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Public Diplomacy and Nation-Branding

November 10, 2010

The relationship between public diplomacy and nation branding is not always clear.  I get the impression that a lot of PD practitioners and academics like to draw a clear division even though there are many overlaps between the activities.  For instance a general desire to improve the perception of your country is, on the surface at least, little different from a branding effort.

I’ve just finished reading Keith Dinnie’s book on nation-branding  and this leaves me with a few thoughts

Firstly, one of the aspects of the NB literature is the distinction between nation-brand and nation-branding.  The former is the image of your country that exists and latter is the effort to influence it.  This reflects the realization that a lot more than your deliberate communication efforts shape how you are seen.  Because a lot of PD writing tends to focus on what countries do to influence how they look it often seems to forget that that the image is not something that public diplomats (or governments as a whole)   control.

Secondly, nation-branding practice and studies has a much stronger handle on the need to change behaviour (reality) in order to change image.  If you promise a fantastic tourist experience you need to ensure that tourists actually have one.  That may mean actually changing what happens on the ground ie training and incentivizing people who come into contact with tourists to look after them.   Ironically the argument that we need to change to make foreigners like us better is one that people accept in a business context but don’t like in a political context.

Thirdly, nation-branding practice emphasises the need to build internal consensus around the branding activity including across government departments, different levels of government, business, civil society etc. Studying how this is done and with what effect is an area that would benefit PD

Fourthly, there is a lot of nation-branding activity going on in all kinds of countries all of which provides a lot of additional evidence for the PD research agenda including insights about how national images are formed,  what kind of organization works, how sub-brands can coordinated with each other. As PD research develops it has to expand the evidence base beyond the usual range of countries.

Dinnie, K. (2008) Nation branding : concepts, issues, practice. 1st ed. Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann.

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