Where, not Who

THINGS TO KNOW when branding a place for talent attraction.

One of the highlights of this year was attending two forums on Talent Attraction Management for European Cities, Regions and Countries in Amsterdam and Copenhagen. Organised by the excellent Tendensor and Nordic Place Academy, it was a superb opportunity to meet colleagues in Talent Attraction from Scotland, the Nordics, Germany, Estonia, the Netherlands and the Basque Country.

Atomic DNA’s work on Tech/Life Ireland, the national tech talent brand, places us right at the heart of the global war for talent so this is fascinating stuff for us. With thanks to Tendensor, here are five insights that should be part of any Place Marketer’s or Talent Attraction Manager’s toolkit.

The Power of Emotion

If you’re a student of Behavioural Economics, you’ll know that all decisions are emotionally driven — particularly big ones. So the importance of emotion in relocation decisions can’t be overstated.

Charles Landry, Author of The Creative City, tells us that 64% of relocating people choose the city they want to live in before they choose their company or job (15 years ago, 80% of people chose the job first). So in the mobile, knowledge economy, the emotion that a city creates or conveys is a critical source of competitive advantage.

Amsterdam is an example of a city brand that understands emotion. From its xxx logo (not actually the symbol of the red light district but a playful allusion to it?) to its iconic I amsterdam brand, the city understands that to compete with the nearby super-cities of London and Paris, it needs to capitalise on its unique atmosphere.

Listening to Geerte Udo, I amsterdam Marketing Director, it was clear that she takes a an emotionally-led approach to place branding – her language centred on ‘pride’, the ‘soul of the city’ and ‘storytelling’. From a marketing point of view, Amsterdam doesn’t really differentiate between talent, foreign direct investment or tourists – the brand proposition and emotion for all groups is based on the same core values of creativity, innovation and the spirit of commerce.

Watching tourists queue to take selfies in front of the colossal I amsterdam logo outside the Rijksmuseum later that day, it was clear that Geerte and her team have created a brand that has a powerful emotional connection across nationalities and generations.

The Economic Ammunition

These days, attracting overseas talent into a country or region is increasingly politically sensitive. Local politicians and interest groups worry about the displacement of jobs, the potentially temporary nature of skilled migrants and associated brain churn.

Against this backdrop, being able to articulate the right economic business case for inbound talent attraction is critical. Linking high tech jobs to a multiplier effect, that increases employment and salaries for local service providers makes perhaps the most compelling economic argument.

Research by Enrico Moretti, Professor of Economics at Berkeley and author of The New Geography of Jobs estimates that ‘for each new high-tech job in a city, five additional jobs are ultimately created outside of the high-tech sector in that city, both in skilled occupations (lawyers, teachers, nurses) and unskilled ones (waiters, hairdressers, carpenters)’.

Right across the Developed World, the ICT skills gap continues to trouble economists and employers alike. Forecasts of up to 800,000 unfilled digital jobs in the EU by 2020 demand that policy-makers invest in attracting Tech Talent from outside their region, country or continent.

It starts with Attraction…

But attraction is only the beginning… I was struck by the warmth of language of many of the participating regions when the spoke about attracting and then, retaining skilled migrants. The emphasis was on ‘Inviting’, ‘Receiving’, ‘Settling’ and it made me wonder whether Ireland really is the ‘Land of the welcomes’?

In this era of UX and CX, how positive are the experiences of the valuable Tech Talent that we invest in attracting? Do we create or miss an opportunity to have our place proposition amplified by the most important group of all? How do their partners or children fare?

As part of the Forum, we visited the I amsterdam Expatcenter, a ‘one-stop-shop service for international talent… highly skilled migrant employees, scientific researchers, international entrepreneurs and international graduates.’ The Centre has sweeping panoramic views of Amsterdam and creates an immediate impression of welcome, professionalism and efficiency. The team there help new arrivals with residence and work permits, registration with local municipalities and tax matters. The user experience speaks for itself and is a major component in Amsterdam’s efforts to attract FDI.

(On this note, hats off to the Dublin Startup Commissioner whose recently launched Concierge Service is a great addition to the Tech ecosystem in Ireland.)

Can a place have a purpose?

These days people, companies and brands all aspire to having a higher purpose that transcends profit or selfish end. This is being driven by shifting, post-capitalist sensibilities and ambivalence towards corporate and government institutions.

And so, why not places?

Successful place brands have already accomplished the task of gaining visibility, identity and reputation – for example, everyone knows City of London is a global financial services centre. But what they may not have achieved is playing a positive role in the world. (Is City of London associated with betterment?)

Some great examples of ‘Place Purpose’ were presented. Finland has turned its reputation for expertise in Cleantech into a global crowd-sourcing platform, Solved, that sets out to solve and commercialise the world’s sustainability challenges.

Manchester, drawing on its edgy, urban heritage in the modern arts and industry, sets out to contribute ‘original modern’ to the world. Original Modern sums up “Manchester’s spirit, its indefatigable energy for progress and change, that ‘do something’ attitude, that desire to be different that always has and always will exist within the City.”

On a national level, Ireland does pretty well on this front – the ‘Father of Place Branding,’ Simon Anholt, named Ireland as the country that ‘Does the most good for the world’ in his 2014 Good Country Index (sadly, we’ve now slipped to 10th position). At Atomic DNA, we believe there is a huge opportunity to build an Irish place brand that builds on this quality and unifies Talent, Tourism, FDI and Exports and under one singular purpose.

Just come out and say it.

Place Branding is no place for the shy and retiring. It’s a noisy arena with lots of challengers and lots at stake. So you need to be very confident and very clear.

And no one is better at being clear and confident than the Dutch. Their Brainport place brand is inspired and sets out its proposition instantly: “Brainport is one of the Europe’s leading technology regions, regarded worldwide as a center for innovation and hi-tech. Centered on the city of Eindhoven in the Southeast Netherlands, Brainport creates solutions for the challenges facing society today and tomorrow.”

So, the Dutch have a major airport, a major seaport and a major Brainport – neat, confident, brilliantplace branding.

With thanks again to Tendensor, Nordic Place Academy and assorted colleagues from all over Europe.