by Ares Kalandides and Mihalis Kavaratzis
Let’s face it: There are probably few countries in Europe right now with a worse image than Greece (we can’t really think of any that even come close). From what we hear, it is especially in Germany, the Netherlands and in Austria where that image is the worst. And even Greece’s southern neighbours (Italy for example) seem to be glaring at us with the fear of contamination. Greece is Europe’s joke. Both being Greeks who have been living abroad for a while and have left for different reasons, we know very well how much of what is said today is absolutely true – and partly a reason we are not living there. But also, we know Greece very well, we have our families and our friends back there, and we know that there is much more to the country than what the populistic central European media wants us to believe. The problem, as usual, are the stereotypes: extending what may be true for some (or many) to everybody. So any expression of the type “the Greeks are” or “the Greeks do” (it could be the Germans, the Brits etc.) is reductive and simply stupid. But it serves the goal of stigmatizing a whole people, making it look like humans of a lower category.
So what is to be done? Both of us involved in Place Branding in different countries (the UK and Germany), we were thinking of what we’d do, if we were asked to rebrand Greece. We’ve heard many cries in that direction. They describe some ideas on possible messages that could help and include some amazingly stupid suggestions (such as to change the international name from Greece to Hellas, as if that would make a difference). One could come up with plenty of ideas – and creative advertisers will have more and better. For instance, how about reminding the world of the beauty of Greece? Why not have a campaign with beautiful beaches and amazing sunsets? Or how about reminding the world of our ancient heritage? Let’s have a campaign that features Delphi and the Acropolis and remind the world that it was here where democracy and philosophy were born. We could reinforce this by the humorous reminder that ‘crisis’ is a Greek word! Or how about reminding the world that stereotypes are just that and that all countries are occasional victims? Why not have a campaign explaining that not all Greeks steal EU money in order to drink ouzo all day long just as not all Americans carry guns and drink bourbon all day long.
Only recently did the Greek minister of Culture and Tourism announce that they are planning to hire PR experts to promote Greece. We’ve seen such campaigns and have commented on them in the past. The issue, however, is that all these are simply campaigns and not re-branding. Campaigns are good and useful and the more creative they are the better; but they remain campaigns. Campaigns are partial tools that help reach a strategic goal that has been discussed and agreed upon. Is there such a goal for Greece now? Campaigns are a small part of the communication-based part of a branding strategy. Apart from communications there is a lot to be done so that the term rebranding can be used. Does Greece have any sort of strategy now? Campaigns alone do not re-brand. All that campaigns can do is send a message out. This message, though, is not a brand. The brand is much wider and deeper than that. The brand is a platform on which messages can be sent and received. Or to use Anholt’s words: the context in which messages can be communicated. Campaigns right now might, at best, serve as a temporary crisis management mechanism and even this with dubious effects.
Therefore our answer to what we would do to re-brand Greece is: We wouldn’t do it. At least not now and not in the short term. Place branding is effective as a proactive strategy and not as a crisis management mechanism. The other side of the same coin is, of course, that branding is a long term process (re-branding also) and fire-fighting is not done through long-term processes. What we would do though, is try to design a multi-level strategy for the day after.
First of all there is a need to understand what we want to achieve: Do we want more tourists? Do we want investors? Do we want political clout? Or simply our dignity back? Probably all of the above, but that doesn’t help much. Four different goals ask for four different strategies. Endeavouring into re-branding exercises without even discussing the strategic goals leads nowhere but to fruitless and pointless expenditure.
Then we need to get into some very serious (and self-critical) analytical work. What is Greece’s image today in different places (which we need to define) and among different groups (that we also need to figure out)? We need to monitor the media and see who writes what about the country? How does this relate to what Greece is? What do other quantitative and qualitative data actually tell us about Greece? Where do they agree and where don’t they with the prevailing image?
Let’s use this period of crisis (where, as we explain above, communication alone, no matter how good will be lost) to do our homework. Once the situation is more stable (we almost wanted to say “once the crisis was over” but we corrected ourselves), then you can start thinking of ways to react. But there is so much to be fixed before that.
When we used the term multi-level Place Branding strategy we meant that there is a need to tackle different objectives with different time scales at the same time. There is always a need for some short term effect. Something that will pop-up in people’s minds and will say “something is happening there”. It does not have to be a festival. It does not have to be another iconic building or the 100th logo or the 1000th advertising campaign. We can not tell you what it needs to be (and do not believe anybody that does). That is where serious research comes in.
But most of the work will have to be a long term strategy. It needs to be based upon the gap between reality (with all the difficulties to define what that is) and perception. Things that are good (and we can already see the huge fights about what is good) can be promoted directly, not just by advertising, but through a sophisticated marketing approach. What is not good (again that will be a mess) needs to be improved before it is communicated. For example: Is Greek tourism good? It depends. Nature has been amazingly generous to this country, yet tourism services are – to say the least – uneven. There are equal chances that the tourist who comes will be thrilled or disappointed. You can not afford disappointment when you’re building up an image. Improve your services first and be honest about what you have to offer. As we discussed earlier, the brand is the context in which messages can be effectively communicated. Sending messages in no wider context minimises the chances of these messages being received in the way we want them to be. And the problem of Greek tourism is that – let’s say it clearly – the context does not support quality claims…
There is an approach that people often forget and which goes hand in hand with Place Branding: Public Diplomacy. But with the Greek public administration at a comatose state for the time being, they will need time to build that. Maybe a look at how other countries (e.g. Germany) did it will help.
So, if we were asked to rebrand Greece today, we would probably say no. But we’d sit down at once and think about what can be done do now, so we’re ready the day after. Until then, what Greece needs is crisis management not re-branding.