Can a country launch a charm offensive?
Charting the future of public relations
Holmes Report

Can a country launch a charm offensive?

Arun Sudhaman

Surely some enterprising soul should have set up a country branding practice by now and describe it as the future of integrated marketing in the 21st century? I ask because, in short order, an array of countries have called in comms counsel to try and repair reputations that have frayed badly. Iceland has picked FD, South Africa has enlisted Dow Jones Insight, and MS&L. And Dubai can't seem to get too much agency advice, perhaps unsurprising when you read some of the articles that take delight in skewering the Emirate, like this one. Then there is China which, one year after seeking comms counsel to deal with its PR in the run-up to the Olympics, has decided to go ahead with a much-delayed advertising drive that will try to convince overseas audiences its products are safe. China has been particularly active; it is also looking to expand some its domestic news channels to try and present a different image of the country overseas. All of these countries, undoubtedly, have different requirements. But the one thing they have in common is the overriding theme of improving reputation in the eyes of tourists, investors, businesses and foreign governments. I would like to see an example of this kind of initiative that has worked. It's not that I think it can't; it is more that any attempts like these are dependent on so many factors. You can't, for example, impact the influence a country's overseas diaspora can have on its overseas reputation. And how does a government department, and even the smartest agency, determine the effect that a country's soft power can wield overseas? If China had a film industry that travelled well, do you think it would be subject to such a high level of misperception in Western countries? Lots of questions, and I would like to hear some answers as it is an area that needs exploring. Country advertising campaigns are nothing new, but they tend to be limited in scope and, increasingly, effect. A joined up approach that includes PR, lobbying, social media...that's the kind of recipe that might stand a chance. And all across global borders. Now doesn't that sound suspiciously like the kind of thing any enterprising agency would jump all over to claim expertise in?
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