A City Diplomacy Factor in Promoting Barcelona

Exploiting city diplomacy in gaining economic benefits and political clout in national and global dimensions is supposed to be a useful tool in building a city brand.

The cases of New York and London provide evidence of how urban units within national borders can exert substantial influence in the global decision-making process, economic traffic and building financial architecture. The more advantages of using city diplomacy appear in megalopolises’ experience, the more attention to this trend is paid on agenda of other cities.

Drawing on the case of Barcelona branding, it is necessary to pinpoint that since the 1992 Olympic Games Barcelona has acquired a solid international reputation and notable prestige. Its attempts in city branding have been recognized in a number of global rankings. What is more, Barcelona possesses a plethora of assets that facilitate city brand promotion – the city has caught on in different international markets by being one of the best world tourism destinations, by its leading universities being always represented in the top universities lists and by the local government incentives aimed at creating a brand of innovative, mobile and smart city (the initiative “Mobile World Capital” is worth mentioning here).

Undoubtedly, Barcelona enjoys a well-known multifaceted image – famous for its tourism and commercial appeal, as a city of festivals, for quality education, innovation, FC Barcelona, F1 Grand Prix, etc. Its high degree of autonomy has brought about the situation when generally accepted Spanish brands seem to have lost their “relevance” in the process of branding one of the Spanish cities.

As opposed to Barcelona, Madrid in search of its identity has attached great significance to the participation in some national programs and collaboration with the national institutions, such as TURESPAÑA, Instituto Cervantes, IBERIA (especially due to Spain strengthening in the African market), Spain-Russia or Spain-Japan Cross Year, etc. The image of Madrid is often mixed with the general image of Spain, since Madrid tends to increase its role as a core city in the Ibero-American space and as a capital of the Spanish language. Interestingly, apart from TURESPAÑA Catalonia has established its own network of tourist offices abroad, exercising promotion and lobby of Catalan brand in the markets they cover. What is more, Fira de Barcelona (a trade fair institution) set up by Barcelona City Council and Generalitat de Catalunya also has its delegations in other countries – a kind of small regional “embassies”. While comparing Barcelona advantages in city brand promotion, Madrid appeals in its International Positioning Plan to the necessity of enhancing its representation in a number of international cities’ organizations, like METROPOLIS, CGLU, EUROCITIES, etc.

Cities have multiple reasons for engaging in city diplomacy. Along with preventing conflicts, offering development assistance, cities tend to seek a way to attract capital and to create global platform where it will be possible to lobby and represent local interests.

The evolving foreign policy of Barcelona is being formed by private-public collaboration. Different local companies and bodies like Barcelona Turisme, Barcelona Activa, universities, airport and port, Barcelona Global civil society platform, etc. are engaged in the process of conducting economic-pull activities and increasing a global clout of Barcelona. In Madrid together with international and national companies (Santander, BMW, Repsol, Danone, etc.) an efficient leverage of FC Real Madrid is officially used by the locals as a means of city brand promotion.

Barcelona uses tools of “eDiplomacy” by adding posts in Instagram, a city blog, creating different apps, etc. The Barcelona Global platform comprising all companies and people concerned in the city promotion works out various projects that are submitted to the City Council for their implementation. For example, its ongoing project Barcelona Global International Council is aimed at promotion of a network of Barcelonans with prestige professional background and high position in any city abroad so as they could act as Barcelona representatives thus promoting its brand and seeking business and investment opportunities that could interest Barcelona.

Fascinatingly, Barcelona’s incentives do not lack far-sighted projects, since the city advances its brand in different dimensions and markets, from hosting sporting mega-events, through promoting itself as a city of fashion and a capital of Mediterranean diet, to taking an active part in combating global warming. All these city initiatives are exercised beyond the traditional vision on a state itself. Now we can talk about city diplomacy –  and Barcelona is pursuing its goals being a well-equipped and creative city.


Viola Serdyukova is currently based in St.Petersburg, where she studies Foreign Affairs at Saint-Petersburg State University. She is keenly interested in issues of city and country branding, especially concerning her homeland Russia.

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