Turkey and Public Diplomacy

As I am supposed to be focusing solely on my thesis nowadays, I am wasting quite some time surfing. I decided to google “public diplomacy turkey” and to read the recent developments. I believe, after Turkish MFA’s two conferences inviting all the ambassadors to meet in Ankara, Turkey decided to introduce new foreign policy strategies. I felt obliged to put my two “kuruş” in.

On Jan 30th, 2010, Turkish PM issued a circular order, underlining the importance of public diplomacy and announcing the new official Public Diplomacy initiative. Institute of Public Diplomacy, was founded by a Turkish think-tank founded (where I was an intern six years ago). Suat Kinikoglu, a member of the Turkish Parliament, has mentioned the importance of communication and public diplomacy several times. He is also the director of Center for Strategic Communication – “a non-governmental organization in order to facilitate strategic communication for Turkey both at home and abroad.” (though I have to say, I am not really comfortable with calling an institution an NGO when the director is an MP and is affiliated with the ruling party).

MFA announced that Turkish public diplomacy efforts will be seen on the internet. Although Turkey didn’t catch the first wave of ‘governments going online’, Deputy Undersecretary’s statements prove that Turkey has understood the importance of public diplomacy and two-way communication in foreign policy.

Last January, the minister and several ambassadors visited Mardin, where they talked with local residents and journalists. The following news article explains how “prominent Turkish ambassadors briefly abandoned the formal world of diplomacy to interact with people at a local coffehouse”. It is good to see that our ambassadors can act in non-traditional environments. Our diplomatic corps are infamous for being elitist, these actions surely will help them to break this bad reputation. Turkey has been also engaged in several student exchange, economic cooperation, and cultural diplomacy activities.

Now it is time for action. We are already a latecomer to the race, but at least, we are explicitly demonstrating our interest for being present in the public diplomacy sphere. I see four important problems: exploitation of the term, lack of strategy, unclear message, and targeting audiences.

Even though we recently learned the term, we love calling everything ‘public diplomacy’, for instance the visit in Mardin. Apart from the fact that Mardin is a city in Turkey, I really cannot justify calling an informal event as public diplomacy. The minister and some ambassadors decided to walk around the town with some journalists during a conference in Mardin. I tried to find similar news articles in foreign media, but I couldn’t find any. Mardin is a fascinating city, is the home of several historical sites (and the world tallest men). But if there is no intention to create any communication bridges between Turkey and target audiences, this kind of public diplomacy attempts, one-way communication strategies are likely to fail. If we keep calling everything public diplomacy, the value of real PD projects will be neglected.

I cannot see a clear strategy in the existing student exchanges and other cultural/economic activities. All projects seem to have short term interest, such as constructing a building, hosting a student, and promoting an artist. If we want to justify the budgets for PD projects – and it is better if we do -, we should have clear quasi-measurable strategy objectives.

G. Bush in Istanbul for NATO Conference in 2004Modern Istanbul

Turkey’s biggest challenge (and opportunity) is that there are several messages we can communicate due to our historical and cultural roots.One of our favorite messages is being “the bridge between the East and the West”. Visualized by Bush’s speech during the NATO Conference in 2004, we love to claim that we have roots in the Eastern and Western cultures. Although this claim represents the reality to an extent, it sometimes reflects an inconsistent position instead of a unifying/unbiased position. Especially when our government sometimes tries to use our eastern roots as an alternative in EU negotiations, our inclusive approach becomes less persuasive. Another message is presenting the modern side of Turkey. Although it is more appealing to some audiences, it doesn’t reflect the Turkish reality entirely. When you consider the various cultures of Anatolia (some of which have lived in the region years ago, and some of which are still living), we can come up with several different messages. Yet, still the important thing is to come up with consistent messages that reflect the reality instead of highly crafted propagandist messages.

Last but not the least, we should define and prioritize our audiences. Our current foreign policy strategy, Strategic Depth, aims to create a multi-dimensional approach in which Turkey tries to build up strong relations with anyone and everyone. From a communication point of view, it is neither desirable nor feasible.

In short, Turkey has the potential to become a well-known brand and a globally respected actor in international politics. It is time to stop calling everything public diplomacy, to leave our political differences aside, and to come up with PD strategies.

This blog post is also posted on http://cc608.blogspot.com/ and http://placebranding.ning.com/.

Public Diplomacy 2.0: David Saranga at Kennedy School of Government

Last Wednesday, I had the opportunity to (finally) listen to David Saranga, former Consul for Media and Public Affairs of Israel’s NY Consulate. He came to Harvard to give a presentation on public diplomacy. After a heated discussion for around 45 minutes about the academic integrity of his focus group approach, the audience finally allowed him to talk about more substantive issues. I don’t want to undermine the importance of research methods here, but when the speaker is one of the most prominent experts on Public Diplomacy 2.0, you really don’t need to force him to talk about off-topic questions.

Israel started its rebranding campaign by doing focus group studies in the US, but they excluded East and West coasts in this study – which was a fatal mistake according to the many people in the audience. As the sample didn’t represent the population, the results couldn’t be academically sound. Though I support the logic beyond Israel’s purposive sampling. At the end of the day, the aim was to frame Israeli image for ‘average’ American. You really don’t need to interview people where your embassies/consulates are actively working, where you have an active diaspora, or where there are 15 universities per person.

After the focus groups, they realized that Israel was practically know for the Palestinian conflict and religious conservatism. I believe no one was shocked by this outcome. A more important result was that Israel wasn’t able to reach liberals and youngsters (- It was difficult not to laugh when David Saranga admitted this at Harvard KSG.).

There have been many discussions about the definition of PD, and how to use social media. Thus, I’ll try to do my best to summarize his ‘original’ ideas from my point of view. First of all, Saranga wasn’t only a social media expert, he knew how to analyze the audience and how to find the best medium to reach the public. One of the projects he presented was, Maxim’s special issue.

Maxim - Women of the Israeli Defense Forces

Maxim - Women of the Israeli Defense Forces

Israel was irrelevant to the young people. If your target audience doesn’t see you as relevant, as a subject to learn more about, you really cannot explain yourself. So, Saranga invited Maxim to Israel for a special photo shoot and made Israel more relevant (for a specific audience for a short period of time).

Social media should not be seen as a substitute for traditional media, rather it should be used to amplify your communication endeavors. We are all very excited about Web 2.0, and 3.0, but still, it is wise for especially foreign diplomats to keep in touch with traditional media.

During his presentation, Saranga gave a great PD definition. The scholars get lost in details: should PD be executed by government? is it grassroots? which media can be used? how can you measure its effectiveness? He defined the PD understanding as “bringing your narrative in a sophisticated way, not in a propagandist way”. All PD-related terms in fact, such as nation branding, place branding, cultural diplomacy etc., carry this main understanding. The fundamental aim is to present a narrative. You are not very likely to be asked your perspective on every issue, therefore it is up to you to go public and present your narrative, and subsequently to ensure that your narrative is more credible and persuasive than competing narratives.

This blog post is also posted on http://cc608.blogspot.com/ and http://placebranding.ning.com/.

Prime and Frame, then Cascade the Activation

As the title suggests, nowadays I am a little bit confused about how one can explain media and public opinion relation (especially in nation branding/place branding campaigns). Firstly, mediated reality is a fact. Lippmann saw the situation back in 1922, so I really cannot claim any credit when I say the real world is not important. What is important is the picture in our heads. When we consider the power of media and the various media platforms, another fact comes up: the picture in our heads is the mediated-reality. But how is the mediated-reality formed? Jamieson practically argues that media by choosing what to report and how to report plays an important role. Although her arguments in the Press Effect are quite persuasive and supported by great examples.

Jamieson doesn’t use the terminology but what her points are very similar to priming and framing of agenda-setting theories. Media chooses how to frame an issue and what to report as background information in the issue. Practically by giving background information, media makes some knowledge available once again. But still, who controls these priming and framing processes? Journalists? If so, is it too late for me to become a journalist? Politicians? Public? Anyone?

Especially in political context, Entman’s Cascading Activation model seems to be very accurate in explaining – well first of all explaining that the process is practically inexplicable – the behavioral patterns of different social actors and their power struggles. The figure below is taken from one of his published articles about White House’s frame following 9/11 – illustrating the cascading flow of influence linking each level of the system: the administration, nonadministration elites, news organizations, the texts they produce, and the public (p.419).

Similar to a real waterfall, all the actors include their own input to the flow. I interpret this input to be composed of their own interests and ideas. Therefore, the information that reaches the public has already been ‘polluted’ a few times. There seems to be a power struggle over who will influence the priming and framing in this process. And the back-flow underlines the fact that public opinion is likely to show an impact on the media, as well as on administration and non-administrative elites.

I assume if we try to apply this model to place/nation branding, the flow chart will be a little bit different:

Branding campaigns should take competitors and other news resources into consideration. Several nations/regions/places try to reach the same audiences with practically similar messages. There might be other news resources feeding the media, such as other interest groups or negative branding campaigns of your competitors or a more ‘news-worthy’ event. Also, although relevant stakeholders will be included in the process, it is always possible to leave certain influential figures out. Their actions will be based on personal interest which might or might not be compatible with the main branding campaign.

Another important distinction is the possibility of creating communication bridges directly with the public. However, public is likely to disregard the messages if the sender lacks credibility. Also, if the stakeholders and officials are not ‘accountable’, they are more likely to disregard the messages.

To sum up, media-public opinion relations is very difficult to entirely comprehend, especially in a political context. Given the vague definitions and lack of strong theoretical frameworks in nation/place branding, it is even more tricky. I was amazed by Entman’s Cascading Activation Model and came up with a draft of how this model might look like in branding campaigns. As this is a draft model, I would appreciate your feedback! . I will be constantly updating this blog post based on the feedback I receive and (hopefully) come up with a better model.

This blog post is also posted on http://cc608.blogspot.com/ and http://placebranding.ning.com/.

Entman, R. M. (2003). Cascading Activation: Contesting the White House’s Frame After 9/11. Political Communication, 20(4), 415-432. doi:10.1080/10584600390244176
Jamieson, K. (2004). The press effect : politicians, journalists, and the stories that shape the political world. Oxford ;;New York: Oxford University Press.

Emotional Branding

I will continue writing on my course-related materials and their compatibility with nation and place branding concepts. The videos below are taken from a PBS program. Unfortunately, I couldn’t figure out how to embed PBS videos to my blog (but seriously PBS website! 21st century, people want to post your videos to their blogs! Not all the blogs accept your javascript code), so I decided to go with Youtube versions. PBS video has better quality.

In its shortest form, the main idea is ’emotional branding’. Instead of talking about your product, why don’t you talk about what your product means to people? Why don’t you look for ways to create a sense of belonging? It is important to take a look at why and how this movement towards a spiritual branding started. I had a similar discussion with a marketing professional friend of mine. We are trying to brand products/people/regions/places/nations, but what is the next step? What will happen when, in my case, all the nations in the world have prominent branding campaigns and images? How can we better ‘brand’?

Kevin Roberts is right when he says everything works for branding right now (and when he says beer tastes good unless you live in America). There are not tangible differences between place branding campaigns. Recently we did a study on analyzing the main themes of six different place branding campaigns. Although these destinations were different in terms of geography, culture, and economy; their branding campaigns revolved around similar promises (authentic, safe, unique, hospitable, historic & modern etc). As Anholt’s dominant nation branding model shows, there are not many different promises. In other words, if you want to compete with other nations for limited sources (let it be tourism, investment, political influence), you might resort to emotional branding.

Naomi Klein practically summarizes her book, No Logo, when she talks about super/mega brands. Corporations focus more on branding than on product. Similarly, Douglas Atkin supports the idea that branding is about creating a meaning system or an identity for the product. Hence, place/nation branding might be considered as being about creating a sense of belonging, rather than arousing interest among target audiences or promoting some aspects of a place/nation. If you can create a sense of belonging, you are more likely to better ‘brand’ your place.

I am not trying to create new paradigms with my posts on this blog. What I humbly try to do is to underline some important concepts which are less popular. Emotion branding is again not a novelty. It has been used by a few campaigns. The best examples that came up to my mind were Aruba – 90,000 Friends You Haven’t Met Yet and I amsterdam. Both campaigns focus on creating a community around their places. You visit Aruba, because, well because you belong there. You have friends waiting for you. The major parts of the branding campaign are based on local people, and visitors. Amsterdam, on the other hand, builds up its campaign on “pride, confidence, and dedication”.

In short, everything is branded. All communication channels, media are clogged by similar branding messages. So why don’t you go ahead and try to create a sense of belonging and a community pride for your product/place/person/region/city/nation?

This blog post is also posted on http://cc608.blogspot.com/ and http://placebranding.ning.com/.

Who are you? Legitimacy in Place Branding

I submitted an article for a student publication last week on public diplomacy and place branding. Shortly speaking, I describe how and why we are using public diplomacy and grassroots movements in a regional branding project. I am not going to discuss the details of the article (-as both the article and the project are under review).Though ever since, I started thinking about legitimacy in place branding. In other words, who gave us the authority to work on the regional branding project? Even further, who gave a committee the authority to brand the place? ABS had a great issue on “Legitimacy in the Modern World” last year. However, branding & legitimacy necessitates further research and an explanation for itself (rather than being discussed under a general legitimacy title).

Therkelsen & Halkier* remind us about a classification in branding: inside-out and outside-in. A good branding campaign chooses the former style, and tries to find the brand identity in a place. You are supposed to discuss the local values, traditions, life, actors etc… Does anyone else see the irony here? As an outside consultant, you are expected to lecture local figures about their own values.. Now, even if you have an official title, even if you are a politician, governor, president, or a king; you are never given the authority to build up an identity for your citizens/subjects. So, how can you even think about creating a place brand?

The place branding project that I am a proud part of, therefore, underlines the importance of grassroots movements and public diplomacy. By engaging with the local stakeholders, by raising awareness, and by talking with them about how they see their own home towns, we aim to create credibility, legitimacy, and eventually a long-lasting brand for the region. In communication, it is a known fact that meaning is ‘negotiated’ and created among several parties. Before setting sail to reach our target audiences, we negotiate the region’s meaning with the residents. We encourage them to be a part of the branding. The entire project is based on creating a community pride within people.

Once the brand identity is negotiated with local people, and a sense of social involvement is created, it is time to reach out to the target audiences. Again, public diplomacy and grassroots movements are very effective ways especially during the initial stages of the project. By creating direct, people-to-people communication bridges, you are automatically involved in the ‘negotiation’ process, and you can create more effective and persuasive brand messages. Moreover, as you enjoy the opportunity to receive instant feedback, you can use your projects as focus group studies as well.

I still have ethical doubts about legitimacy and place branding. As far as I can see, grassroots movements is the best course of action (although I really don’t know how effective they will be in larger populations) because firstly you strengthen the community spirit within an inclusive campaign. Secondly, you don’t fabricate a brand image but use an inside-out technique. Even before you start disseminating your message, you guarantee a long-lasting brand. And lastly, by sharing your messages through public diplomacy, you build real relations with your audience and hear their feedback. Shortly, if you want to be legitimate, talk with ‘everyone’.

* Therkelsen, A., & Halkier, H. (2008). Contemplating Place Branding Umbrellas. The Case of Coordinated National Tourism and Business Promotion in Denmark. Scandinavian Journal of Hospitality and Tourism, 8(2), 159-175. doi:10.1080/15022250802221229

This blog post is also posted on http://cc608.blogspot.com/ and http://placebranding.ning.com/.