PPPs or P3’s– Public Private Partnerships – are becoming increasingly popular forms of private and public sector cooperation in infrastructure development and shared service offerings. We hear about successful partnerships in areas like ports, road concessions, real estate development and energy generation projects. This is especially true in countries that typically look for investment and expertise in order to free up capital for other programs or when the project involves a strategic resource, capital intense investment and long term cash flows. But little is said about the human element of the PPP and why an overarching sense of purpose – or a shared belief in what the project represents to its users– is characteristic of successful PPPs.
India has privatized several airports in the last 10 years and in August announced a fast track to privatize several more. This is in line with a global trend towards airport privatization in countries such as Australia, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Germany, Mexico, New Zealand and Peru. In February 2013, the Municipality of Quito inaugurated the new Quito International Airport in Ecuador; a PPP that includes direct participation by the Municipality of Quito, the Government of Canada, and the private sector.
With increased privatization and competition, successful airports – and airport PPPs specifically- have increased their focus on the airport experience and not only on development of commercial airport activities or the provision of a function or service. As we see with Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport (CSIA), branding is becoming a way for airports to distinguish themselves given increased competition in the airport sector.
CSIA is India’s second busiest airport and since 2006, the Mumbai International Airport Pvt. Ltd. (MIAL), a joint venture between the GVK led consortium and Airports Authority of India, has led the modernization and upgrade of Mumbai’s international airport. The CSIA’s logo is in the shape of a peacock feather (a symbol of pride) and their branding efforts position the airport as a gateway to experiencing India’s dynamic financial and movie-producing capital.
Regardless of whether airports choose to promote characteristics like infrastructure (e.g. Atlanta) or personality (e.g. Perth), branding begins when partners understand the project’s connection to users. And because a brand is the result of consistency of actions across all product and service offerings and, in the case of a PPP, across actions of numerous project partners, it follows that PPP partners need to share a belief in a higher purpose in order to be consistent with what image they are projecting and how they are positioned in the hearts and minds of users. An overarching sense of purpose brings partners to the drawing board and keeps them connected throughout the project lifetime.
Belief in a higher purpose also ensures that project promoters from the private sector are connected to users and not just particular shareholder interests. This holds true with governments that have PPP expertise; Canada, India, Australia and the UK all conduct comprehensive government PPP programs and are more likely to reap the benefits of engagement with their private sector partners and the users of the PPPs. Partners share a sense of purpose and a belief in how the project will contribute to society as well as to specific communities and stakeholders.
In general, when there is an overarching purpose to a PPP there is more space for problem solving; it opens up possibilities for collaboration because project members are focused on the things they believe in rather than the things that they are responsible for. Decisions are made with the larger project purpose at heart; resulting in unexpected connections between departments, functions and organizations operating in industry sectors and markets with a connection to the PPP core business.
Belief is what makes talent and opportunity unite to create something of value for humanity; something that PPPs typically try to do given at least one partner’s public sector mandate. When partners grasp the partnership aspect of a PPP and sketch out and communicate the project’s vision, they not only lead a successful project but also create a successful brand.
Modern organizations understand the emotional connection to doing business and the “why” behind purchase decisions and client loyalty. Nevertheless, PPPs – and proponents of PPP – have yet to take full advantage of the emotional and human connections with their projects. Perhaps it is because of the number of partners involved in a typical PPP that branding does not take place but the dynamic nature of a PPP is precisely the reason why shared belief in a higher purpose and a unified brand is so vital to success. If a PPP has the potential to be managed as a brand, then every tangible and intangible experience associated with the project is part of the brand and can therefore contribute to the project’s equity. And who is not interested in project equity when we talk about investment and partnership?