Argyle Public Relationships

Why city reputations matter – and who’s leading the world

By Daniel Tisch

/ Posted in Reputation

Sydney leads, but Canada excels with three cities in the top ten – led by Toronto

TTC streetcar against blurred cityscape

What gives a city a strong reputation? Which cities lead the world? And why does a city’s reputation matter? The Argyle team explored these questions today with our partners at the Reputation Institute in announcing the results of an annual study of the world’s most reputable cities.

The short answer to the last question is that a city’s reputation matters a lot. According to the 2016 City RepTrak survey, it correlates heavily with decisions to live, work, invest, visit and hold events there. And the study contains some very good news for Canadians.

Cities with the highest reputations attract visitors
What cities lead the world?

For Sydney, Australia, the news couldn’t be better. It’s the world’s most reputable city, according to more than 23,000 ratings collected in G8 countries from people with stated familiarity with the city they ranked.

Canada also has a unique reason to celebrate as the only country ever to have three cities in the City RepTrak top ten: Toronto (#4), Montreal (#7), and Vancouver (#9). Toronto was also ranked as the world’s #1 city to live in.

RepTrak pulse score of top 10 countries
What gives a city a strong reputation?

According to the research, reputation is an emotional bond, backed by several rational dimensions. For cities, there are three factors:

  • 37.5% of a city’s reputation comes from perceptions of effective government, including the city’s safety, leadership, infrastructure, and social, economic and environmental policies.
  • 36.7% involves perceptions of an appealing environment, which includes the city’s beauty, the experiences it offers, and its most famous personalities.
  • 25.9% comes from perceptions of an advanced economy, including financial stability, growth potential, respected products and a favourable business environment.

It’s crowded at the top – and the bottom
One of the survey’s most interesting findings is that the competition at the top is increasing with more cities ranked highly than ever before. It’s not hard to see why: government spending on tourism marketing, communications and infrastructure in 2015 was 10 per cent higher than 2011, and is expected to grow by 29 per cent in the next decade. Developing tourism is a smart investment. According to the World Tourism Organization, international tourist arrivals have grown by more than four per cent every year since 2010, reaching a record 1.2 billion people in 2015. And, the average visitor is spending more.

At the bottom of the list, cities pay a steep reputational price for civil rights abuses, scandal or crime – and for the negative effect of weak national reputations. One or more of these factors can explain the weak rankings of Cairo, Rio de Janeiro, Moscow, Mexico City, Istanbul and New Delhi.

Strong leadership builds strong reputations
The study also shows that leadership matters, at both the local and national levels. It’s no coincidence, for example, that Toronto’s reputational score for effective government has grown from 70.6 in 2014 to 78.7 per cent this year – likely reflecting the replacement of an embarrassing, globally notorious mayor with a hard-working, earnest one. All three of Canada’s global cities also benefit from the strong halo of the country’s stellar reputation (#1 in the world in 2015, #2 this year).

Toronto has one big area for improvement. While it’s the world’s number one city in which to live, and number two for both working and investing (behind Zurich), Canada’s largest city is far behind the leaders as a place to visit. Toronto would do well to heed the advice of many business leaders urging the city to bid for a World Expo.

Too often, discussions of city brands and reputations focus mainly on marketing. Success requires a much broader, deeper strategy. Given the rising competition and high stakes, there is an imperative for local and national governments to work together to create not just world-class campaigns, but also the infrastructure and environment that produce world-class experiences – which lead to strong, sustainable reputations.

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