• Transform magazine
  • December 15, 2018

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Place branding: Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv.jpg

Though situated in a historic region, Tel Aviv is a thoroughly modern, business-focused city. Now, it is changing its image to promote its startup culture, economic evolution and liberal attitudes. Amy Sandys reports on the Mediterranean city’s place branding efforts

Founded as a housing settlement at the beginning of the 20th century, Tel Aviv is one of Israel’s, and the Middle East’s, most iconic cities. A hotbed of culture, nightlife and fiscal activity, Tel Aviv has the third largest economy in the Middle East after Abu Dhabi and Kuwait City – as a global city, it attracts an international cohort of students, settlers and visitors. Yet, for Tel Aviv, successfully appealing to its target demographic of young people and tourists is in some cases hindered by a less than savoury image of Israel that is often communicated globally.

“The challenge of the Tel Aviv brand is, of course, the national brand of Israel,” says Hila Oren, CEO of the Tel Aviv Foundation. “But today, following the lead of other global cities, Tel Aviv as a brand has succeeded in disconnecting the city from the national brand of Israel. By engaging in urban issues that are globally relevant, the city’s brand focuses on the innovation happening within Tel Aviv itself.”

To combat its geographical challenge and elevate Tel Aviv’s status as a city powered by young minds and creative technology, the mayor’s office of Tel Aviv-Yafo launched Tel Aviv Global in 2010. Dedicated to positioning Tel Aviv as a ‘leading international business centre that specialises in innovation,’ Tel Aviv Global is combatting the country’s sometimes contentious image and portraying Tel Aviv as an entity almost separate to that of Israel. Led by Oren, the initiative focuses on economic development, tourism and reinforcing global communication networks to strengthen Tel Aviv’s positioning. This is all while encouraging the outside world to recognise Tel Aviv for its people, which Oren believes are its strongest asset.

“The key stakeholders include the municipality, the government of Israel, hotels, universities and other public institutions. And, working alongside the business sector, the Tel Aviv real estate market, restaurants and local business, everyone benefits from the Tel Aviv brand,” says Oren of Tel Aviv Global.

For Oren, another key part of positioning Tel Aviv as a global city also relies on its propensity for innovation. Israel as a whole is widely regarded for its burgeoning startup scene and provisions available for young businesses in the region. And for Tel Aviv, a historic advantage over rival cities such as Jerusalem, and the less well-known Herzliya, is its large university and reputation for liberalism. “The USP of Tel Aviv is centred around innovation and startups,” says Oren. “Therefore this is the central area of focus, alongside the nightlife, culture and culinary scenes of the ‘non-stop city.’”

Thus the attitude of Tel Aviv’s population is core to establishing a continually evolving and strengthening place brand. With an entrepreneurial spirit engrained into its citizens and students, much of what the city produces in terms of products and services, has become distinct from other Israeli cities through provenance. Not only does this notion of handwork encourage investment, says Oren, but it helps cement Tel Aviv’s reputation as a city that runs 24/7, all year, in all sectors. Other cities with this image, such as New York, are the types of economies that Tel Aviv Global hopes to see the city compete with.

Ongoing political tensions notwithstanding, Tel Aviv has retained its image as a centre of free living. Regularly listed as one of the best cities for literacy, culture, entrepreneurship and economic activity, its quest to establish respectable global city status is ongoing but fruitful. Perhaps despite the challenges it faces in terms of location, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Tel Aviv compete with the likes of London, New York and Tokyo in the near future.