About this ‘country reputation’ fad after last week’s summit in Washington and the coming one in London..maybe the World Bank has got it right?

Last week in Washington DC, 150 Senior Public Relations Professionals -from as many powerful private US corporations- gathered by the PR Coalition (an organization which comprises many American professional associations representing overall some 50 thousand members), met with the leaders of the State Department to discuss how enhancing joint programs between public and private sector may help in improving the world reputation of the United States (Copyright 2007 HT Media Ltd final.doc)..
In only a few weeks in London, thanks to the initiative of The Management School-Europe, many UK and international senior public relations professionals (disclosure: yours truly included) will publicly discuss the status of the international reputation of the UK (TMS Summit advert final.pdf ).

I have also recently learned that the World Bank is attempting to assist developing country governments to consider (what the organization defines as..) their international reputation as a highly relevant indicator of development…. and plans to introduce this indicator as an objective element when deciding if and on what conditions funds will be granted.

I am sure that each of you can think (and inform us..?) of other recent items which relate to this ‘country reputation’ fad which is so close if not overlapped to the profession we practice.

There is little doubt in my mind that the US and UK initiatives -although different in origin, nature of organizers, participants, scope and presumable consequences- stem from an acute awareness that those two countries have, in these recent years, been going ‘down the drain’ in terms of attracting consensus and respect from publics within and outside their geographical borders.
From Washington, impressively expensive and elaborated public relations programs have consistently failed.. and one wonders, for example, if and how the lofty and archaic  language used in the final document of the DC meeting last week (Copyright 2007 Federal Information and News Dispatch 1.doc), including the triumphal announcement of the oh-so-corny! Benjamin Franklin Annual Award, will add any value to any of the three strategic priorities Karen Hughes cited in her remarks, as they are expressed in the official document.
Having said this, and contrary to the many boomerang so-called pr programs recently undertaken by the Administration which have in fact produced negative results, I do not see how these can harm, and this marks one ironic sign of progress (but only if other negative programs are discontinued, of course), as much as it is –helas!- a sign of their fragility, although some light may be read in this follow up release ( FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE AND POSTING.doc) which has just been issued….
As for London, after the magic of the first years of Cool Britannia’s incredible international success which succeeded in projecting the UK as the most admired country in the world, mostly –I would say to briefly sum it up- sleaziness of power led to a chain of dramatic mistakes which have greatly contributed to the worldwide decline and fall of that love affair.
This, only to say that I am sure that all the participants of the Washington and London meetings are very well aware that -if anything- reputation is the result of organizational behaviour and effective communication plus…. a thousand other variables which are not manageable, i.e. nor, therefore, measurable.
If this is so, the communication aspect is important -yes!- but only a consequence of the organizations behaviours. Of course… it matters very much if communication is dealt with effectively or poorly…however, organizations cannot seriously attribute their failures to rotten communication.
But they can certainly improve their behaviours if they are willing to change and listen carefully to the expectations of their stakeholders.
No mention of this aspect in any of the DC documents which are publicly available…
By the far more interesting and promising, as much as loaded with risks, is the rumoured new World Bank approach to funding.
If the reasoning behind it is to persuade (with arguments, education and privileged access to funds) developing governments and their elites:

°that the level of their country’s international perceived identity (let’s drop the term reputation, please!) is an essential element of attraction for investments, tourism, intellectual and social capital as well as for the well being and happiness of their citizens;

°that its relevance is not dissimilar than the relevance of infrastructures and fiscal processes;

but most importantly,

°that the actions of those governments and elites are prime contributors to that perceived identity; and

°that such actions must take into consideration the expectations of stakeholders (not only internal but also external, objective by objective)….

then this policy could well fly, also reverberating beneficial effects on the oh-so-antique-and-traditional model of public relations adopted by the supposedly two most advanced public relations countries of the world…
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