Monday, April 25, 2011

Branding and Beyond

And the hype continues for Morgan Spurlock's new documentary. I know I'm a little slow in posting this, but my video watching has taken a bit of a hit as the semester nears a close. Now I don't agree that nation branding and soft power strategies should simply reproduce corporate branding strategies on a global scale, but I do think it's worth evaluating those strategies to see how they work.

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Sunday, April 24, 2011

COD -- Conversations on Diplomacy

Forget the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner! There's a new hot ticket in D.C.

According to the State Department's website, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is holding a series of mediated "Conversations on Diplomacy" with Former Secretary Henry Kissinger, the man who literally wrote the book on diplomacy.

The first of these conversations was held on April 20 and was "open to a limited number of invited press." So, short of calling up the Salahis, how exactly does one finagle an invitation to this event?

Fear not! For those of us whose wonkish bona fides didn't merit an invitation, Reuters provides a little teaser and the welcome news that PBS will broadcast the event on Wednesday. Plus, the transcript is available online.

Here are some highlights:

On diplomacy:

Clinton: "In this first part of the 21st century we clearly continue to spend an extraordinary amount of our time on state-to-state relationships. But we increasingly are focused on networks, on multilateral relationships and organizations, on charting the changes that are sweeping the world, many of them driven by technology and trying to understand the implications of those changes for the decisions that we make here."

Kissinger: "The art of foreign policy is to operate at the limit of your power but not to go beyond it, and to recognize that other countries must feel they’re part of the international system or the tensions become unmanageable."

On China:

Kissinger: "Normally, the emergence of new powers has led -- has been characterized by enormous rivalries. And there are points where we impact on each other in a way that could generate rivalries. On the other hand, there is no constructive outcome to a long, drawn-out contest between the United States and China. So both of our countries have an obligation to try to construct an international environment in which parallel evolutions, I don’t say necessary, but parallel evolutions we contribute to peace -- to peace and progress. And that has difficulties because our societies have had quite different origins."

A Secretarial Conversation: Source
Clinton: "My first trip to China as Secretary of State, I’m sitting there with the foreign minister. He says we think it’s a very unfortunate decision that the United States has made and reflects on our relationship that you’re not participating in the Shanghai Expo. First of all, I didn’t know there was going to be a Shanghai Expo...And a decision had been made in the prior administration that we don’t do expos anymore. So here’s China about to hold this very significant expo, and we and I think Andorra are the only countries not participating. And to explain to a group of high Chinese officials that it wasn’t a decision that carried with it anything other than our Congress’s allergy to expos anywhere in the world was nearly impossible. So I spent the first six months putting together an expo, something that was not in the job description. But it was a very important signal of our commitment to the relationship even though it doesn’t fall into one of the 10 or 20 issues that we might be listing."

On communication:

Clinton: "The flood of information that now comes to us, not just from traditional media but from all of the new forms of media, we’re just as likely to see events starting from Twitter feeds as from the statements of heads of state. And, therefore, we’ve had to adjust, and it has been one of my goals as Secretary of State to really look at 21st century statecraft and to recognize the increasing role that people-to-people diplomacy plays in assisting the United States in understanding trends, and in influencing decisions."

Saturday, April 23, 2011

News Bits

What's new in the world of public diplomacy? I'm so glad you asked!

Hasbara 2.0

Evidently the Israeli consulate in LA is embracing new technology by phasing in tablets (this kind, not this kind) to replace heavy and cumbersome print media. To jump start the process, the consulate is giving away a special Israeli Edition custom Kindle.

Maybe they should try gargling...

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton argues that the VOA's voice is drowned out in a competitive international media environment as news agencies from China, Russia and the Middle East are expanding. The Wall Street Journal notes, "If public diplomacy helps determine which countries are on the way up and which are on the way down, U.S. actions speak louder than the broadcasts themselves." Forget gargling; how about funding?

Peking news update

Andy Yee reports on the same story from a different angle, highlighting the Chinese media expansion as part of a targeted government effort to increase soft power. However, as Yee notes, suspicions surround the effort--particularly in light of continual problems related to credibility and unpopular domestic policies.

Atomic/ping pong

The U.S. and China emphasize the importance of sports exchanges and ping pong diplomacy, and the U.S. extends support to Japan in the wake of its earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis.

Friends with benefits

While soft power and public diplomacy are complicated pursuits, aid is one important component of the equation. Although the bank head of P.S. Suryanarayana's article trumpets that France has provided more assistance than the United States to Japan in addressing its nuclear crisis, the article fails to persuade that this translate into a significant public diplomacy win.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Return of the Blogger

Salad is pretty much the most hilarious thing women can think of: Source
As I mentioned in my last post, my life has been a little hectic lately and shows no sign of calming down until my thesis is bound, my oral comps passed and my final paper submitted. So you can expect sporadic posting until then.

In the meantime, die-hard fans of the blog can check out some of my inspired posts for the bizarro blog I've been keeping for my PD class (with help from the group 4 bloggin' corps, of course). Last night's class was my last ever as a graduate student, and after a stressful week of job interviews I was a wee little bit punchy, as you could probably determine by taking a quick look at the live blog I maintained during the lesson (part I, part II).

Last night in class, Prof. Hayden raised the question of whether or not we dilute the concept of diplomacy by constantly sticking a hyphen in front of it. It's a great question, although in the interest of grammatical and syntactical accuracy, I feel compelled to point out that most instances of hyphen diplomacy tend to eschew the hyphen in favor of compound words or portmanteaus, as in the case of sports diplomacy, arts diplomacy, panda diplomacy and gastrodiplomacy.

(Speaking of gastrodiplomacy, perhaps Paul Rockower could investigate the diplomatic and branding potential of salad, which women everywhere find irresistible, as evidenced by these photos. Failing that, perhaps we could harness the manic appeal of yogurt.)

OK, gastrosnarkiness aside, let's look at that question: have we diluted the concept of diplomacy, or does this verbal expansion represent a fundamental shift in the nature of diplomacy itself? Or perhaps the shift hasn't affected diplomacy so much as our understanding of it? Hayden promised to reveal his own take in a forthcoming essay, but I'm going to start the ball rolling now. I think the nature of diplomacy has changed. 

Diplomacy today is less tied to the rigid state-emissary-to-state-emissary structure of the past. Today's diplomacy involves multiple stakeholders, multiple interests and multiple agendas, all competing in a fast-pasted technology-enabled environment that introduces agendas and issues faster than most bureaucratic structures can respond to them.

States have adapted--some by suppressing the technology that they view as enabling dangerous dissent, others by promoting that same technology in the interest of promoting democratic ideals. And most are working to improve the speed and effectiveness with which they communicate. That means new technology, new tactics, new blood -- and it's all making for a new diplomatic environment.

So what is the impact of this generally hyphen-less hyphen diplomacy? I think we still haven't fully seen it, but I do believe it reflects a more diverse, more open, more democratic diplomatic environment. And I'm looking forward to watching its continual evolution.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

People Power

Greetings, manICateers! And apologies for my irregular posts this month. As graduation looms, I've been swamped with oral comps, thesis shenanigans and job hunting hijinks. And now, to add insult to injury, I'm going to cross-post from my class blog:

"Leadership in a global information age is less about being the king of the mountain issuing commands that cascade down a hierarchy than being the person in the center of a circle or network who attracts and persuades others to come help. Both the hard power of coercion and the soft power of attraction and persuasion are crucial to success in such situations. Americans need better to understand both these dimensions of smart power." -- Joseph S. Nye, Jr.

I think the quote above, taken from Joe Nye's recent article in Foreign Policy, succinctly summarizes one of the main points we've been discussing about smart power this semester, namely that hard and soft power together are stronger than hard power or soft power alone, and that current technologies have increased the need for networked communication, as opposed to hierarchical.

Manuel Castells makes a similar point in Communication Power, where he argues that new technologies have given rise to what he calls "horizontal communication networks" that empower individuals and challenge state autonomy in new ways. We've seen evidence of this in recent months, most obviously in Egypt, but we've also seen evidence of its limitations. Cohen and Schmidt address this to some extent in their article in Foreign Affairs, when they discuss the impacts of varying degrees of connectivity and freedom, and while they only provide a quick summary, I think they do a good job of underscoring why Internet freedom doesn't always automatically translate to successful revolutionary action.

Nonetheless, as Cohen and Schmidt, Castells, Secretary Clinton and many of the other people we've read this semester have pointed out, individuals can be powerful, particularly when they work together and when they have access to appropriate technology.

Recently at a University event, a prospective student asked me why I thought the field of Public Diplomacy was growing and whether I thought it reflected a change attitudes about diplomacy in general within the United States. While it's impossible to determine the effects of new attitudes, I do think it's fair to say that U.S. attitudes about diplomacy have changed significantly in recent years, and that Obama and Clinton have adopted a much more expansive, citizen-focused view.

Maybe it's just Spring in the air, but that makes me feel optimistic.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Everybody Loves English

I saw this article on a friend's Facebook page and was intrigued. Like my friend, I am a former Teacher of English as a Foreign Language (or TEFL), a job I've never entirely left in my past.

The article references a report on English proficiency. and while I don't intend to recap the entire report here, I do want to highlight one of its arguments here: "Today, English proficiency can hardly be thought of as an economic advantage at all. It is certainly no longer a marker of the elite. Instead, it is increasingly a basic skill needed for the entire workforce, in the same way that literacy was transformed in the last two centuries from an elite privilege to a basic requirement for informed citizenship."

English, it seems, is regarded as a key tool for innovation, investment and success. This reminds me of something another TEFL friend used to say all the time: "Speaking English is a privilege." He didn't mean it the way my elementary school teachers did when they used to inform us that recess was a privilege, not a right. He meant that it made everything easier, and that we were incredibly lucky to grow up speaking it as our first language.

Surely the ubiquity of the English language has some soft power benefits for English-speaking countries. But, at the same time, English is increasingly a second language. As the report notes, "Most communication in English today is between non-native speakers, who usually accept non-standard grammar and pronunciation as long as communication remains clear." So the English language, like Japanese pop culture, is increasingly de-territorialized, suggesting that its soft power benefits aren't as straightforward as they might first appear.

I'd encourage you to read the report, if you're at all interested in language learning. I've only touched on a bit of it here, but it's a really fascinating read.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

News from the World of Nation Branding

Yesterday I raised a bunch of questions about nation branding in a world where savvy consumer-citizens are bombarded with branding from corporations, civil society, academia, nations ... pretty much everywhere, really. Today I'm taking a look at how three nations are rising to the challenge.

Winning Hearts and Tongues

Gastrodiplomat and Friend of the Blog Paul Rockower urges India to pursue gastrodiplomacy to promote its nation brand. In the Huffington Post, Rockower writes: "In an age of increasing obesity and heart disease in the West as related to Western diets, as well as diseases outbreaks like BSE, E. coli and salmonella that have plagued meat supplies, India's more healthy vegetarian diet could be a source of soft power for India." 

Temple Time

Korea launched its Presidential Council on Nation Branding in 2009, and while some of its initiatives could use a little work (Only 18 likes on Facebook? Really?) the Council has made moves to support some innovative strategies, such as a new cultural diplomacy initiative to promote Buddhist temples abroad. OK, so it's not exactly groundbreaking stuff. But it's definitely better than the 2009 claims that kimchi could protect people from H1N1 influenza.

Smells Like State Spirit reports that Lithuania recently launched a nation-branding perfume, evidently operating on the "to smell us is to love us" plan. The privately funded effort has produced about 1,000 bottles of "Smell of Lithuania." Fortunately for the United States, Stephen Colbert is already working on a counter-scent: "I Smell American and So Can You."

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Eagle Has Branded

The Greatest Movie Ever Sold is hitting cinemas soon, and Morgan Spurlock is doing his promotional tour. I haven't seen the film yet, but I caught an interview with Spurlock on the radio as I was driving in this morning and it piqued my curiosity.

Spurlock's primary target is corporate branding, of course, and film industry branding in particular, but I'd be surprised if the documentary doesn't have messages that are applicable to nation branding as well. One of the points he made this morning was that advertising is all but inescapable. So in a world where people are constantly bombarded by brands, what can branding campaigns do to succeed and how do they do it?

The premise reminds me of one of my favorite Czech documentaries, 2004's Czech Dream, which follows the process of two young filmmakers launching an elaborate advertising campaign for a product that never exists. If we believe that nations aren't simply geographic spaces, but imaginative spaces -- that is, that the United States isn't simply a large land mass sandwiched between Canada and Mexico, but the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave -- I think both of these documentaries raise some good questions for national branders and PD practitioners: What is a brand? How is it promoted? And how does branding succeed in a savvy, saturated and suspicious environment?

No answers today, just lots of questions, but feel free to weigh in if you've got any ideas.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Baby, I'm in the Mood for Hu

Protest rocker Bob Dylan performed a government-approved set in Beijing this week. As the Washington Post reported, "There was no 'Times They Are a-Changin’' in China. And definitely no 'Chimes of Freedom.'"

I think its fair to say that Dylan's brand is tied up with the U.S. image of people power and government-tolerated dissent. His songs represent revolutionary change and personal freedom, so the PRC-approved set list doesn't seem to be entirely in keeping with his ideals--or with those of the nation he represents.

The Post story emphasizes China's human rights situation, an issue I highlighted not too long ago in this blog. It reminded me of yesterday's Doonesbury, in which former revolutionary Mark Slackmeyer interviews former pop legend Jimmy Thudpucker about performing gigs for Gaddhafi and other dictators. The punchline, of course, rests on the premise that Thudpucker's social justice repertoire isn't exactly a top seller with oppressive regimes.

Dylan is of course an individual citizen and not a public diplomat. He's an artist and to some extent a businessman. Nonetheless, as a global celebrity, he is viewed as a representative of the United States and his actions contribute, even in a small way, to global attitudes. Cultural exports like Dylan have more to do with Soft Power than with Public Diplomacy, but I'm curious about what his compromise suggests about both his and the nation's brand. 

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Does China's PD Have a PD Problem, or a China Problem?

Image from China Daily.

Cross-posting this week. 

We've been reading about China in class this week, and one of the questions that's arisen for me is to what extent China's public diplomacy difficulties are really public diplomacy difficulties.

Case in point, Wang states that "Misperceptions about China have formed through an interactive process. Both China and international society bring misunderstandings to the table. International society does not understand China’s national conditions, ideological estrangements, or distrust; China does not pay enough attention to the outside response and is not good at promoting itself. Realizing the limited understanding of international society, the Chinese government has actively released White Papers to explain China’s policy positions." He gives the example of a 2004 White Paper on China's human rights record, which lists international conventions China has joined, and concludes that "Such papers have successfully reduced foreign public criticism of the Chinese government and promoted China’s international image."

Of course, such a strategy is based on the assumption that attitudes about China's human rights record are formed by "the limited understanding of international society," and not, say, a very expansive and accurate understanding of China's human rights abuses.

I wrote a paper on China and Amnesty International my first semester here, and one of my findings was that China frequently pays lip service to the international community in order to reduce international pressure, but rarely makes significant concessions towards improving its human rights practices. So what one scholar might see as an attempt to correct the ignorance of foreign publics (arising, no doubt, from our tragically limited understanding) another scholar might see as an attempt to mislead them with words that obscure a true domestic policy problem.

Much as I've enjoyed this week's readings and the repeated assurances of many of the writers that China's rise is peaceful and beneficial for all, I can't help but wonder if some of them may protest too much. A common theme in many of these writings seems to be disconnect -- between China's goals and its actions, between its actions and its explanations, between its intentions and foreign understandings of them, between global values and Chinese values, and on and on.. and it seems to me that the field for resolving the conflicts may not be Public Diplomacy, but Cross-Cultural Communication and traditional Realist Political Science.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Nation Branding: Libya

Hope everybody saw this, since it's so pertinent to discussions on nation-branding. John Oliver offers tips for re-branding Libya ... or should I say Zazzistan?

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