State of the nation at narrative ‘17
Alex Malouf reports back from an Egypt summit where the focus was firmly on nation branding at home and abroad.
Several hundred of the great and the good from Egypt’s business, marketing and communications industries came t ogether t his October for the second Narrative Summit in Cairo. With an agenda that was squarely focused on how Egypt could improve its brand image both at home and abroad, dozens of national and international experts spoke about how the country could re-establish itself as a leading destination for trade, investment and tourism.
The big theme among the Egyptian speakers was the need to leverage the notion of brand building to support the country’s transformation. “We must use the tools used by other countries to create change, promote a distinctive self-image and foster an international reputation that serves the nation’s interests in a positive and effective way,” said Hany Mahmoud, chairman of Vodafone Egypt, during his keynote.
Speaking from a foreign perspective, a host of experts listed their views on Egypt’s brand story, including a strong awareness of the country – thanks to its prominent role in the Bible as well as its ancient history – on top of its cultural offerings.
Sunil John, founder and CEO of Asda’a Burson-Marsteller, spoke of his admiration for the recent ‘Where It All Begins’ tourism campaign (he described the work as “clever, sophisticated and, crucial for a destination brand, based on truth”), but stressed that more needed to be done if Egypt were to be positioned as a nation brand capable of competing globally, with a particular focus on six key pillars: investment, exports, governance, investment and immigration, culture and heritage, people, and tourism. For him, more work needed to be done on the first five nation-branding pillars.
“There is much more to do if Egypt is to capitalise on its many strengths. According to Brand Finance, Egypt’s brand value and ranking has actually slipped over the past year, from 55th to 57th, even as the economy and tourism recover, said John.
Speaking about the event and the reasons behind Narrative, Lamia Kamel, managing director of CC Plus and the main organiser, explained why she felt it was time Egypt tackled the issue of creating a stronger, more positive image for the country.
“Nation branding is an idea,” she said. “Beneath this idea are projects that form the essence of nation branding, which will be handled either by private firms or by government. But the idea of how to build a nation’s image must be interpreted and enforced by everyone in the nation. No one is excluded from crafting and implementing this narrative, which PR should lead on. We need to come together to craft a powerful message about our national identity, our brand, and then capitalise on our key pillars: investment, exports, talents, tourism, entrepreneurship, and national prominence. And we need to tell this message, not others.”
While there was a palpable sense of energy and optimism about Egypt among many attendees, others were less sure about the country’s direction. One young marketing executive expressed her desire to achieve more, but in another country. “As soon as I get an opportunity, I’ll head to Dubai,” she said. “I’m a proud Egyptian, but I can do more there than I can here.”
A key learning for national brand builders is the need to create and curate content effectively online. Citing the example of Dubai and its efforts to build a global brand, Kailash Nagdev, CEO for MENA and South Asia at YouGov, spoke about how Egypt’s marketers need to craft content themselves, to effectively tell the country’s story, rather than let the story be told primarily by foreign tourists. Alex Malouf is vice-chair EMENA for the International Association of Business Communicators.