Branding Samsø – Does it Matter?

How much does branding matter in attracting new residents to an island like Samsø?

Well, in my own personal experience the answer is: It matters!

Admittedly, when I learned about the job as a PR and communication manager at Samsø Tourist and Business Center I was initially a bit reluctant about making the move from the big city to a small rural community. But the fact that Samsø has successfully been branding itself as a renewable energy island and received an impressively  exposure – even internationally – definitely influenced my decision to apply for the job.

The image of Samsø as a progressive and visionary community in contrast to the typical negative conception of rural communities being dark spots on the map frozen in time was crucial in convincing me to make the move.

Based on this however subjective experience my conclusion is that branding alone might not be the answer to revitalizing rural communities by attracting new residents, but it must be a vital part of the strategy.


Rural challenges of attracting new residents

While the storm out side is almost tearing my little house apart – and believe me there’s a good reason why Samsø is big on wind energy – I am wondering about the challenges of attracting more residents to Samsø.

Samsø definitely has a lot to offer: Sense of community, nature, cozy little villages, a perfect environment for children, friendly people, fresh products and cheap houses – you can by a family house for half the prize of a similar house in the big city areas!

But of course the lack of job opportunities is the prime obstacle in attracting new residents or prevent them from leaving again. Like in any other rural district the question of how to create and sustain jobs as well as creating an attractive environment for new businesses to establish themselves is crucial. In addition being an island and surrounded by water Samsø has specific infrastructural disadvantages.

A a new observer in this field I am still only trying to watch and learn and obviously I don’t have qualified answers on how to deal with those challenges yet.

The Larder of Denmark

Samsø is known as the larder of Denmark due to its fertile soil and mild climate, with a relatively higher percentage of sunny hours than in the rest of the country. As a result a wide range of high quality fresh vegetables, fruits and berries are grown here and you’ll even find grapes and figs, which are quite rare in Denmark.

The island is especially known for its excellent potatoes, strawberries, blackcurrants as well as a huge production of pumpkins which adds a spectacular orange glow to the landscape in autumn.

In recent years the many fresh products has inspired a growing number of micro producers in cultivating an array of tasty local specialties like beetroot gastric, rhubarb syrup,  raspberry vinegar, blackcurrant schnapps and different kinds of marmalade. Also worth mentioning is the production of an excellent red vine.

In addition you’ll find locally produced cheese, butter, beer, apple and blackcurrant juice and chocolate.

If you visit Samsø make sure to pay a visit to the Old Merchant’s House in Ballen where Lars is selling all the specialties from Samsø.

Samsø – a playground for entrepreneurs

In my short time staying at Samsø I have already met some amazing personalities. People who have dared to pursue their dreams and break out of the humdrum of their past life by starting over on this small island.

Lazy, backwards and complaining…
Recently I stumbled over yet another debate on what to do about the outflow of residents from the rural areas, the downsizing of businesses and the rise of ghost towns as a consequence of this. The image of residents living in rural areas as depicted by some of the debaters was extremely negative: Lazy and backwards-thinking people who do nothing but complain and expects to passively receive support from the rest of society.

People with guts, courage and passion
Actually I couldn’t help smiling when confronted with this ignorance. They seem to have got it all wrong. On the contrary I find that people living in a place like Samsø have a rare kind of guts, courage and passion that makes them stick to what they believe in: That Samsø is a fantastic place to live, that the benefits of Samsø exceed its shortcomings and that the vitality and future of Samsø is worth fighting for.

Dogme style business
It is no surprise that one finds many people with a great deal of entrepreneurship and innovative spirit on an island like Samsø. The shortage of jobs forces, in a somewhat positive sense, people to invent their own jobs and start up micro businesses. Of course the structural and demographic realities of being on an island are major challenges. But on the other hand I imagine that exactly those challenge and the limitations connected with them can be turned into a creative force for thinking out of the box – almost like what the Dogme concept did for Danish film makers.

A greenhouse for growing business ideas
To put it short: As a newcomer the entrepreneurial spirit and the number of people with creative ideas and a strong determination strikes me. It fosters a unique and inspiring greenhouse for growing business ideas. Consequently, this is a valuable asset to Samsø which should be actively used as an important ‘reason to go’ in the efforts to attract new residents to Samsø.

Pumpkin Invasion

Right now the pumpkin season is peaking at Samsoe. It looks like someone just emptied a gigantic bag of orange footballs from above. The orange glow of the pumpkin fields blends beautifully with the colors of autum.

The demand for pumpkins has exploded in recent years since the Danes have embraced the American tradition of Halloween – and Samsoe is the number one supplier of pumpkins, covering 80 percent of the Danish market.

First Challenge: Moving

It seems like the first challenge of moving to an island like Samsoe is actually getting there. The moving company that I have hired for an extensive amount of money was supposed to show up at 6 am in order to catch the morning ferry at 8.50 am. They never showed up and when I called them their response was: Ooops, we thought the job was tomorrow. Hopefully they will remember tomorrow. I don’t think I need any more excitement of that kind right now.

Exit Copenhagen

A week from now I will be waking up in min little yellow house at Samsoe with the white fence and the pretty Hollyhocks right outside the window. I can’t wait to have birds singing to my ears in the morning instead of city noise, to walk right out in the garden with my coffee and my newspaper.

The last couple of months has been quite hectic. As PR assistant at Copenhagen Jazz Festival I went to New York in June to promote the festival and in early Juli I had the pleasure of being a host for international journalists at this year’s jazz festival – which was one hell of a party! It was simply the ultimate way to exit my time in Copenhagen.

But here and now I’m busy packing my little shoe box sized apartment down and saying goodbye to all my sweet friends. These goodbye meetings tends to get somewhat emotional and yes it is perhaps a bit hysterically – after all it is only a 4 hours drive (and some water) that is going to separate us – but since we are used to meet and follow each others doings on an almost daily basis, that is definitely about to change.

Anyway I am pretty sure I will soon develop a whole bunch of new and inspiring friendships at Samsoe.