“New” May 19th and the Turkish brand

After the Turkish government’s most recent attempts to redesign national commemoration day celebrations, and some encouragements from several colleagues, I decided to revisit an article I wrote on the ethics of place branding last year, entitled  “Thinking about Place Branding: Ethics of Concept“. I did so conceptually in Place Management and Branding blog.

I want to expand on the Turkish experience and my concerns about the “ethics” (as well as viability) of Turkey’s brand in this post.

Erdogan with his party's youth branch (From HDN)

Erdogan with his party’s youth branch (From HDN)

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Somalia, you’re welcome!

I, as a research, do not study Turkey. I even don’t do case studies. My current research is more at a conceptual level, where I try to map the current actors and subject in international relations. But thanks to my current government’s perfect understanding of aid diplomacy, public diplomacy, and nation branding; I find myself writing about Turkey quite often. When my PM decided to visit Somalia during Ramadan and take his mustache, family, friends, several businessmen, members of the parliaments, and Turkish celebrities – in short everything the Somalians wanted to see -, I had to write…

Is he really shaking hands with the kid?

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Happy Birthday to AKP and to the New Turkish Identity

I am well aware of the fact that my ‘career’ as a scholar is too short to start re-visiting some of my earlier works. Yet, Erdogan’s speech – which marked the 10th anniversary of AKP (Justice and Development Party) – made me go back to a short rhetorical analysis I carried out three years ago about Erdogan. A blog post is definitely not the place to visit this research. Here, I simply want to discuss my conclusions, state the fundamental rhetorical threats coming from AKP to Turkish identity directly and Turkish soft power indirectly, and take a closer look at Erdogan’s celebratory speech.

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Turkayfe.org on the Road: Events in New York and DC

Last year, after the Turkish festival in DC, I wrote about the importance of “creating a real community” for online social diplomacy projects. There is, indeed, an undeniable need for ‘real’ people and connections to support online communication attempts. Therefore, as the Turkayfe.org team, we are doing our best to reach out to as many people as possible.

This summer, we are hosting two events, one in New York (June 11th) and another in Washington, DC (June 15th) to discuss the past, present, and future of Turkish coffee. So, if you are in town – stop by one of our events, grab a cup of coffee and join the conversation! Looking forward to seeing you all!

New York, Schedule, June 11th

Address: Turkish House, 821 United Nations 8th floor New York City, NY 10017
RSVP Link: http://turkishcoffeeculturenewyork.eventbrite.com
7:00 PM Event start time
7:15 PM Opening remarks
7:30 PM Ercüment Ackman, Capstone Advisor, Georgetown University Real Estate Graduate School – ‘Once Upon a time Turkish Coffee’
7:45 PM Göknur Akçadağ, History Expert Assistant Professor – ‘The American Perspective: Turks in the 19th – 20th centuries’
8:00 PM Gizem Salcigil White and Efe Sevin, Founders of Turkayfe.org – ‘Digitalizing Coffee Houses – Social Diplomacy Web 2.0 and Turkey’s International Digital Coffee House’
8:30 – 9:30 PM Reception

Washington, DC Schedule, June 15th

Address: Embassy of the Republic of Turkey, 2525 Massachusetts Avenue NW Washington D.C., 20008-2826
RSVP Link: http://turkishcoffeeculturewashingtondc.eventbrite.com
7:00 PM Event start time
7:15 PM Opening remarks
7:30 PM Ercüment Ackman, Capstone Advisor, Georgetown University Real Estate Graduate School – ‘Once Upon a time Turkish Coffee’
7:45 PM Göknur Akçadağ, History Expert Assistant Professor – ‘The American Perspective: Turks in the 19th – 20th centuries’
8:00 PM Gizem Salcigil White and Efe Sevin, Founders of Turkayfe.org – ‘Digitalizing Coffee Houses – Social Diplomacy Web 2.0 and Turkey’s International Digital Coffee House’
8:30 – 9:30 PM Reception

Anholt on Turkey

Simon Anholt announced that Turkey should focus on its ‘nation brand’, a couple of weeks ago in an interview with a Turkish daily newspaper. Back then, as the Turkayfe team, we used the news on our newsletter, and put his statements in some of our materials. More recently, Nation-Branding.info picked up the news , and we are running through a second cycle of viral distribution. In the first cycle, I refrained from commenting on Anholt’s views – mostly because we used the interview to support our project – Turkayfe. Yet, I believe I can put my two cents in during the second cycle.

I want this sofa (Image from Nation-Branding.info)

Let me first extract main points from his interview. The points below are directly taken from Hurriyet Daily News article:

Turkish government must develop policies to improve the “brand” of the nation:

Now, on one hand, this is an important statement. It is nothing new, fairly obvious to anyone who has any idea of international arena in the 21st century. But, Anholt used this statement in a national newspaper (actually English version of a Turkish newspaper). On the other hand, he puts the responsibility of brand-making, if you will, to the governments. As we know from his various books and speeches, he supports the idea of all-exclusive, (i.e. public-private partnerships) brand creations. However, it seems like the governments have a leading role in his conceptualization of nation-brand. I assume, it is because he equates nation brand with what a country does. Yet, we should stop and think about moral and ethical implications of making governments the primary responsible party for nations’ brands.

Turkey has to find ways of making itself “indispensable” to other peoples:

Again – pretty obvious but great to read it in a newspaper. This statement (together with his metaphor of the celestial keyboard) raises questions about Anholt’s understanding of international system. Is he talking about a closely-linked global economy? Or about a Global Village? Global politics? I mean, what is indispensable? So, is a good ‘brand’ something that people cannot live without? Is it just this necessity bound? I like to think a brand more in terms of a network of associations – which cannot be reduced to necessity.

Turkey’s best chance to increase its reputation in the world is “to be the bridge between Europe and Asia, between Islam and other religions:

Well, this has failed so many times in the last few decades, I don’t know what to say about it… It has been used by government officials since the very early days of the Republic – never worked. It usually ended up making Europeans suspicious as ‘we are a Muslim country’ and Muslims suspicious as ‘we are a Westernized country’.

“Nation branding”..[is].. not about communication or promotion, but concrete policies:

Well, no. I highly appreciate Braun & Zenker’s* definition of place brand as a “network of associations in the consumers’ mind based on the visual, verbal, and behavioral expression of a place, which is embodied through the aims, communication, values, and the general culture of the place’s stakeholders and the overall place design”. Therefore nation branding is about communication and promotion. Actually, if we are looking at nation branding as an integrated process of creating and disseminating a brand identity; ‘nation branding’ part is predominantly communication. Turkey has to change the expressions of the country, through communication as well as concrete policies (and communicating these policies).

One interesting thing about Anholt’s Nation Brand Index and Turkey is that the country is fairly consistent across the six criteria. For instance, Egypt, which shares similar scores with Turkey, has a higher rank in tourism. However in order to talk about the causes for this consistency, one has to accept that NBI’s methodology is valid and reliable. So, I will just say this is an interesting point that might be used as a conversation starter.

In sum, Anholt’s public interviews, speeches, or even books do not provide readers/listeners with ground-breaking information, however, (i) it is great when the most prominent person in the field says these things, and (ii) it is nice to have them in one book. His comments about Turkey are generic, as this is a newspaper interview. His comments about communication and nation branding is based on an assumption that communication is about false information, spins, and manufacturing identities. Yet, ‘branding’ is an attempt to socially and communicatively adjust to living in today’s brand-era. It is a necessity to negotiate what a place means for target audiences with target audiences. It is not about concrete policies, it is about being a part of the global society.

*Braun, E. and Zenker, S. (2010), “Towards an integrated approach for place brand management”,
paper presented at the 50th European Regional Science Association Congress, Jonkoping.

A Nightmare on the 51st Street

In an earlier post, I tried to write about my reaction to CAN’s decision to use Turkish Flag on a 9/11 documentary, and Turkey’s close association with Islam. My main point for the former issue was that 9/11 should be seen as a tragedy that deeply affected the humankind and we should all learn what extremism is capable of doing. The latter issue was dealing with Turkey’s image and the recent shift in the country’s image. Well, after receiving thousands of angry mails, CAN decided to change the poster and the cover of DVD……and right now we have the flags of Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iran, Sudan and Syria.

In a very ‘noble’ crisis communication attempt, CAN explained why Turkey was chosen at first: “the presence of the Islamic star and crescent on the flag”. They might have overlooked the fact that the aforementioned Islamic star and crescent are a little bit different than the contemporary Turkish flag. Ottoman Empire, indeed, used a flag very similar to that of Turkish Republic – and there you are able to see the Islamic symbols. But even if you find a symbol that perfectly reflects ‘Islam’, do you want to put it on the cover of an anti-terrorism DVD? Or is the documentary anti-Islam? anti-Islamic countries? anti-anything that resonates with Islam? (PS: For instance, Al-Qaeda has a flag)

After their decision to put several more random flags to the poster, it is very difficult to take CAN seriously, and argue rationally. Therefore, I’ll just talk about the impact of ‘crazy’ organizations on nations’ images and their ability to raise hatred among people. CAN made headlines in several newspapers in a couple of countries. In other words, CAN managed to create an image where the collapsed building are associated with Turkey, Islam, and right now with Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iran, Sudan, and Syria (by the way seriously why not Iraq? I mean the pre-liberated Iraq.). Classical crisis communication strategies advise policy makers to take corrective actions. In other words, Turkish authorities (in this specific case Turkish people who feel responsible for their country’s image) should warn CAN, tell what is wrong about the imagery, and ask for an apology. Most of the time, these strategies reach a settlement point. However, if you are dealing with a crazy organization, what can you do?

One path of action would be to ignore the situation. But as CAN gained publicity, it is a mistake to ignore them. Another strategy is to create a grassroots movement that target CAN’s target audience. So, we can take CAN out of the equation and tell about CAN’s mistake to the people who are going to see or who are interested in seeing the movie.

Lastly, humor or humorous critic might be an effective way of counter-arguing. As I said, it is very difficult to rationally argue with an organization that apologizes for “the use of only the Turkish flag on the cover of the film”. For instance, next time you want to feel like calling some a ‘crazy-ignorant-xenophobic idiot’, you can ask them whether they support CAN or not. Anyway, before ending this post, I would like to suggest some other symbols that should be included: Baklava, Humus, Kebab, Egyptian Pyramids, Republic of Balkavia from American Dad

Long story short, there is a problem with the Turkish image and this documentary is exacerbating the issue. Moreover, CAN is encouraging hatred among American people. This sounds like a perfect opportunity to become active citizens in our societies.

Sacrificed Survivors: Recreated Xenophobia

There is a new documentary coming up, “Sacrificed Survivors: the Untold Story of the ground Zero Mosque”. October 28th will be the premiere of this documentary but it already created some controversy. I want to raise two points here, first one about the approach of the documentary, and the second one about the Turkish flag used in the cover and posters. Quick disclaimer, I did not have the opportunity to see the documentary in its entirety. This is why my comments are based on the trailer, comments, and other descriptions. The project director describes, for instance, the documentary as “a 45-minute film that is fueled by the testimony of the survivors and the families of the victims of the attacks of September 11, 2001. It is about how they feel about the mosque being built on the site where their loved ones lost their lives”. In order to “protect America’s religious and moral heritage”, an ‘undercover’ team goes to the mosque, then creates a collage with the footage from the mosque, interviews with the survivors and the families of the victims who don’t like the Islamic Center, and a Turkish flag.

I have an Israeli friend who shared his military experience with me. As part of their training, they visited some of the concentration camps in Europe. While my take on the issue was based on nationalism, his was very universal. I thought about strengthening the nationalism in Israel. He said, if Israeli youth can see what extreme nationalism is capable of doing, the world would be a better place. Here again, we witnessed an atrocious event. 9/11 deeply affected everyone, it changed the way we looked at the world. Now, we have two options again. We can draw lessons from 9/11, we can see what fundamentalism is capable of doing. Or, we can start the blame game. Apparently, Christian Action Network, decided to do the latter.

The trailer, together with Christian Action Network’s name and motto, creates an us vs. them based on religion. Decorated by news pieces from Fox News, several messages point to Islamic take over of the United States. Shortly, no – this attack was not only on Americans. Just like any other terrorist attack, this one was also on humanity. 9/11 could and should be used as a case to see what fundamentalist religious (not only Islamic) thoughts can lead to… If you are curious about what extreme nationalism based on hatred towards a group can lead up to, take a long historical journey back to Third Reich.

My second point, Turkish flag on the cover, also shows us how close Turkish brand is to Islam. As far as I know, Turkey had nothing to do with 9/11. Turkish national flag is unique. The older Ottoman flags were closely associated with Islam and were sometimes used as religious symbols. But Turkish flag does not have such a function. Then again, Christian Action Network did not mind using Turkish flag to represent (what I would say) the Islamic ‘conquest’ of Ground Zero. The mere fact that an action network can confuse the flag with a religious symbol is alarming (well, Christian Action Network seems to be a ‘fair & balanced’ organization but still, this seems to be a problem)

Long story short, let’s stop playing the blame game and pointing fingers. 9/11 should be seen as a tragedy uniting humankind, not as a tool to legitimize xenophobia and discrimination. Also, a lesson for Turkish brand – we need to come up with a country image. I am not claiming that we should ignore religion but we should have an image that is not so closely associated with it.

Oh, here is Peter Griffin’s take on Ground Zero… Now, I can understand him better.


PS: Also, knowing more about the symbols we are using in our projects….won’t hurt.

Social Diplomacy: This time on the streets…

As you might already know, I am working as the political communication consultant for Turkayfe.org project. Turkayfe is a Web 2.0 based online platform that invites people to share their experiences about Turkey with the community. Our main is to brand Turkey through people’s perspectives. Instead of using mass media and mass persuasion methods, we aim to reach a brand image through telling stories about the country. We label our attempt as a social diplomacy project. Even though, Turkayfe.org mainly utilizes online communication methods, it is important not to forget that social diplomacy is inherently a ‘social’ understanding of public diplomacy, and requires face-time with the target audiences.
Last Sunday, we were at the Turkish Festival in Washington, DC. We set up a table for Turkayfe, and made our first contact with the community in Washington, DC. The Turkish expats and students in the United States, as well as American citizens interested in Turkey are two of our main target audiences. Therefore, the festival was a great opportunity for us to connect with the community. You can read more about our impressions here and here.


Shortly speaking, social diplomacy projects taking place at a grassroots level cannot survive through solely online communication technologies. The projects need to ‘solidify’, in other words, the projects should focus on creating a real community around the idea who will eventually contribute to the online communication attempts.

The people in the post photo are (from left to right) Forest and Karalyn (alumni of Bilkent University), Gizem (our founder), and me.

Here are some of my observations after spending one day at the festival and engaging with the community:
– Communication is an important aspect of project management, especially if we are running public/social diplomacy or nation/place branding projects.
– Face-to-face communication enables us to get direct feedback from people about the project.
– Giving a face to the project increases your credibility. You are no longer only a website, you are the people who are running the website.
– Meeting people who are interested in the project, who love to talk about your project definitely increases the motivation of the team members.

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

Social Media, Political Communication, and Turkey Vol.2: Turkayfe.org

Welcome to Turkey’s first online coffehouse:Turkayfe.org!

As part of my social media and political communication in Turkey posts, I decided to introduce a project that I have been working on for quite some time. We started the Turkayfe project in May 2009. After spending six months on the conceptualization, we recently launched our website,http://www.turkayfe.org/. Practically, the project is a place branding through storytelling attempt for Turkey. We aim to support Turkey’s branding attempts by using Web 2.0 technologies and by initiating a virtual grassroots movements. Together with the founder of Turkayfe, Gizem Salcigil White, we will be presenting a critical research paper about Turkayfe, the role of Web 2.0 in citizen’s diplomacy, and branding through sharing experiences at the 2nd Place Branding Conference in Bogota. I wanted to introduce the project to the blogosphere before getting ‘too academic’.

The image above is our front page image. We invite people to grab a coffee, sit down, and start sharing their experiences about Turkey. As our main strategy is creating a brand through people, we placed several people sitting (well some standing, singing, dancing, and playing instruments) at a cafe. The images stand for our seven main categories. For further information, feel free to contact me or pay a visit to Turkayfe.org. I will introduce two dilemmas, pros, and cons of starting a Web 2.0 place branding project.

Short Summary of Turkayfe Project

Dilemmas
1-Government/Non-government: Now, one of the most important decision we had to make was about government support. On one hand, the financial support from the Turkish government and state agencies can solve all our budgetary problems. But we started the project with an aim to project a candid story of Turkey. How candid can you be when you are supported by the state? On the other hand, if we continue as four young professionals without state support, do we have the legitimacy to create a branding platform for Turkey? We decided to keep Turkayfe as a non-governmental project as our goal is to present people stories – these stories also constitute the basis for our legitimacy claims.
2-New portal/Existing portal: One option for us was to use existing portals, such as Facebook, or existing framework, such as Ning and WordPress, to start Turkayfe. This option is cost-efficient. Moreover, it is easier to reach the audience. The second option was to build up a new website based on a new framework. We chose the second option to create a stronger sense of community and belonging among our users.

Pros
1-Avoiding clichés: A Web 2.0 project enables you to avoid several clichés in nation branding. As you (meaning the project team and contributors) aim to write about their daily life and experiences, the end product is usually an interesting story (rather than a misleading slogan on a glossy poster).
2-Young audience:Younger generations are more likely to use technologically advanced products. Apart from being an online project, Turkayfe.org also tries to present the newer web technologies to its users. Hopefully, this approach will make us popular among younger generations.

Cons
1-Language problem: The website is entirely in English. We currently do not accept submissions in Turkish… If a user posts an article in Turkish, it will not be published on the website. Even though choosing English as the only language on the website ensures open communication and interaction, it also limits our audience.
2-Inclusiveness: We want stories about people’s daily lives. We want all kinds of stories. Yet, in order to post on Turkayfe.org, you should have basic linguistic and technical capabilities. Our online coffeehouse unfortunately is only accessible if you have internet connection and can speak English.

In short, social media in Turkey, especially with regard to political communication, should not be seen as a paradigm shift. Social media has not replaced (and is not likely to replace) traditional media in the upcoming years. Yet, if you want to reach younger and more education people – go online, go viral! In order to look attractive and professional in social media, you need to invest – social media is not 100% free! Last but not the least, legitimacy in online nation/place branding campaigns is a huge problem. You need to make sure you have (at least you can claim) legitimacy on a few grounds before unveiling your project!

Diplomacy from the Block: J.Lo Not Performing in Cyprus

Jennifer Lopez was supposed to perform in Cyprus (TRNC) on July 24th to celebrate the grand opening of a hotel…also the 36th anniversary of Turkish Peace Operation on the island (also known as Turkish invasion of the island – Please click here for a historical introduction). Recently, she canceled her trip with a statement* on her official website. The statement was not welcomed by the Turkish audience. As of today, she also posted another statement**, apologizing from people that she might have offended. We will see if she is going to apologize once again from people who will be offended by her apology. (This sounds like a ‘welcome to the world of diplomacy’ party for J.Lo).

I will just try to summarize four important points with regard to J.Lo (not) performing in Cyprus from my own perspective:

The Cyprus conflict is a part of daily life. Especially in online media, we managed to see how deeply embedded the conflict is to our daily lives. One blog post had “Cyprus, Diaspora, Greece, turkey” as tags; there were reports about the event all over the media – talking about 1974 operation, Greek diaspora, lobbies in Washington DC, even a senator was named as a party to the cancellation. Turkish media presented one side of the story, and the Greek media the other. Turks tried to host the event, Greeks tried to get it canceled. It was no longer a J.Lo concert, it was a question of legitimacy. Can a singer perform in an ‘occupied’ territory? Is TRNC an ‘occupied’ territory? Even a concert of a famous (and not really that political) singer became part of the conflict.

Celebrity spectacle increases relevancy. Well, Cyprus is an important place for Turks, Greeks, and Brits. IR scholars are all aware of the situation, but at the end of the day, we are talking about an island in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. It might be difficult for several people to even point out the island on a map. But, as the J.Lo incident showed us once again, when a celebrity gets involved in a conflict, the issue becomes relevant, especially to young people all around the world. It might be possible to (ab)use this awareness in communication campaigns.

Grassroots movements are crucially important. J.Lo, supposedly canceled her concert after receiving a few thousand e-mails from her fans. After seeing several comments on her website, she removed her initial statement and apologized from people. Internet seems to continue empowering individuals. It also facilitates the process of becoming an active citizen.

Do we still not care what the newspapers say about us as long as they spell our names right? Turkey, and to an extent TRNC, have been explicitly and implicitly accused of violating human rights and being invaders during the last few days by J.Lo and the media. I am pretty sure this image is not desirable for the aforementioned countries. Then again, it is true that several people heard TRNC, and maybe Turkey, for the first time in their lives. It is important to get media coverage, but there seems to be a need for a communication strategy to benefit from the coverage.

In short, appearance of celebrities means ‘news’, moreover celebrities attract the attention of young people. With a solid communication strategy, parties can use these short spans of time to ameliorate the situation and to resolve their conflicts. Unfortunately, in the case of J.Lo and Cyprus, the main motive of the parties was to present their sides of the stories and to exacerbate the situation.

* Jennifer Lopez would never knowingly support any state, country, institution or regime that was associated with any form of human rights abuse. After a full review of the relevant circumstances in Cyprus, it was the decision of her advisors to withdraw from the appearance. This was a team decision that reflects our sensitivity to the political realities of the region.
(Small note about the first statement. Lopez decided to remove it from her website after the initial reaction. I am pretty sure she has a very very large PR budget, and still the action to communicate with negative comments was to simply remove them. Are we going to pretend that the first statement was never made? what about those comments? They are all over the internet, so I guess one should face negative comments rather than hide them.)

** This whole situation makes me so sad. The statement that was issued by my representatives was done without my knowledge or consent. It is my personal policy not to comment on political issues between countries. I love my fans all over the world. I want to sincerely apologize if anyone was hurt or offended in any way. Again, I am truly sorry.
(Another small note: Statement issued without knowledge or consent? Blaming the ‘other’ guy?…J.Lo, if the PR agency bills you for this communication attempt, you should not pay them even a penny.)