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Talkin’ post-Turkish-election blues

Turkey sunset

Turkey is many things, but predictable it’s not.

The national elections of November 1st 2015 saw Turkey’s ruling AK Party (Justice and Development Party) sweep back into full power. It had been an uncertain few months. In June 2015, when the first round of elections were held, the AKP were unable to gain a majority.

Ordinarily this situation would have produced a coalition government. Determined not to take this route, the party stalled proceedings by refusing to agree to a coalition. Finally the November election was called.

Since the June elections Turkey has been experiencing increased levels of instability and violence. The peace deal with the Kurds has fallen apart, causing the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Turkish armed forces to renew old hostilities.

On top of this, Turkey was shaken by two major suicide bombings, which both struck people taking part in Kurdish-related peace demonstrations. The second and most recent bombing, in the capital Ankara, killed almost 100. It was the worst terrorist attack in Turkey’s history.

Other ominous events followed, building a growing sense of chaos throughout the country. Press freedom became a contentious issue as two anti-government newspapers were forced to become pro-government overnight.

The government placed a ban on any critical media coverage in the run-up to the elections. Interestingly, the government also decided to delay the end of Turkey’s daylight saving time by two weeks, claiming that the change in time risked ‘confusing’ voters on election day.

In recent months, election-related conspiracy theories have been rife in Turkey. But it’s hard to know what to believe. In these situations it’s perhaps best to assume that nothing is black and white.

As always, there will be elements of both truth and untruth in the claims.

Turkey’s image has taken a lot of knocks. Much of the outside world now associates Turkey with a leader seen as increasingly dictatorial. Along with perceptions of danger, this has put some people off. Tourism numbers have dropped, with perceptions of the conflict-hit east affecting travellers’ decisions to visit other parts of the country. Hotel occupancy rates have dropped by double digit amounts, while tourism revenue has fallen by 4.4 per cent in the third quarter, according to official statistics.

These shifts have been widely attributed to security concerns as well as the decline in Russian tourism caused by the rouble’s fall. However, country rankings such as Bloom Consulting’s Digital Country Index, which ranks levels of online search activity concerning countries, show that Turkey is still performing well in tourism-related searches.

A lot can be inferred from these challenges, but the fact is that the AKP are back in firm control at the helm of Turkey. Commentators in the Western media (including a fair number of Turks) have widely and vocally criticised the situation surrounding the elections, with particular focus on the AKP campaign.

Many thought that Selahattin Demirtas, the charismatic and liberal leader of the HDP (People’s Democratic Party) would bring Turkey something of a ‘Trudeau’ moment, helping to set the country on a new course. Indeed, polls had incorrectly suggested that Turkey would end up with a coalition government.

On the bright side, now that the AKP are back, Turkey is likely to move away from the instability wrought by the past few months. After all, it is unlikely that any coalition government, especially in a land as politically polarised as Turkey, could offer the same stability as one party ruling alone.

Hopefully this will go some way towards rejuvenating the country’s tarnished image, restoring tourism and bringing the economy back to its former strength.

Polar opposites

photo credit: Justin celebrates Diwali (Photo by Joe Pacione) via photopin (license)
photo credit: Justin celebrates Diwali (Photo by Joe Pacione) via photopin (license)

What’s next for Brand Canada?

Canada has been engulfed by a whirl of publicity over the last few days as its Liberal party swept the boards in the national elections. The new leader, Justin Trudeau, is young and dynamic, the polar opposite of his predecessor Harper.

Trudeau has already made some bold statements. Just 24 hours after winning the elections, he informed Obama that Canada would no longer participate in bombing Isis. He also promised to bring in 25,000 Syrian refugees to start new lives in Canada.

Will Trudeau make Canada into the definition of a ‘good country’? What damage did the previous government do, and how can it be undone? Does Trudeau represent the true Canadian identity?

“We’ve become knuckle-draggers on the international scene, someone told me recently,” says Jeannette Hanna, founder of Trajectory and Toronto resident.

“People will be watching Canada carefully, especially at the upcoming climate change conference in Paris [COP21 in November/December]. If we offer something open and collaborative, it will say a lot for Canada’s willingness to reclaim strength by being a global citizen and a progressive society.”

“We [Canada] have a lot of ground to make up in international goodwill,” says Hanna. “We lost a lot of territory in our own self-image as well as global image.”

Canada has long been seen as a progressive and welcoming place. In the past it became a popular destination for those seeking to start a new life, many of them leaving behind difficult environments in countries such as Iran.

But the actions of the previous government began to erode Canada’s reputation for tolerance, in particular through its ‘control freak’ actions towards Syrian refugees. Harper admitted that his officials had been running ‘security audits’ on refugees’ files that had already been approved by the UN. As a result, the resettlement process for these people was slowed down, in a time of crisis.

Canada’s record on tolerance was severely tested again by Harper’s stance on the hijab. Over recent years there have been just three incidents of women refusing to remove the hijab during their Canadian citizenship ceremony.

“The Harper government tried to make this into a big national and divisive issue. But everyone asked ‘why?’ Because it had very little to do with anything. He was playing to people’s worst fears, but it clearly didn’t work,” commented Hanna.

“Canada was seen in the past as a ‘great multi-cultural success story’ – so to call into question our stance on refugees and tolerance, cuts pretty close to the bone.”

Jamie Black is a brand strategist and founder of Nouveau North, an online initiative to reclaim Brand Canada through media.

Black says: “It’s a fresh opportunity for a new government to address some of our biggest challenges – from climate change to indigenous rights and inclusion. Under Harper things were moving in a direction, which ultimately the majority wasn’t content with.”

“It was like a one-man vision to push us in a direction that was fundamentally against our nature. I’m glad it stopped in its tracks.”

Hanna added: “This [election] has been a pivot on the values that really define our sense of place and what we care about as a nation. That was really what the election was all about. It was more than just a rational discussion about the economy,”

“We’re going to be a different voice in the global conversation, an alternative voice – not US-lite.”

In search of the big picture

Washington DC

Nation branding seems a natural fit for Foreign Policy Magazine. Since its founding in 1970 the magazine has become known for reporting diplomatic and political developments from around the world.

That’s where the Nation Brand Institute (NBI) comes into the picture. To be launched in the near future, the Institute aims to provide a high-level research and knowledge sharing forum, bringing together insights from practitioners, academics and diplomats worldwide.

Placesbrands travelled to Washington D.C. to speak with Amer Yaqub and Emily Simon, who are leading the NBI, in an exclusive interview about the Institute and its goals.

Why did Foreign Policy decide to start a nation brand initiative?

Amer Yaqub: Our clients told us that they needed it. The traditional partnerships that media companies have had with countries have normally been based on advertising. But countries now see the need for much more sophisticated strategic advice.

The Nation Brand Institute (NBI) will focus on best practices around the world, on practitioners, on all of the academic knowledge that’s out there. It will apply all this to solve the challenges of our clients. So the quick answer is: there are a couple of different variations out there, but they have a very narrow mandate. Ours is going to look at the big picture.

Emily Simon: For example, with countries that are focusing on trade and investment, or on policy advocacy, or tourism, or on a particular issue, we can help them transmit their messages to various audiences. There’s a very academic debate going on about the differences between public diplomacy and nation branding, about whether or not it should be a part of diplomacy.

We don’t get involved in that, as it’s a very competitive environment and so we think all countries should use the latest marketing tools to tell their stories. But we feel very strongly that use of these tools must be backed up with strong policy overall.

We’re excited about the launch of the NBI because there’s such a need for effective communication, to create a dialogue and a vocabulary that’s going to work for both government and practitioners. There’s also a need to get over the ‘hump’ about advertising and marketing being ‘bad words’ for countries to use. The truth is: these are just tools. Like any toolkit, it includes many other tools as well. We consider these tools essential for reaching the target audiences that matter to countries.

Nation branding is plagued with misunderstanding. Many still believe that ‘branding ’a country is the same as advertising it. This has caused widespread negative reactions and has been a proven recipe for failure. What’s FP’s stance on this debate?

AY: Authenticity is at the heart of everything. The reason why this perennial debate comes up about advertising being viewed as the essence of nation branding is because advertising is the easiest thing for governments to look to as a comparison point. It’s easy because they see it every day.

But the hard work, the research of finding a key analytical strategy, of having the right people in place with the right amount of time and expectations, that’s not so easily seen by governments. They just see an ad campaign and say ‘Ah, so that’s what you mean by nation brand’. The challenge is to educate them on the whole process.

ES: I think the intellectual capital on nation branding can be enhanced, and I see a gap in terms of research on this topic. I also think skills training and development is important. Today’s diplomats have to wear so many different hats, they are event planners, researchers, and marketers.

On top of that, they’ve also got their more traditional diplomatic functions. There’s a need for them to become more comfortable with some of the more traditional marketing tools and understand what they can take from the private sector in order to do their jobs more effectively.

There’s also the need for better understanding of how social media can be used in a more effective way. There’s a hunger for best practices on that and many countries are becoming increasingly sophisticated in this area.

But it’s still very hard to know what’s working. These platforms are changing and evolving all the time, and so it’s key to give countries the tools they need to use social media effectively and keep up with the changes.

What topics would you say are currently driving the broader conversation on nation branding?

AY: Social media, for one. There are a lot of diplomats around the world who are doing social media really well. The US ambassador, the previous one this fall, did a great job when he landed in Russia. He was viewed as an enemy at first, because of his background, but he used social media in a very compelling way to create a conversation with different groups of people in Russia.

The State Department has invested a lot of resources in that. We’re working with a government that we can’t name right now, but they have shared their whole strategic plan for social media and we’re very impressed with how sophisticated they are in understanding the realistic expectations of what social media can do.

I often worry that people in government underestimate the problem and overestimate the ability of tools to solve the problem. One of the key aims of the NBI is to talk about ‘what’s realistic?’ for social media. It’s very sexy and it seems like everyone is doing it, but what can it realistically accomplish?

There are countries, such as Israel, that have empowered their diplomats to tweet without having every tweet approved. Many layers of getting permissions from the top levels don’t chime well with the immediacy of social media and the news cycle.

ES: Social media is very personality-driven. For example, the French ambassador here in D.C. has a really powerful Twitter presence. He’s sophisticated, engaging, allows his voice to shine through, and doesn’t shy away from debate.

I think it works best when you can get leaders in place who are comfortable with the tools, who know how the tools can be used, even if they’re not going to be using them on a daily basis. They should also have a great communications team as well, that is empowered and has support from the top levels.

How will the NBI help countries to achieve better brands?

AY: That’s part of what the NBI is set up to do, which is separate from the FP editorial team. Our goals will be to share best practices and to find out what works.

Our own experience with Foreign Policy has taught us a great deal. In terms of social media, we have knowledge that we can leverage from accumulating over one million social media followers.

Although the needs of a media company are not necessarily the same as those of a sovereign client, the initial research we’ve seen out there demonstrates just how many models of social media use exist.

Good social media use demands urgency, catching the news cycle; everything in short bursts, as opposed to long thought-out strategic plans.

ES: One of the keys in social media is figuring out who the right audience is. When a country adds people on Twitter they sometimes interact in an ad-hoc way. Many countries may lack the ability to map out their target audience, and that’s something that we’re going to help them with.

How will FP take a leading role in shaping this conversation?

AY: Various countries have been told they need a nation-brand plan, but they don’t even know where to start. They need a structured approach and methods are key in this. In the Internet world, Twitter quickly became the hottest thing for everyone to focus on, but really that’s only one way of measuring brand effectiveness.

Part of it relies on members’ issues and questions, but we’re going to assume that the NBI will benefit a range of clients at whatever point they’re at in the cycle. If they’re very sophisticated we’ll make sure there are different levels of discussion and engagement for them.

What’s important also are the big picture things, i.e. how to get started with a nation branding strategy, what do we need to accomplish, what are the tools we can use that are already available, how do we measure the success of the strategy, what is the time-frame, and so on.

There are a lot of things on the plate, but the basic model is to understand where countries are at in the process, create the structure for them to follow, and leverage the research that we’re doing in order to fill the gap with quantifiable science.

ES: There are two main elements that we think will be valuable for the NBI. Firstly, case studies, which we think bring a lot of value in learning by example. We want to make sure that members have access to examples of places that have been successful previously, and to discuss what made those projects work.

The second is networking, so we do a lot of events here at FP, and often they are most useful afterwards when everyone starts talking, and sharing additional ideas beyond what was discussed on the programme. We want to create a dedicated forum where people who are passionate about these issues can come together and share their ideas and network, bounce things off one another and so on.

It’s kind of happening ad hoc all the time, and people will come to us, but we want to create a forum where this can happen more vigorously.

AY: I’m struck by how there’s a certain element of ‘is it cool?’ to be on the nation branding side, when you’re working in these governments. I don’t think that in most places, people really dream of being the ‘person in charge of nation branding’. It’s similar to the perceptions of HR in many ways.

Some companies ‘get it’, most famously Jack Welch at GE. They elevate HR to a role similar to the CEO, or very close. The countries that ‘get it’ are going to put their top talent on nation branding, and not view it as a detour to a more interesting career in traditional diplomacy.

Another goal of the NBI is to help legitimise nation branding as a field worthy of serious investment, time and energy and also to help attract the best people. For the young generation joining the State Department, this is part of their jobs, they get it, and they know that social media can effect change in a way that public diplomacy from ten years ago couldn’t.

How does FP Group, with Foreign Policy as an advertising-driven publication, plan to keep the Nation-Branding Institute unbiased in its approach?

AY: We’re not going to work with clients and use examples from anything we’ve done publicly, because of confidentiality, but absolutely we’re going to be objective. There’s no need to hide from the fact that this is a challenging world and we’re all struggling to figure out the right mix.

The goal isn’t to embarrass or humiliate anyone; but instead it should be a positive experience of learning both from mistakes and also from best practices. America makes mistakes all the time, but we need to learn from those.

There will be cases made publicly available when you’re going to be able to say that what they’re doing is ‘wrong’, perhaps even ‘morally wrong’ and the NBI will absolutely showcase it.

And finally, which country has the strongest brand these days?

ES: I really admire the nation brand of Britain. In particular, the recent ‘GREAT Britain’ campaign was a remarkable example of using a key milestone, the London Olympics, to gather the necessary political will to create an overarching brand function that can be tapped into by pretty much every agency across the government. The unity of message that exists in that campaign is really rare.

One of the challenges that many other countries face is that every single agency uses different logos and different messages. But the GREAT Britain campaign overcame that issue by creating coordinated messaging that was valuable for trade and investment, for tourism, for education, for culture and the arts, you name it.

Their creative arts section was beautiful, just really nice to look at. So I often find myself referring to that campaign when people ask me what I admire in terms of nation brand.

More than just sun, sand and sea

Kingston Jamaica nation brand image

In Jamaica, there’s far more than just the stereotypical land of sun, sea, sand and reggae.

Samantha North, Kingston, Jamaica. 

As a nation brand specialist, I’m constantly aware of how my perceptions shift during my time in-country. On my third day in Jamaica, I’ve started to build new layers upon my pre-existing ideas. Here are some of the things I’ve learned so far.

Jamaicans tend not to view people in terms of colour. Jamaica is 98% black, with another 2% or so of the population made up from Jamaicans of white, Chinese and Indian heritage. The latter two groups are descendants of the indentured servants that came over to Jamaica after the end of slavery. Today, all are considered equally Jamaican. The Jamaican motto, ‘Out of many, one people’, rings true.

Jamaica is often perceived as a place severely affected by crime. That part of the image – particularly in Kingston – is true enough. In the past, people were forced into crime through problems such as poverty and hunger. But today, crime has become a common response to an environment where many feel unable to get anywhere in life.

Modesty and the Jamaican attitude towards interaction with the opposite sex are interesting and perhaps unexpected. There’s a notable dichotomy that exists between the way people behave in the dancehall setting (i.e. sexual, less inhibited), and on the street (where married couples may be reluctant even to hold hands). This is an interesting cultural quirk that the casual observer may not expect in a hyper-masculine society like Jamaica’s.

In terms of entrepreneurship, education in Jamaica tends to encourage young people straight into a career that relates strongly to their choice of degree programme. This often funnels them towards jobs in ‘traditional’ fields such as medicine, law, and the civil service. But the trouble is, Jamaica’s economy is not doing well. Unemployment is rising.

One solution to this problem could be fostering a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship. Jamaica has a lot of desirable products, such as its Blue Mountain coffee, rum, and a range of foods, yet limited efforts are made to market these to the outside world. Sellers tend to focus solely on the domestic market.

Conversations with other professionals brought up contrasting views. Others explained that Jamaica’s informal economy is strong, and is in fact producing many examples of innovation in small business.

This trip involves mingling with certain kinds of educated and privileged people. So the picture of Jamaica gleaned on this occasion will reflect their world, not the world experienced by less advantaged sectors of society. That’s a side of Jamaica that the casual visitor is unlikely to see much of.

Social class is another contentious issue in Jamaica. The society is heavily stratified in terms of class, reflecting the long-ago attitudes of colonial times. People move in their own little ‘bubbles’, consisting of their personal networks of family, friends and acquaintances. Within that bubble is where things get done. Those who move within privileged bubbles have access to the top levels of society.

Perhaps they went to a good school with a classmate who later became part of the Jamaican government. That’s an important member of the bubble right there. Those from less privileged backgrounds still have bubbles, but they don’t have access to the influential classes. Getting a decent education is their best chance of making it.

Jamaica has a population of just 2.7 million. That’s a mere drop in the ocean. Thanks to the country’s small size, many people know each other. There’s a strong sense of community here.

As the famous Jamaican saying goes: ‘Wi lickle but wi tallawah.’

Jamaica feels like a small place with a huge character. In nation branding, having plenty of personality is always a good way to start.

Tesla’s last wish

Nikola Tesla Serbia

Nikola Tesla is the most famous and influential Serb in the world.

I’m writing about him on the subject of ‘nation branding of Serbia’ because the nation branding of Serbia was in fact his last wish.

This is a story about how ‘nation branding’ is a natural thing rooted in every good person. Put simply, it’s a form of patriotism. The story of Nikola Tesla is a fine example of that. 

When I say that the nation branding of Serbia was Tesla’s last wish, it’s not my subjective view, it’s an historical fact.

Nikola Tesla repeatedly stressed that he wanted his work to raise the reputation of the Serbian nation. His address to the Serbian people and the Serbian king, ruler of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, in 1892 in Belgrade, remains the most remembered:

“There is something in me that could be a delusion, as often is the case with young and enthusiastic people. But if I am lucky to realise only some of my ideas, it will be a good deed for the entire humanity. If those hopes of mine are fulfilled, my sweetest thought will be that it is the work of a Serb…”

What is especially important – his last wish was one song to be played at his funeral. It was a Serbian folk song There, Far Away…

There, Far Away …was composed on the Greek island of Corfu in 1916 to commemorate the Serbian Army’s retreat through Albania during World War I.

 The lyrics to the song come in multiple versions, all of which end with the line “long live Serbia!”

Here I write the basic lines of this poem:

There, far away, far from the sea,
There is my village, there is Serbia.
There is my village, there is Serbia.
There, far away, where the yellow lemon tree blooms,
There was the Serbian Army to the only open way.
There was the Serbian Army to the only open way.
Without my homeland, I lived on Corfu,
But I proudly cheered “Long live Serbia!”
But I proudly cheered “Long live Serbia!”

So, Nikola Tesla, we are fulfilling your wish. We are branding Serbia with your name.

By Vjekoslav Cerovina

Vjekoslav Cerovina is a brandologist and journalist from Serbia.