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Public Diplomacy and Branding

Apr 3, 2006

by

Delivered with equal measure of art and science, diplomacy is a
non-violent approach to the management of international relations and
global issues which seeks to resolve conflict through discussion,
negotiation and partnership. The diplomats' brief is unambiguous: to
advance or defend their country's political and economic place in the
world by the most effective means. That is the purpose, the essence of
diplomacy.

In the past, diplomacy was very much the private preserve of senior
politicians and foreign ministry officials, speaking usually to each
other with great discretion on behalf of the states they represented.
Diplomatic practice in this context was highly formulaic, largely
scripted and profoundly tradition-bound. In recent years, however,
mainly in response to globalization, the transformed international
security environment, and the significant power asymmetries associated
with the unipolar world order which emerged in the wake of the Cold War,
diplomacy has been democratized. It is no longer practiced solely by
"envoys of the sovereign, extraordinary and plenipotentiary" but instead
by a wide variety of actors, ranging from government officials, to
opinion-leaders from universities and the media, to private sector and
NGO reps, to prominent individuals - Bono, George Soros, Bill Gates. The
like-minded - be they in government, journalism, business or the academy
- have become partners, and the nature of those joint-ventures typically
changes with each new issue.

Why the shift? In the compressed, accelerated, information-saturated
precincts of the early 21st century, you are what you seem. As the
Dane's have recently learned, image projection and reputation management
are now far from optional - they have become critical elements of
statecraft. In this highly fluid and complex environment, the
requirement to connect directly with populations, both domestic and
international, has become vital, as has the imperative of mastering the
tools of public relations, advocacy, lobbying and strategic
communications. In this milieu, the front line is more likely to be a
barrio, or souk, or a Quonset hut inside the wire. In other words, the
only rational response in a competitive, volatile, and dangerous world
has been to move from an exclusive, boutique diplomacy catering mainly
to the pin stripe set and down to main street by taking diplomacy
public.

The territory? Cerebral. The currency? Ideas. The marketplace? Global.
The diplomat? Part activist, part cross-cultural communicator, part
street-smart policy entrepreneur.

Public diplomacy (PD), then, is a whole new game, a business model
governing nothing less than the way we work, and may be defined as the
sum of efforts by government to promote values, policies and interests
abroad by influencing international public opinion. It is non-coercive
and based on the use of what Professor Joseph Nye has so aptly called
soft power - making others want what we want through the power of
attraction rather than coercion. PD goes well beyond public affairs,
which seeks more to inform than to persuade, and has more in common with
dialogue than propaganda, which is a one-way flow of information often
characterized by inaccuracy and bias. Purpose-driven and outwardly
directed, PD is about shaping attitudes and the winning of hearts and
minds of foreign audiences, increasingly, though by no means exclusively
through the new - web and wireless - media. In short, PD is all about
engaging the world, and enlisting the support of foreign publics in
service of national objectives - which may in fact be conterminous with
their own. Mutual interest is, after all, the mother of all cooperation.

Branding is intimately related to PD, but as a complex, longer-term
process of image shaping and reputation management it is both larger and
more comprehensive. It is what sets you apart, makes you distinct,
differentiates you from others. Good brands are suffused with attitude.
They have soul. They are positive and evoke a favourable predisposition,
a smile rather than a scowl.

A nation's public diplomacy will - ideally - support its brand. When the
two track separately, or, worse yet, diverge... you've got trouble.

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