Making Moscow an Easier Sell

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What strikes any foreigner who visits Moscow regularly is the sheer size of the city and the speed at which it's changing and developing. What isn't changing, unfortunately, are the complaints from prominent Muscovites about the notoriously negative attitudes toward the city reflected in much of the media coverage both in Russia and abroad.

Moscow must be one of the hottest places on Earth right now. There are a multitude of projects under way, including the creation of Europe's biggest business center and plans to build the world's tallest building. There is also a major drive to make the historic center more appealing to tourists. The problem is that nobody has heard of any of these fine programs. For people around the world, it's the same old Moscow.

This isn't a problem Moscow can solve with a slick public relations drive, like the one the Kremlin attempted last summer when it appointed a U.S.-based PR firm to improve Russia's image ahead of the Group of Eight summit in St. Petersburg. Nor can it be solved by the kind of propaganda used in Soviet times. Instead, what is involved is finding a distinct idea for Moscow. Think about it this way: More than 200 countries and around 300 cities with populations of more than 1 million are competing in the global market for tourism and business, as well as for the attention and respect of the international media, other governments and the people of other countries. In such a busy and crowded marketplace, positioning the capital of the nation is a necessity.

To make its mark in the world, a big city like Moscow needs a great deal of collaboration and cooperation between the many different individuals and organizations with a stake in its success. It is reasonable to expect City Hall to take primary responsibility for building Moscow's position in people's minds, but the city's business sector and population should also join as partners for the government in making that position a success.

So what is Moscow waiting for? The time has certainly come for it to take its rightful place in the world -- it is, after all, the world's eighth-largest city. Being late to the party, it can avoid making many of the costly mistakes other cities have made when embarking on million-dollar city-branding projects or traditional tourism promotions without a distinct idea.

Look at what happened in Central Europe after the collapse of communism. With Hungary, the Czech Republic, Poland and Lithuania all claiming to be "the heart of Europe," they fail to stand out and are stuck with meaningless slogans.

Another mistake to avoid is that of branding a country or city. There is a common misconception that the image of a country can be built with attractive logos and clever slogans in the same way as with automobiles or breakfast cereals. This is not so. What Moscow needs least of all is a campaign singing the praises of its wonderful location. Instead, what Moscow really needs is a program laid out over the long term that addresses and copes with a broad range of its shortcomings.

One important step would be to sort out the situation with the airports and the transportation links with the city itself. At present, the airports are a nightmare. They regularly face arriving passengers with long lines and send loud, unwelcoming signals. Why not visit Shanghai or Hong Kong to take a look at two of the world's best functioning airports, both of which offer very fast connections to their city centers?

Moscow traffic is probably the worst in Europe. While Mayor Yury Luzhkov has done much to unwind traffic by having big roads built or put underground, it's still pure chaos. Build more, dig more underground, tow away all the parked cars and remember: If you want to attract business, you need to have a working infrastructure.

Increase the usage of English (or even Russian written in Latin script) for the signs providing directions at train stations, and airports, on public transport and on the streets.

Another positive move would be to become a "connected" city. Build a WiFi network to cover the most important parts of the city, including hotels and other hot points, and issue cheap WiFi passports to foreign travelers and businesspeople. Again, business likes functioning infrastructure.

For tourists, create a Moscow passport with unlimited free use of public transportation as well as entrance to museums, exhibitions and similar sights. The more sights and culture you feed the tourists, the more they will spend on wining and dining and shopping.

These are just a few of many possible measures that could be adopted to improve the city's position in the market to attract both more tourism and business.

Moscow has a lot going for it. I'm sure money invested in finding the right idea to position Moscow would be money well spent. Not only will it produce a positive effect for the city's economy by attracting investors and travelers, in the end it will also enhance Moscow's role internationally. Managing the Russian capital's international reputation has become one of City Hall's most important tasks. It's time for powerful voices in the City Hall to call out loudly for action.

Gustav Hafren is the co-author, with Jack Trout, of "Differentiate or Die" and president of Trout & Partners Northern Europe, which provides advice on positioning in the Nordic and Baltic countries and Russia.