We talk to Pirkko Laitinen, Smart City Marketing Specialist at the City of Tampere, about the importance of telling the smart city story effectively.
If no-one knows about the innovation that’s underway or efforts to improve quality of life, can a city ever be truly smart?
It’s highly unlikely because cities need citizens, businesses, academia and support from beyond city walls to really make a change.
Despite this, few cities have a dedicated person in place to communicate the smart city vision and why it matters.
That’s why we were so interested to speak to Pirkko Laitinen, Smart City Marketing Specialist at the City of Tampere.
SCW: What is the purpose of your role?
PL: As the marketing and communications person for the Smart Tampere programme at the City of Tampere, it’s my job to make sure the companies, education organisations and other partners are aware of the city’s challenges and goals, and of the city’s project plans concerning smart city activities so that they can join in and use the city for their development plans.
It is also important that the citizens and political decision-makers know we are building a smart city so that they can both join the development and also understand what benefits this development will bring in the future.
It doesn’t end there, though. It is also my responsibility to make sure Tampere is recognised internationally as a smart city.
SCW: What was your route to the role?
PL: Actually, at first, I thought smart cities were a no-go for me. I watched as a few of my colleagues participated in the planning of Tampere’s smart city strategy during autumn 2016 and I didn’t see much that was concrete to communicate about.
"At first, I thought smart cities were a no-go for me. After translating the consultant and engineer texts and PowerPoints into more human language, I saw the potential of the whole smart city concept. I was sold."
When it was evident that the new Smart Tampere programme needed a communications person, I wasn’t given much choice, frankly, so I had to dig in deeper. After translating the consultant and engineer texts and PowerPoints into more human language, I saw the potential of the whole smart city concept. I was sold.
SCW: Not many cities have a dedicated communications resource specifically for their smart city efforts. What is Tampere’s thinking in creating your role?
PL: One of the Smart Tampere programme’s goals is to make Tampere an internationally recognised smart city. To achieve this, special attention has to be paid to communications and marketing. It’s not just to tell the world about Tampere, but to inspire co-creation, co-operation and citizen engagement.
People need to be aware and open for change so that a big cultural shift into the digital age is possible.
I’m not the only dedicated communications person for the programme either. The programme tackles smart city development from two angles. From the inside, we are taking the city’s services into the digital age through agile testing. On the outside, we are helping businesses create new business models and smart city solutions through building ecosystems, agile piloting and creating platforms.
I’m responsible for the “outside” and my lovely colleague Hanna Porrassalmi is responsible for the “inside”.
I believe that communications and marketing need to be involved from the very beginning in strategic planning for any actions to be influential. This goes for any project or programme, not just for smart cities.
SCW: I have heard many comments recently that cities are not telling their smart city story clearly, or at all, and therefore outside the industry, there is sometimes a mistrust or misunderstanding of smart cities, or a total lack of awareness. What do you think about that?
PL: Many cities are putting a lot of effort into their smart city activities but a lot of the effectiveness and influence is lost if no-one knows about these efforts. In the Smart Tampere programme, we learned that creating roadmaps of our plans citywide is not easy but it is well worth the effort.
Many cities are putting a lot of effort into their smart city activities but a lot of the effectiveness and influence is lost if no-one knows about these efforts.
Without open and down-to-earth communications, the development is way slower and public conversation is non-existent, or tends to revolve around digitalisation. The cities lose an opportunity to actively communicate their challenges and engage partners in developing better services.
Cities tend to do development in silos by nature and cross-department communication is vital in changing this. No smart city is built in silos.
SCW: What is a smart city to Tampere?
PL: In Tampere, we aim to change the way the whole city functions. We have multiple massive development projects going on. Not only are they going to be the forerunners in digital service experience, but they are also connected.
For example, our future tram (up and running in 2021) will be part of your visitor experience when you attend a concert or a hockey game at the new multi-purpose arena (finished in 2021 also).
"In Tampere, we aim to change the way the whole city functions."
But it is not only the end-user experience and quality of life improvements as the services get better; it is also the way we function when building these things. We didn’t rely on one or two tools but gathered, tested and used a variety of ways to engage companies, citizens and other partners.
We’ve used, for example, innovative procurement and partnership, open requirements processes, hackathons, agile pilots and city platforms.
SCW: What is Smart Tampere’s biggest success so far? What is yours personally as part of this?
PL: This is a difficult one as we have so many individual successes, like the fact that Tampere was the first city to be 5G-ready (thanks to Elisa Oyj) in Finland, and the world’s first commercial 5G call was made this summer from Tampere.
Further, the Tampere Smart City Week we had this October encompassed 16 digitalisation and smart city events within one week.
Overall, the biggest success, in my opinion, is the fact that we have been able to open the City of Tampere’s project plans, resources and challenges to the companies and other partners. We have several city platforms, like the tramway, superfast test network in the Tampere University of Technology area (built with Nokia Oyj), future city district Hiedanranta acting as a circular economy test platform, and so on.
Tampere wants to enable new solutions – not only for itself but for the companies to thrive, grow and use Tampere as a reference for international markets.
My part has been to make sure information about our plans and different opportunities reaches the companies and partners, nationally and internationally. I make the strategic communications plans but also, I’ve personally been handling the social media channels, newsletters, media relations, website updating, international event visibility, event marketing for our events and so on.
Luckily, I’ve had an amazing team that has made my job easier by first of all doing a great job that is a joy to communicate about, but also respecting the importance of communications and marketing.
SCW: What is your number one priority right now?
PL: At the beginning of October, we launched The Smart City Cookbook. In it, we collected the best smart city practices all over the world and spiced them up with examples from the Smart Tampere programme.
Right now, I’m doing all I can to spread the word about the Cookbook. Also, we are again attending the Smart City Expo World Congress in Barcelona. We are there with the other Nordics at the Nordic Pavilion and we’ll have nine Tampere-based companies with us.
I’m working on maximum visibility at the expo for Tampere and the companies. Last year, the Expo tweeted: “We love @SmartTampere and #TheNordics!” I guess I can’t settle for less this year.
After two years of full-on Smart Tampere communications, my role is changing a little. Bit by bit I’m handing over the communications to the Regional Economic Development Agency, Business Tampere, and shifting my focus towards the big picture of Tampere city marketing, where marketing Tampere as a smart city plays a big role.
SCW: What is your biggest challenge?
PL: Time. There’s so much going and even with dedicated communications recourses, there’s still so much more we could do, so many channels and networks to utilise and so many cool things to tell people about.
SCW: What is the best part of your job?
PL: The feeling of creating the future and being the forerunner, the super motivated Smart Tampere team I’ve had the honour of working with, and the fact that I have been allowed to participate at a strategic level and be part of Smart Tampere’s creation from the beginning.
"Two years back, the whole idea of smart cities was new for Tampere (and most of the world) so there was really no-one who could tell me what to do. I got to learn a whole new world."
Also, two years back the whole idea of smart cities was new for Tampere (and most of the world) so there was really no-one who could tell me what to do. I got to learn a whole new world, adapt my communications and marketing skills the way I knew best and watch it work out better than I could have hoped for.
SCW: What keeps you awake at night?
PL: I know there are many ways to automate the collection and analysis of communications and marketing data, and to track and report influence. At nights, I always promise myself the next day I will make time to dig deeper into them. I’m ashamed to admit it but my tools are not as smart right now as I would like them to be.
SCW: If you weren’t doing this job, what would you be doing?
PL: If I wasn’t working with smart cities, I would probably still be doing city marketing of some sort – probably involving investment promotion. If I wasn’t doing marketing and communications, I really don’t know where I would be.
At one point I wanted to be an English language translator, then a props person at a theatre, and at a third point a glassblower.
I can’t be thankful enough I found my path in communications and marketing.