Engaging Cities 

Person on swing above buildings

A new and far-reaching study conducted by Weber Shandwick, one of the world’s leading global public relations firms, uncovers the increasing significance of “soft power” as a key contributor to the reputation of cities in Asia Pacific. “Engaging Cities: the Growing Relevance of Soft Power to City Reputations in Asia Pacific” focuses on how cities in the region leverage soft power – that is, those attributes of city brand reputation beyond politics, economics and military might – and reveals Tokyo’s leading reputation as a city of influence in Asia Pacific with its reputation as a creative hub driving its top ranking across 10 of 16 soft power attributes examined.

The study examines eight cities – Bangkok, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Seoul, Shanghai, Singapore, Sydney and Tokyo – across 16 soft power attributes that, when combined, contribute to a differentiated positioning of a city’s brand reputation and perceived influence. They include social media and digital technology; tourism; food, culinary and dining experiences; architecture and design; sustainability and the environment; and standard of living. In partnership with KRC Research, Weber Shandwick interviewed 4,147 people online and spoke with 20 experts in sectors as diverse as media, design, architecture, retail, sports and trade.


Among the soft power attributes studied, the Weber Shandwick report reveals Singapore’s top ranking for its innovative approach to sustainability and the environment and for offering a particularly high standard of living to residents. Hong Kong was rated first for being seen as the financial centre of the region, and Sydney was rated first across sports and leisure infrastructure, contemporary architecture and design, and gender tolerance, but was rated as the least influential city in terms of food, culinary and dining experiences.

The dramatic urbanisation of Asian countries and the increasingly challenging environment in which civic leaders compete for creative talent, inward investment and tourism dollars has made brand reputation a priority for cities. The ability to articulate, connect and promote unique, soft power attributes is now at the centre of success for governments and cities.

Ian Rumsby

Chief strategy officer, Asia Pacific, Weber Shandwick

Insights on Overall Perceptions that Distinguish City Reputations Today


The report reveals five primary observations that inform public, private and social sector leaders about the drivers of reputation in Asian cities.



The strength of national brands can overwhelm the ability of a city to cultivate awareness of its core attributes. This presents challenges and opportunities in equal measure as cities strive to elevate their reputation as a destination of choice. As cities compete to attract and retain top-tier talent, leveraging national attributes whilst balancing and creating their own city brand identity is an essential first step in fostering better understanding of a city’s total value and offering.



Neighborhoods are culture-clusters that showcase the unique, diverse attributes of a city to residents and non-residents. These are the areas where a city’s personality can be revealed, giving people the chance to witness and engage with the distinctive attributes of a certain location that suit their areas of interest. Cities that elevate the interest and relevance of neighborhoods to people’s lives advance their reputations.


Citizen Advocacy

Residents of the eight cities in Weber Shandwick’s report consistently rate their own city higher against each of the selected soft power attributes than non-residents. Overall, residents rated their own city 18 percentage points higher against all attributes, combined, than non-residents.


Understanding and tapping into the groundswell of citizen pride in cities is becoming increasingly relevant. As cities grow and people become wealthier, their ability to travel and engage with people in different markets becomes easier. Finding ways to stimulate residents’ endorsement as ambassadors of their hometowns in other markets has enormous branding potential.


The Creative Classes

Creative people are a potent force behind city innovation. They invent idea-led economies that bolster innovation in everything from music and technology to sustainability and design. Civic leaders need to think deeply and strategically about how to foster a diverse and inclusive environment that attracts creative talent needed to future-proof cities.


“Creative and innovative talent has always played a fundamental role in the cultural and economic development of a city. In today’s highly-connected, highly-competitive world, being able to attract that talent requires a strong brand reputation,” said Tim Sutton, chairman, Asia Pacific, Weber Shandwick. “Civic leaders can utilize the powerful ideas and insights uncovered in this new research to identify, refine and capitalise on their city’s strongest soft power attributes to build a reputation that competes for the best.”


People Power

Big investments in city infrastructure can be undermined by a failure to deliver an engaging experience. Whether it is an airport or sporting venue, the experience of a place is dependent on the people who define it. Cities that invest in a people-based service culture can enhance experiences and ensure that a reputation as ‘warm and welcoming’ is advanced.

The “Engaging Cities” report includes an analysis of each city’s performance against 16 soft power attributes with commentary by respondents on the rationale for their ratings. The report also explores City Self-Esteem — an initiative designed to understand the perspective of residents of a particular city against those who visit or do not live there.

There is a huge amount of mobility between the cities of Asia Pacific. The proportion of respondents who said they have visited at least one other city or actually lived in one of the other cities is high. This means that city brand and influence, more than ever, are created through the personal experiences of people who are not residents.

Jennifer Sosin

Chief research strategist at KRC Research

Please view “Engaging Cities: The Growing Relevance of Soft Power to City Reputations in Asia Pacific” and infographics for the cities reviewed here.