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The virtues of living and working in Ottawa are being championed by Ottawa Ambassadors, a sub-committee of the Ottawa Board of Trade’s Economic Growth Committee. Their mission is “to create a dynamic story….to share with the world, to invite them to live, to work, to play, to invest, and to study in Ottawa,” says group leader Karen Brownrigg.

The group commenced its work in 2020, comprised of representatives from the local business community. The Board of Trade’s partners in this endeavor are the City of Ottawa, Invest Ottawa, and Ottawa Tourism.

The Ottawa Ambassadors are helping to bring awareness of Ottawa’s Place DNA ‘Canada in One City’ initiative to more people around the world.

“With the place DNA branding that’s been done and all of the information that’s available through Invest Ottawa, Ottawa Tourism, and the City of Ottawa, we felt it was really important to bring all of that information into one place and provide that access to anyone who wanted to be an Ambassador of Ottawa,” explains Brownrigg, who is also the founder and CEO of IHR Advisory Services, a human resources advisory and executive coaching company.

City experiences evoke emotions

A city needs to actively develop what it promotes, says Frank Cuypers, a Switzerland-based senior strategic consultant for Destination Think. Cuypers, a city and destination marketing expert who has worked with numerous global clients, including the City of Ottawa and Ottawa Tourism, was a keynote speaker at Ottawa’s recent virtual City-Building Summit: Ottawa Next.

A city’s brand consists of “the sum of all stories somebody hears, and the sum of all experiences somebody has with a place. This is about uploading your place with emotion. The more emotional the more memorable. And the more memorable, the better your experience. And the better your experience, the better word of mouth of your city,” he elaborates.

Cuypers sees four major brand themes emanating from Ottawa’s ‘Canada in One City’ Place DNA initiative.

First is the city’s connection with Canada – with the country’s past, present, and future, as well as its connection to both urban areas and to nature, and the city’s ability to connect people, geography, politics, provinces, and languages.

Second is the theme of ‘Canada’s Village,’ with its unity in diversity, acceptance, and freedom of individuality, and perception of being a caring community. “It’s about unity. This is about the mosaic, the diversity in your place. That’s really something that struck me,” says Cuypers. Brownrigg also emphasizes the importance of diversity. “Inviting more perspectives into the dialogue is always a strength, and so inviting diversity into our city makes us stronger. It allows us to think innovatively, to go in directions that we wouldn’t otherwise go into, and brings a really nice harmony to the city,” she says.

The third brand theme that Cuypers associates with Ottawa is the city’s ‘Joie de Vivre.’ Ottawa is favourably viewed for its quality of life, and for being a personal and intimate city that takes the time and effort for celebrations and vibrant events, making for a lively urban experience.

The fourth theme is ‘Ottawa’s Legacy,’ with the future being gifted from the present, as Parliament shapes policy and life for all Canadians, and the city opens new frontiers in academics and technology.

The world needs to know more about Ottawa

But Cuypers’ research also revealed that Ottawa’s Place DNA initiative needed to fill certain gaps involving external perceptions of Ottawa’s identity.

Many people do not know enough about Canada’s capital and do not see it as being unique, he says. Another gap is that while Ottawans are proud of their city, the outside world does not view Ottawa as being vibrant. And even though Ottawa is well known within Canada for its bilingualism, there is a lack of global awareness of that fact in the French-speaking world.

Cuypers also notes that size is not a factor in place branding and that smaller cities like Ottawa offer certain advantages. For example, a Tier II city can be very attractive for young people to start in technology – and that is an area where Ottawa excels as one of North

America’s principal advanced technology centers. Smaller cities also have a multi-helix governance structure and they collaborate with other governments at various levels. This can appeal to a wide segment of people in business, academia, and the arts, among other sectors, he says.

“There was saturation of the number one cities. [It’s] looking like the Tier 2 cities are really going to grow. That will be sped up by the COVID-19 pandemic,” predicts Cuypers.

But, he warns, senior city officials everywhere should not just assume that when the pandemic is over, people will have a pent-up desire to travel and will automatically return to enjoy something their city was famous for in the past. Consequently now is the time more than ever for cities, including Ottawa, to put a renewed effort into shining a light on who they really are.

“Promotion is out. Meaningful messaging is in,” stresses Cuypers.

That is exactly what Ottawa Ambassadors plan to continue doing. A new campaign will be launched early this summer to celebrate Ottawa online, with a one-stop shop of information that people can access, discuss and share about remarkable projects such as Zibi, new LRT routes, and innovation in high-tech and other sectors, says Brownrigg.

“It’s going to be a visual representation of Ottawa’s dynamic story, along with an invitation to our Ottawa Ambassadors to share that story,” she adds.