Greek forum interviews Keith Dinnie

The Greek International Communication Policy Forum has interviewed nation branding expert Keith Dinnie on occasion of his visit to Athens, where he was to deliver a keynote presentation called “Nation branding and country image: Opportunities and limitations of a media-centric approach” at the Athens Institute for Education and Research.

You are the editor of “Nation Branding – Concepts, Issues, Practice” (2008). What is actually NB, besides a logo and a smart, moto-driven advertising campaign?
Nation Branding (NB) does not always require an advertising campaign. The goals of nation branding are extremely diverse and for some of those goals the power of advertising is probably quite limited. For example, when I have conducted research with inward investment agencies, the people working in such organisations do not appear to believe strongly in the power of advertising. Instead, they advocate face-to-face meetings and continual networking with potential investors into their country. On the other hand, the power of advertising is probably much greater in the domain of tourism promotion, where consumer perceptions are perhaps more malleable than those of business investors. Other important techniques of nation branding include diaspora mobilization and public diplomacy, neither of which are advertising-based.

Sophisticated NB theories have started to emerge only recently. Do you believe that NB could at some point constitute a distinct academic field or discipline?
I hope that NB will soon constitute a distinct academic discipline, but the academic world can sometimes be slow to identify phenomena that do not easily fit into pre-existing disciplines. A challenge in establishing NB as a distinct academic field is to bridge the gap between business on the one hand and international relations on the other. This dichotomy is apparent in the gap that separates Nation Branding from Public Diplomacy (PD). Frequently, NB and PD focus on the same issues but there is very little overlap between the business scholars who write about nation branding and the international relations scholars who write about public diplomacy. NB and PD resemble ships passing in the night.

Simon Anholt identifies NB with almost all of a country’s important policy areas. Is NB a technique? Or, is it a political concept?
A conceptual problem with NB is that it is so wide-ranging that it defies easy categorisation. In the terms of your question, the answer would be ‘yes’ to both points – yes it is a technique, and yes it is a political concept. It may not appear to be a very sophisticated definition, but one government official working on nation branding in Asia told me that “nation branding is a big elephant”. In some ways that is an apt metaphor.

Is it possible to influence the way the mass media present and comment on a specific country? Could there be a national strategy to this end?
We need to draw a distinction between ‘influence’ and ‘control’. It is possible for national governments (just like corporations) to exercise a certain degree of influence over the media coverage of their country through the hiring of PR consultancies and the cultivation of positive relationships with media organisations. However, it is not possible for governments to control the mass media, apart from domestically in the case of dictatorships. Governments should worry less about damage limitation and concentrate more on getting a wider range of positive news stories about their country out into the international media.

NB emphasizes on coordination and a single message. Yet, modern democracies are often based on argument, differences and even distinct national identities. How can this issue be strategically managed by the country itself?
The benefits of coordination are often speculated about but there are few concrete examples of successful coordination for other countries to follow. More research is required into this area. As for a single message, my view is that it is impossible to encapsulate the rich diversity of a whole nation in a single message or slogan. There should be different messages according to which objectives are being pursued and which audiences are being targeted. I believe the trend in the coming years will be away from a monolithic approach and instead towards a more segmented strategy.

You have recently participated in the Conference ‘Images ?f Nations: Strategic Communication, Soft Power and the Media’ by the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs (January 2009). In the past, you stayed in Greece for quite some time (1989-90). Is Greece changing?  How do landmarks such as  December 2009 Riots or The Museum of Acropolis 2009 affect Brand Greece ?
I think there is a huge difference in perceptions regarding the December 2009 Riots. On the on the one hand, Greek politicians and media are extremely concerned about the negative effects of those riots on foreign perceptions of Greece. But on the other hand, I have not seen any evidence that Greece’s image in terms of foreign perceptions has suffered anything other than very short term damage. When I was at the ‘Images of Nations’ conference in February, one of the other foreign delegates told me that in his opinion, the film ‘Mamma Mia’ has had a much more powerful effect on Greece’s image than the December riots. I think he was right. ‘Mamma Mia’ is an appalling film but it has probably been wonderful for Greece’s image, and will be remembered by most people long after the memories of the December riots have faded.

Are there any countries, which are considered models vis-à-vis NB policies? Could you give us some concrete examples?
I don’t believe that any country has yet mastered the full range of techniques that constitute nation branding strategy. But two countries that are often presented as examples of best practice are Spain and New Zealand. Both countries appear to have established strong nation brands (but not across the full range of nation branding dimensions), although there is debate about just how much – if any – contribution that conscious nation branding strategy made to the successes enjoyed by those countries.

More and more diplomats, academics and marketeers, imbued with distinct cultural identities, are actively involved in NB policies. What is the place to be reserved for each category within the overall NB strategic planning?
It would be wrong to propose a standardised template which categorises the roles of different stakeholders within NB strategy. Every country needs to develop its own, unique solutions. While it is true that more people are taking an interest in nation branding, for many people nation branding is still a new and unfamiliar concept. I have been conducting numerous interviews at Embassies in Tokyo, where I currently live, and I often have to explain to my interviewees what nation branding is before I commence the interview. Also, in many countries, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is deeply conservative and actively hostile to the concept of nation branding because the concept of nation branding does not fit with the traditional professional training of career diplomats. It is obviously extremely difficult to develop a coherent and comprehensive nation branding strategy if a country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has no interest in it. This situation will probably change as a new generation of more communication-minded diplomats assumes responsibility within their respective Ministries of Foreign Affairs, but that process could take several years.

Your presentation in the upcoming (6-9 July 2009) Conference of the Athens Institute for Education and Research (?????R) is entitled ‘Cyprus – A Stakeholder Identification Perspective’. Could you briefly elaborate on your approach?
My ATINER paper represents an application of stakeholder identification and prioritisation principles commonly applied in the corporate world but rarely applied in the domain of nation branding. This approach involves stakeholder mapping, that is, an attempt to identify the full range of stakeholders that could contribute to a country’s nation branding strategy. The next step – which is politically sensitive – then involves prioritising those stakeholders in terms of their power, influence, potential contribution and so on. It may be that the term ‘prioritisation’ is inappropriate and that it would be better not to ‘prioritise’ stakeholders, but rather to develop ways in which every stakeholder can make a positive contribution, no matter how large or small, to the overall nation branding effort. In the case of Cyprus, it was interesting to explore possible ways in which Cyprus can extend its nation brand beyond the twin pillars of tourism and shipping towards a more multifaceted nation brand.

Interview by Nikos Nenedakis and Athina Rossoglou, first published here.

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