• Video
  • September 18, 2018
  • 4 minutes
  • 0

How to brand a country: why our governments are hiring PR specialists

Are countries products to be marketed and sold?

Governments’ use of clever sloganeering and storytelling to attract tourists is nothing new. From “I Amsterdam” to “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas”, branding has long been a way for countries, regions and cities to manage their reputations.

But over the past 10 years, the field has evolved. It’s no longer marketing gurus churning out logos and taglines — a bevy of consultancies have popped up all over the Western world to help governments discern and market their “identity”.

In practice, this can mean anything from designing a line of clothing to sell a region to younger generations, to helping high-level diplomats come up with talking points for international conferences. The London-based Institute for Identity (INSTID), a branding agency, has done both of these for its clients.

• For more like this, see our government innovation newsfeed.

Apolitical recently published an interview with Natasha Grand, the co-founder of the INSTID. In it, Grand discusses how she and her co-founder conduct ethnographic research, much of which involves interviews with citizens — from government officials to chefs, craftspeople and musicians.

The aim is to nail down an archetype for the region: an abstract representation of its character. These consultants dig deeply into a culture to build entire personas, with traits both positive and negative: one region may be characterised by perfectionism; another by stubbornness.

They ask highly specific questions: How do people spend their money? How do men and women treat each other? What is most important when raising children?

The idea is to tap into what makes people feel they belong to a particular community. Once they figure that out, they use it to build a message about the country’s identity for its government.

Croatia, for example, hired nation-branding consultants in the early 2000s when it was trying to join the European Union. The goal was to rebrand the Balkan state as a trendy vacation spot on the Mediterranean, and distract from its role in the bloody Yugoslav wars of the 1990s. A campaign focused on promoting Croatia abroad helped the country grow its number of overnight visitors nine times over from 1993 to 2016: from 1.58 million to 13.7 million arrivals.

Most of the work these consultants do is kept under wraps, with little publicly available data or statistics — which is one of the criticisms of place-branding. Another is that countries should not be positioned as products to be marketed and sold. Others have said claim that branding is simply a way for countries to cover up bad decision-making.

But it’s become increasingly appealing for governments to hire someone who can help them carve out a niche for themselves as competition for investment, tourism and trade grows. And it’s hard to argue with the results: branding consultants have helped governments attract foreign investment, boost trade, appeal to young, talented workers and exert their influence on the world stage. —Jennifer Guay

(Picture credit: Unsplash/Vladislav Klapin)

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