Guest article: The European Capital of Culture – Guimarães 2012. Can we build a place branding strategy with it?

The Guimaraes logo

by Eduardo Oliveira

The nomination of the Portuguese city of Guimarães as one of the two European Capital of Culture for the year 2012 (ECC-2012) raised great expectations in the local community, in the northwest region and in the country as well.

As usual, politicians,  the media and local communities see the possible fame for country and region through an event of this size with enormous excitement. The hallmark events, such as the 2004 European Football Championship organized by Portugal, the European Youth Capital Braga 2012, bring the desire of achievements in the economic, social and cultural sense. Words, as ‘we can’, ‘we will continue working for the future’, ‘this is a signal that we are in the international realm’ are widely spread – with  little impact in the long-term.

Events and Place Branding

The relationship between events and place branding can be mutually beneficial, but for that, an approach to the event planning through a place branding strategy is necessary. Usually events are planned carefully by the host place, but less attention is paid to the event as a potential part of a wide place management or place branding strategy.

A place branding strategy asserts the place’s uniqueness and factors of differentiation. The assertion of uniqueness often emphasises the historical, social, human, and cultural values of the community, and destinations are progressively adopting brand and marketing approaches to emphasize those unique elements. According to literature, a range of local planning instruments are used by places in order to pursuit local or regional objectives. Events hallmarking are one of the place branding instruments favoured by spatial planners and place managers to formulate place branding strategies. Amongst others, cultural events are used to improve the overall reputation and stimulate development by attracting visitors and capital. Furthermore, events are able to contribute to a place´s range of tourist attractions, facilitate media coverage, gain brand value and promote awareness. The events are most effective as instruments in a strategic policy, often as demonstrations that a change in direction has already occurred and will be maintained through other policy instruments. Events hallmarking, as a place branding instrument, need to fit the event and the place attributes, including the relation with the community. This way, the event will contribute to the brand strategy for the place and the place will contribute to the event´s own brand. A strong brand is the path for an effective and efficient dynamic of development in the place, and the quality of the event influences the impact on the place brand.

European Capital of Culture

The European Capital of Culture (ECC) initiative has become one of the most prestigious and high-profile cultural events in Europe. The event was designed to:

i)               Highlight the richness and diversity of European cultures;

ii)             Celebrate the cultural ties that link Europeans citizens;

iii)            Bring people from different European countries into contact with each other’s culture.

The ECC event is intended to encourage cities to devise a programme with lasting effects and with impact on the long-term development of the city. Some cases around the past host cities did it, some others were far from that achievement. So, the question I attempt to discuss is to understand the ECC event in the building process of a place branding strategy, not only for the city of Guimarães, but for the northwest Portuguese region. How can the region as a whole benefit from the ECC-Guimarães 2012 event? Is the ECC creating momentum?


Guimarães as European Capital of Culture

The city of Guimarães, in Portugal, and the city of Maribor, in Slovenia, are the two cities host of the European Union event – European Capital of Culture.

The origin of the city of Guimarães goes back to the tenth century. It was in Guimarães, in 1128, that the Portuguese nation was founded, and Afonso Henriques was recognised as the first king of Portugal. The national castle, the statue of Afonso Henriques, and the UNESCO world heritage inscribed city centre are elements of the city’s identity.

According to the Fundação Cidade de Guimarães,  the institution in charge of the organization and promotion of the European Capital of Culture – Guimarães 2012, the event is built based on three goals:

i) Develop human capital: empower the local community with new human resources and professional expertise, by encouraging their proactive involvement in the European Capital of Culture programme;

ii) Develop the creative economy: transform the city’s economy, based on an industrial economic model, into an internationally competitive economy;

iii) Generate a new geography: transform a space that passively preserves memory into a space that constantly offers new and surprising cultural experiences.

The organizing team of the ECC event has been using a large number of communication channels, such as regional newspapers, social media and electronic marketing tools. The coverage of the cultural activities is beneficial for the public visibility of the city as cultural and historical destination. Besides a progressive enhancement of the image of the city throughout the year, opinion makers and the community in general, also are expecting urban regeneration of parts of the city, as well as new social and economic momentum.

Most events, as the ECC are relatively small and have little lasting promotional impact and also limited impact upon the place brand. My argument is that the ECC in Guimarães could be used as an effective instrument in a strategic policy and become a demonstration of a change regarding the future. The ECC in Guimarães has the potential to enhance the reputation of the city and the northwest region, but for itself does not produce results, unless it is integrated in a wide place branding strategy. The ECC – Guimarães 2012 could be seen as an opportunity to create momentum, for the city and extrapolated to the region (by positive contagion), and legacy for the future in terms of development of the arts, of culture in general, and together with urban regeneration, contribute to economic and social development.

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6 Responses to Guest article: The European Capital of Culture – Guimarães 2012. Can we build a place branding strategy with it?

  1. Efe says:

    Great post! I wrote something about the subject when Istanbul held the title (

    As you mentioned, events have very limited impact on a place’s brand, if any at all. ECC, in specific, is a title distributed in a “egalitarian” way (to make sure each and every European country is pleased), which diminishes its effect on place brands even more.

    One addition I have is, maybe, ECC can be seen as an encouragement for policy makers and domestic stakeholders to invest on place brands. The title indeed shows that the place has some special characteristics.

  2. Daniel Zimet says:

    This post is a most challenging one to every practitioner involved in place branding strategies, such as myself. May I emphasize the great contribution of Tel-Aviv’s nomination by Unesco, as a World Cultural Heritage City to the place branding strategies of the city. The leadership of Tel-Aviv’s Municipality smartly leveraged the prestigious title by formulating of a comprehensive view of the Greater Tel-Aviv’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, thus branding the Mediterranian seashore city as a unique mixture of caltural heritage and state-of-the-art technological capablities of the city’s working infrastructure. This prooves in my view that “events” are useful to a city as long as you take it way forward in order to ripe the fruits of fame .

  3. Ares
    I enjoyed reading your commentary on the ECC. I agree that the ECC as a tool to shift perceptions about a place should be within the context of a wider branding strategy. It should also not just be seen in isolation as a one off event but needs to be sustained by further investment in creating the on going ‘reasons to visit’ and promotional profile. Glasgow is a good example of a city that has used a succession of designations such as the ECC and other signature or landmark events to sustain market re positioning and profiling over time. Other cities such as Edinburgh have taken a conscious policy decision not to pursue designations such as ECC but rather have invested over time in creating a compelling reason to visit and differentiated offer based on indigenous cultural assets.

  4. Eduardo says:

    Thank you for your comments.
    Eduardo Oliveira
    Uni. Groningen

  5. Pingback: Guimarães after the European Culture Capital | Toneta Project

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