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Special Section: The future of place branding
Place Branding and Public Diplomacy  (IF),  Pub Date : 2021-01-11, DOI: 10.1057/s41254-020-00197-w
Mihalis Kavaratzis, Magdalena Florek

When we first had the idea for this special section, the world was a different place. It was in 2019, which marked 15 years since the launch of Place Branding and Public Diplomacy by its Founding Editor Simon Anholt. This journal has undoubtedly played a pivotal role in the development of place branding as a field of academic inquiry and, as we had explicitly written in the Call of Papers, we wanted to mark this important anniversary in the best way possible: by taking a look at the future of the domain. Of course, since then, the Covid-19 pandemic has turned the world upside down and has dramatically affected places and communities. It has effectively brought the tourism industry to a halt and it had a particularly severe effect on retailing in High Streets across the world. The major themes that we had proposed to deal with in the Special Section included (i) more refined appreciations of the nature of place branding (particularly as opposed to tourism branding), (ii) the relationship between place branding and sustainability (including social sustainability), (iii) place branding through digital means, (iv) the concept of the ‘Smart City’ and how that affects city branding, (v) stakeholder (dis)engagement, (vi) the problem of over-tourism and (vii) place branding in times of crisis. Although the world seems different, the same issues are still relevant, perhaps even more relevant than ever before. Little did we know two years ago that the pandemic would accentuate all those themes. On the one hand, the crisis has made many turn to instinctive responses focusing on quick, mass promotion in the hope that this might restore some of the lost vitality by miraculously bringing back tourists and shoppers. On the other hand, the idea that branding can help create a feeling of community and belonging has come to the forefront in many accounts of what the future looks like, something closely related to social sustainability. The use of digital techniques and practices has been accelerated in an unprecedented manner. The role of branding in times of crisis is understandably one of the hottest topics of discussion as, at the moment, all place branding happens within a crisis and no one can really predict when the crisis will be over. And that includes over-tourism, which might have been spectacularly ‘solved’ overnight, but it will come back, and places need to be more prepared than they have been in the past. So, the pandemic has actually emphasised all these themes and has made the need to understand them even more dire. The articles included in the Special Section do not deal directly with the future of place branding in the Post-Covid world. However, they do emphasise several issues, ideas and practices that will no-doubt be the focus of much place branding practice as places struggle to recover after the crisis and attempt to use place branding to pave their way to a better future. In consideration of the future role of place branding and how it could contribute to common good, particularly relevant is the article by Hereźniak and Anders-Morawska who propose a paradigm shift in the place branding discourse, by adopting the public value (PV) approach. They call for replacement of the competition-oriented and demand-driven perspectives on place brand building with activities centred around creating value for the residents. The authors posit that place branding can become an enabler of public value creation in a threefold manner: as a means of PV expression, as an enhancer of social relationships, and as a moderator of social behaviour. In particular, taking a public value orientation implies that place branding strategies should be critically reviewed in terms of their potential positive and negative consequences for public value. The authors argue that if moderated with caution and sensitivity, place branding has the potential to become public value-driven and to bring communities back to their foundations by stimulating a sense of unity. * Mihalis Kavaratzis