friendly and contrary to common belief, small communities are frequently much more flexible in negotiations with enterprises and developers than big cities. Things happen very fast in such places. As for metropolises, Wrocław is the best. No matter which party is in city hall, the local authorities and opposition have always worked for the benefit of the city and had the will to get along. Things have been similar in Szczecin for some time as well.
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