Brand New Hellas

by Andreas Markessinis

Greece is changing. A volley of features in Newsweek, Time magazine and the Washington Post as well as in many European and American journals have heralded in recent years Greece’s current mutation and economic boom. Greece has been labelled “Europe’s most improved player” and has been cast as “one of Europe’s most dynamic countries”, while the evolution of the Greek economy in the last years has been called “an economic miracle”.

Also, a vast array of large and spectacular public works (highways, railways, bridges, tunnels, pipelines, airports, and underground networks) have been realized. The Peloponnese is home to the world’s largest suspended bridge, Athens enjoys one of the world’s most modern and technologically advanced airport, and Thessaloniki is constructing Europe’s largest automated undergound car park.

All of these have changed Greece’s face, yet our country’s image remains stuck in the past.

For instance, Greece’s economy has changed dramatically, but most people still associate Greece’s economy with a producer of primary products and as an exporter of agricultural products. This is quite inaccurate because only about 17% of all of Greek exports are food and beverages, which is less than the proportional weight of the industrial and manufacturing activity.

At the same time, many people abroad think that tourism is the first sector in terms of GDP percentage in Greece’s economy, but this again is false. In reality, the shipping sector is first. Greece retains its might on the shipyards’ world market. 50% of all European Union’s fleet are Greek. 20% of the total amount of weight carried by sea throughout the world is carried by Greek companies. Greece still holds a world leadership in its traditionally biggest industry.

Meanwhile, most people think of Greek economy as inbound and uncapable, or at least fearful, of carring away large investments abroad. Again, this differs from reality. Greece is today the third largest foreign investor in the Balkan countries. And this is not just about large Greek companies. Over 3,500 Greek firms have invested in at least one Balkan nation, accounting a whole of 2,5 billion dollars. Greek companies are right now entering Russia, Ukraine, Turkey, the Caucasus and the Middle East.

The image of Greece as having an inert stock exchange market is also far from reality. In 1999, the Athens Stock Exchange sky-rocketed, ranking first in the world regarding flow transactions.

The cliche that there are no world leading companies from Greece is also untrue. Greek companies have emerged as world leaders in niches as different as fish-farming (Nireus, Selonda…), lottery technology systems (Intralot), natural phytocosmetics (Korres), or snack foods (Chipita).

Re-shaping Greece’s image abroad

Greece is really experiencing a mutation, but awareness of these changes has been stuck within Greece’s borders. Greeks have witnessed many changes in Greece in the last years, but these have been nearly invisible externally. In reality, Greece’s ‘renaissance’ has passed by to much of the rest of the world. To most people in Japan or Malaysia, and even to many in Germany or the US, Greece still has the same traditional image it has had for decades.

There are huge differences between what we have become and how we are seen.

The success of the Olympics has contributed for Greece to gain momentum and has given Greece’s image abroad a boost, but this has proved unsufficient to change foreign mindsets about Greece. The problem is that these changes have not been communicated effectively. Without a proper marketing PR campaign which should include country branding, Greece’s changes are most likely to pass away unnoticed.

A new country needs a new face. That’s why Greece, which is now a new country, has new communication needs. Branding the new Hellas should communicate that Greece is changing, that the image of Greece outsiders have may be now wrong, that Greece is going through a renaissance. And it will contribute breaking down negative stereotypes too. Don’t expect foreigners to look every now and then to Greece to check if something has changed in the country -you must proactively promote it externally.

The aim is to promote these changes internationally, so that these changes are conveniently communicated externally too. Branding Greece should convey the idea of a new Greece rising. Greece’s image definetely needs a facelift, and that is achieved by country branding.