Inward Investment: Can PR help to turn round an economy? - As Burson-Marsteller takes on South Korea, more countries hit by economic crisis are turning to public relations campaigns to promote their potential for inward investment

Armed with a multi-million pound budget Burson-Marsteller is to start work on repairing South Korea’s economic image. The campaign will target the US, Japan and Europe - essentially the G7 partners who met last month to discuss the Asian economic crisis following a recent pounds 36 billion rescue package from the International Monetary Fund.

Armed with a multi-million pound budget Burson-Marsteller is to

start work on repairing South Korea’s economic image. The campaign will

target the US, Japan and Europe - essentially the G7 partners who met

last month to discuss the Asian economic crisis following a recent

pounds 36 billion rescue package from the International Monetary

Fund.



The campaign will be a global inward investment drive - informing

international markets about how South Korea’s economy and stock market

works and lobbying to rebuild its reputation. But are such ambitious

objectives achievable?



B-M refused to discuss details of the campaign, aimed at potential

investors and foreign governments, but Jeff Hunt, B-M vice-chairman of

client services worldwide, claims inward investment campaigns do work,

although it can take years. He also believes they can be evaluated like

any other PR programme.



According to Hunt B-M runs campaigns like this on two levels. The first

is on a ’macro’ level, studying a country’s overall ’brand image’ and

looking at popular prejudices, for example, that Korea has labour

unrest, student strikes and that Koreans ’eat dogs and boil cats’. When

working for Northern Ireland, Hunt remembers, ’big companies thought

their factory managers would be taken hostage’.



The other is to take a very focused look at what the country can offer

specific businesses that other places cannot. ’It is not about glossing

over things,’ insists Hunt, ’but just explaining that business goes on

as usual.’



This provides an opportunity to talk about industrial strengths such as

Korea’s work in shipbuilding, steel, automobiles and electronics.



Campaigns always start with detailed research, ranging from monitoring

media coverage of a country to interviewing financial analysts, bankers

or business people. Opinions are tracked month-by-month and the same

questions asked at the end of the campaign.



However, adds Hunt, it takes time. Agencies are unlikely to be able to

say ’we changed the debt rating’ or created thousands of job

opportunities at the end of a campaign. ’You don’t change perceptions in

seven months.’



Edelman PR is handling a nine-month, one million pound budget inward

investment drive for Egypt, targeting potential investors, trade and

government bodies and the media.



Nick Archer, the agency’s director of public affairs, agrees there is no

quick fix recipe. ’You need time because these things are cumulative,’

he says. ’Companies have board meetings once a month, they consider

investing in January, think about it in February, pool thoughts in March

and decide in April. If your campaign is only six months long things may

take place after you have stopped work.’



It can also be impossible to evaluate the campaign if deals are tied up

after the agency has fulfilled its brief. Other potential problems

include: a change of government mid-campaign, a lack of adequate budget

for the task and no understanding by the client of how the western media

operates.



’Foreign governments occasionally misunderstand the extent to which

western agencies can influence western media,’ explains Archer. ’They

expect the press release to be written verbatim under the journalist’s

by-line.’ But they realise that a positive article in the Economist is

far more powerful than a press advertisement. ’Governments are

increasingly realising the real way to change people’s perceptions is

with PR, not advertising,’ he says.



Shandwick Consultants director Marcus Smith who has handled a campaign

for the Invest in Finland Bureau for three years agrees that B-M has ’a

hell of a task’ but sees no reason why the South Korea campaign can’t be

executed and evaluated like any other PR campaign.



’The danger is that inward investment accounts get viewed as a different

kind of PR task yet there is no reason why they should not be subjected

to the same evaluation measurements however grand the scale,’ says

Smith.



’It’s a question of being focused in terms of audiences and precise over

what you want to achieve. Evaluation mechanisms are now so sophisticated

that inward investment shifts are as measurable as anything else.’



Another big global player in this sector is Hill and Knowlton which has

included the Welsh Development Agency, the Turkish government, and the

government of Ontario among its inward investment accounts.



Senior associate director Ciaran Baker has seen a steady increase in

this kind of campaign since the 1980s. He believes this rise is due both

to the improvements in worldwide communications and the expansion of

more sophisticated research and evaluation tools - such as detailed

readership surveys, which make the job of pinpointing your target

audience much easier.



More governments may be picking up the phone to call PR agencies to

attract overseas investmen,t but not all offers are accepted, especially

if the country has an undemocratic regime or a record of human rights

abuse.



However, says Nicholas Walters, deputy managing director of GCI Group,

PR cannot be expected to work miracles or attempt to fool a

sophisticated audience.



’Like every other PR situation the success of the campaign is dependent

on the perception of the product,’ he says. ’If the product is flawed in

terms of pricingand the ability to deliver its promise no amount of

marketing will change that. It’s the same for a bar of soap as for a

country.’



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