Introduction to Nation Branding and Crisis Communications

The value of a country's reputation is not hard to understand and should not be underestimated. It can attract people and money through foreign investment, trade, tourism and immigration, as well as provide political, diplomatic and cultural leverage. Much like a corporation building up its brand, countries need to position themselves in a particular niche and then build a global PR campaign to communicate that branding - for example, as a "luxury hotspot" or a major business hub.

Jennifer Risi

It has been our team’s experience at Ogilvy PR that you have to be committed to working with nations to tell their complete story across tourism, investment and exports, while managing those complex issues. Whenever a country is mentioned in an article or conversation, it conjures up certain associations and images and influencing those perceptions is enormously important in today's competitive world.

The key to successful nation branding campaigns: great narratives drive great outcomes. One example of note is how Ogilvy PR reset the global media dialogue for Mexico by creating an integrated campaign across 20 geographies where under our watch, Mexico welcomed 23 million international tourists – its best year of tourism ever.

Another case study example is how Ogilvy PR helped turn Colombia into a destination of choice for travel and business. Tarnished by years of drug-cartel and civil strife, Colombia is emerging from a period of poor tourism numbers and slow economic growth experienced in the early 2000’s. Today, Colombia's urban centers have become more synonymous with investment opportunity, and each year more tourists are seeking out the country's natural beauty and rich cultural offerings. Since 2012, the country has seen double-digit growth in both tourism and FDI as well as record $60 million in exports of goods and services.

Ogilvy PR made Brand USA a global ambassador for U.S. tourism, establishing a consistent message and media strategy across 14 markets. In 2013, the U.S. saw an influx of 1.1 M incremental visitors internationally who spent an additional $3.4 billion.

As with corporations and CEOs, nations also need to be prepared for any public relations nightmare that can go viral and be equipped with crisis-management skills that can address the situation at a moment’s notice. Rather than being caught flat footed when a crisis hits, make sure a game plan is in place ahead of time. Start by determining what can happen (make lists of scenarios) and then assume it will. Crises fall into two categories: uncontrolled crises (fire, employee injury, deaths) and controlled crises (layoffs, takeovers, major product changes). Decide what you will need to do for each scenario and frame the action items. Think through what events could set them off and then work the plan.

It’s prudent to develop a crisis communications blueprint and build a team around it. Identify all of your client’s publics and determine the best way you will assemble your team to address the crisis. You also need to identify what you will say and how you will report the crisis. More than likely you will need to draft custom messaging and develop additional material including a statement, fact sheet, Q&A, etc. You will want to conduct interviews, engage with online influencers as well as conduct outreach to offline influencers and monitor so you can correct inaccuracies.

Another word of advice. When a crisis hits, pick one spokesperson to speak on the company’s or nation’s behalf. He or she must be accessible and consistent in what they say. It is always best to be on the scene of the crisis when talking about it and even if the situation goes quiet for a while, it’s important to be proactive about your communication.

At Ogilvy PR we have developed the 10 Commandments of Crisis Communications that has served our clients well through any type of crises for many years running. This could serve as a model for your own crisis management efforts.

  1. Ogilvy PR crisis team members must be notified immediately of the incident
  2. Ogilvy PR team to draft relevant messages and corresponding statement in addition to appropriate talking points
  3. The official client spokesperson, and when necessary, back-up spokespersons are the only people authorized to be quoted
  4. Ogilvy PR team will provide background information to media across all key markets
  5. Press conferences are not an efficient nor effective way to communicate to key audiences in a crisis situation
  6. In the case of representing a nation or country, the Ogilvy PR team will facilitate interviews for the spokespersons with media outside of its country as necessary
  7. Statements developed by the crisis team will serve to mitigate the crises while reinforcing the leadership role of the client
  8. Information will be distributed in a timely fashion and regularly until the incident passes
  9. Every communication opportunity will emphasize the actions that are being taken to address the situation and be integrated into related projects underway for the client
  10. Ogilvy PR will provide daily news updates in tone of media coverage to the client 

Jennifer Risi is the managing director of Ogilvy PR Media Influence, North America and NYU professor of strategic communications. Follow Jennifer: @JenRisi. Follow Ogilvy PR: @ogilvypr