MARCO’s founder and CEO, Didier Lagae, knows plenty about the creation of a ‘Country Brand’ and how they should be formed. Understanding the impact of international perception and reputations countries have, and how their natural strengths can be exploited, Lagae is fully aware of the prestige and opportunities branding can lead to.
So much so, he’s written a book about it. As a communication expert with broad international experience in corporate reputation and brand image management, both in-house and within agencies, his resume on the subject is vast. Formerly the deputy general manager at Edelman, and head of reputation management EMEA at Weber Shandwick, his wealth of knowledge and experience allows him to ultimately split his book into two defined aspects: Doing Business and Doing Tourism. The first aspect, Doing Business, encompasses several areas and mainly looks at living and working, investing and exporting, whilst Doing Tourism is an overview in that ‘the interest that a country creates in the rest of the world and the capacity to position itself as an attractive destination to visit’.
We were lucky enough to get an interview with him, regarding his book, A Country Brand, A Branded Country, (where PRWeek readers can get a 40% discount on the e-book, using the code PRWEEK). Lagae was recently named European and Global PR Professional of the Year, and is definitely somebody well-versed in the area of Country Branding.
PRWeek: Let’s start with the basics. What is a Country Brand? Why did you dedicate a book to the topic?
DL: I came up with this concept when reflecting on my seasoned experience with Country Brand strategies and clients on questions like what drives people to move, visit or enjoy a particular country or city? Why does everyone mention Silicon Valley as a brand when asked about the technology industry or India when talking about outsourcing? Why do some countries manage to seduce international investors or tourists more than others? Why does Paris mean romanticism?
When you immediately think of a certain city or country when talking about a particular sector, when you’re motivated to make investments or to accept a new job to further your career, it’s because there is a shared perception of good reputational management that is so well-built it has achieved international recognition. That’s a Country Brand!
A Country Brand is built on two main pillars - business and tourism. Within those two clearly defined categories, you cover all the different elements that make up a Country Brand. Business covers living and working, investing and exporting. Meanwhile, the high volume of income that tourism contributes each year to the GDP of most countries, makes it a strategic sector that governments usually can’t afford to ignore. The pandemic was a seismic shift for the global economy and how governments chose to respond had an unprecedented impact on their Country Brand. This factor has continued to have a significant role in shaping Country Brands since last year.
This book is about my experience working and observing successful case stories. There are many examples of tourist or business reputational campaigns that I’ve worked on, as well as success stories and cautionary tales from countries and agencies around the world. It’s about defining a methodology that first creates, and then consolidates, a strong and unique Country Brand. It’s a revolutionary approach to help countries redefine their global reputation.
PRWeek: Why is a Country Brand important?
DL: A Country Brand matters to more than just the tourist board or a Chamber of Commerce. A strong Country Brand helps companies export their goods to a global audience. It helps hoteliers book out all their rooms. The right Country Brand helps cities land contracts for businesses, for business headquarters, it helps to attract investment in national industries and it helps to attract people - convincing highly in-demand talent to relocate.
PRWeek: What are the building blocks of developing a powerful Country Brand?
DL: The first step in building a powerful Country Brand starts with finding the answers to deceptively simple questions: What do you want to be as a country? Who are your targets? What is your brand promise as a country? How do you want to be perceived? A proper set of answers is based on a thorough benchmarked analysis of who you compete with and, remember, your competitors will be different for the tourism and business sectors.
Once you’ve established the relevant benchmark, it’s time to develop a unique positioning. How do you position your country within that matrix to stand out for all the right reasons? That requires further qualitative research and buy-ins from the relevant industries, institutions and governing bodies. You need to consult with and convince the right people - chambers of commerce, titans of industry, regional governments. They are best-placed to tell you what’s missing.
Implementation and tactics come right after. The key to success is developing a 360° communication strategy, including “owned, earned and paid” coverage, branding, creative concepts, powerful images that inspire your target audiences. This is where it helps to bring in the experts. At MARCO, we’ve been recognised for our expertise in producing stand-out, creative campaigns, videos and events for many Country Brands and destinations.
An example of our success in attracting tourists was our global campaign with Publicis and MSL for Mexico. We doubled the number of tourists from 20 to 40 million over a five-year period, bringing Mexico from the 17th to the 8th most visited country in the world. We also introduced many foreign investors to the potential of Morocco. Thanks partly to the Invest in Morocco campaign and partly to the country’s visionary capacity to anticipate problems, Morocco’s achievements have been astonishing. Morocco is an example of an incredible Country Brand reputation.
PRWeek: We are living in unprecedented times. How does that affect a Country Brand?
DL: Well, I’m glad you asked! That’s precisely why we launched the inaugural Country Brand Awards. How governments managed (or mismanaged) the COVID-19 crisis influenced their Country Brands far more than anyone could have anticipated. Traditionally, Country Brands are defined by how they promote themselves as a tourist destination and how they position their industries as the best opportunities for foreign investment, and how to seduce talent to relocate. But now? All of that has been overshadowed by how they handled the crisis.
For example, at the first-ever Country Brand Awards, out of the 13 European countries shortlisted, all those countries that failed to successfully manage the COVID-19 crisis fell far behind the rest. Spain, with an average rating of 4.79 out of 10, just managed to pull ahead of the United Kingdom (4.4), Hungary (4.17) and Russia (4.08). All of these governments’ performances were harshly criticised in the international media, which highlighted the poor management of the situation and the shortcomings of national health systems that have been weakened in recent years. Meanwhile, the initial swift and decisive action in response to COVID-19 from the governments in Germany, Finland and Portugal was reflected in their winning scores.
PRWeek: Who should read your book?
DL: Any policymaker, any ambassador, any diplomat, any brand expert every hotelier, every executive in the tourism industry, every business person, any entrepreneur, any embassy commercial office, any executive in all industries, any student… The list goes on! Anyone who wants to learn how to build a brand, and a country brand specifically, should have my book on their bookshelf! That’s why we’re offering the readers of PRWeek a 40% discount on the e-book, also available in French and Spanish, by using the code PRWEEK in our shop. The book is also to purchase as either a digital or paper copy through Amazon.
The book is just one part of my mission to provide thought leadership to society, especially the business sector.
I hope this book helps people to better understand how to develop a thriving and successful Country Brand and I would be more than happy to answer any questions you may have after reading it. Just drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org