Country branding

Mark Ritson has a good point, but makes it badly (Countries are countries not brands, MW last week). Why he used a ballistic missile when a .308 Winchester would have sufficed, is beyond me.

South Afica
South Africa: Strength to change

To quote/ “I may have a hammer, but it doesn’t mean every problem is shaped like a nail”. There is so much Mark says that I agree with, but surely he has approached his readers with an argument that belittles their intelligence and experience.

“Conceptualising a country as if it were a brand is stupid” – quite right. And the spurious application of “Brand Energy” or “Nation Branding Index” matrices and the like, is insulting to individual countries and their peoples.

However, there is a need for countries to communicate their unique and compelling stories, across sectors from tourism to investment, from their social policies to their economic vision. The reality of our all-pervasive and politicised media is that the shouters are heard, and the conversations, about real people, their lives and their issues, are lost.

It’s no coincidence that in any country ranking, “first world” nations will outrank “third world” countries: if you write the rules, you will favour yourself. It’s plain human nature as any bookie will tell you.

But the very principles of ranking are flawed, note Standard & Poor’s re-ranking of economic powerhouses following the meltdown. It was not all that it seemed, and I know from personal experience as a London-based Irishman, the despair at the clay feet that supported the Celtic Tiger.

And I agree this simple approach to “branding a country” is lacking in respect and cultural sensitivity. But, the process of analysing, evaluating, positioning and communicating a country’s cultural, historical and economic assets is a valuable and necessary step in building and consolidating a reputation beyond simple stereotyping.

The Good Newspaper does not exist, hence it is necessary for countries to balance the prevailing winds of scandal, corruption and backstabbing that occupy the headlines. They need the tools to do this, and I find no rationale for not helping to do this, and getting paid for my time and energy.

Perhaps those of us who work in this area need to be more responsible in our language – after all, a country is not a box of soap powder, and we do have a responsibility to our clients and our businesses to address our poor communications skills in this compelling sector.

Finally, I really hope people travel to South Africa for the FIFA 2010 World Cup. It is a great and beautiful country; it has its challenges, as do we all, but its people have the strength and character to change and develop their country for all their children’s futures.

It’s a journey, not a destination.

Ron Cregan, Director, Navyblue

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