Has Malaysia ever been a powerful country

Soft power

"National image was yesterday - the EU is a gentle superpower"

Yes and no. There is actually no contradiction between the idea of ​​a supranational region like Europe, which relies on soft power, and its member states, which do exactly the same thing - albeit in a different way. No one would argue that the image of, say, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Greece and Finland is less clear or less important to the individual prospects of these countries than the image of the European Union as a whole.

In the 2006 and 2010 editions of the Anholt-GfK Roper Nation Brand Index, I included the EU in the list of 50 countries whose image was assessed, just as if it were a nation. So we can see how well or how badly the EU compares. In 2006 the EU was right at the top of the first place. In 2010 it only came in 8th place - and also fell in almost all sub-categories. In “Culture”, for example, it fell from 7th to 10th place and was overtaken by Russia and Japan; even China, not yet included in the index in 2006, performed better than the EU in 2010. In the “Investment and Immigration” category, the EU fell from fourth to seventh place, placing it behind Germany, Switzerland and France. Even if the survey method changed slightly between 2006 and 2010, the shifts nonetheless show that the international image of the EU has deteriorated rapidly.

There is a lot of talk in Brussels these days about Europe's poor image. So far, however, there seems to be little intelligent discussion about what could be done about it. Most proposals are limited to the need for "more PR" or a "better message", as if the European Union was a soft drink and as if reputation were nothing more than the result of clever and elaborate self-promotion. In reality, the EU's global image has relatively little to do with the way Europe is portrayed in the media, but rather with the legitimacy of its existence: the EU lacks a defining purpose, and it has relevance for people in other parts of the world lost. This damages her self-perception and is reflected in the way she is perceived from the outside. This could only be changed through political and strategic action at the highest level and through a renewal of the European mandate - but not through press releases or slogans.

"Soft power is a buzzword. What someone abroad thinks of us is not that important"

On the contrary. Soft power may be a fashionable term - but the concept is by no means new. Since time immemorial, rulers and state leaders have known that it can be more useful to be admired than to be feared. Directing others with gentle power is ultimately more productive than leading them with hard force. Military and economic power are important, but most countries are not in the comfortable position of being able to impose their will on others. Soft power is therefore by far the most important power factor in the modern world. And of course it matters how a country is seen abroad. There are now reliable research results that show that a positive and strong national image brings significant gains in exports, foreign direct investment, in the tourism industry and in many other areas. When it comes to international economic relations, countries with a negative image are to a certain extent the “cheap” brands, while those with a powerful image are the “premium brands”.

"We just have to upgrade our image"

If it were that easy! The reputation of a country changes, if at all, over decades or generations and almost never as a result of targeted attempts at manipulation. Countries are judged according to what they do and what they create - and according to the society in which they are on the international stage; their reputation is incredibly stable. If anything, the mechanism works in the opposite direction: if a country manages to increase its soft power by increasing the amount, quality and relevance of its cultural, commercial, social and political relationships with the rest of humanity, then it will be Improve reputation over the long term.

Part of the problem is that most countries seem to be bound to their image by a very strong elastic band. Even if they manage to show at times that they deserve to be seen in a new light, the effect is invariably fleeting. Take Germany, for example: after the 2006 World Cup, its reputation "warmed up" a little, and that's how it was intended. With a titanic effort it was possible to break old stereotypes of a cold, humorless and unhospitable people. But nothing followed the World Cup, and within a year Germany's reputation returned to its old values ​​almost exactly. Building a reputation: it's like filling a bathtub when the plug is missing. Trying to show that a country deserves a different or better reputation must not only be due to a strategic intention. This country has to be considered remarkable in itself, it has to be directly relevant for the people in other countries and this attempt has to be pursued consistently over many years if the effect is to continue. Unfortunately, the policies and horizons of most democratically elected governments are simply not designed for such periods. This is one of the main reasons why so few countries have ever managed to really control their international reputation.

"It is due to a lack of information"

A view that is widespread - and wrong. Such an understanding of national standing is similar to the Soviet idea of ​​propaganda, according to the motto: “If people don't understand things the way we want them to, it can only be because of a lack of information (in other words, their ignorance ). And the solution to an information gap is that we close it. ”But this approach does not fit into our age at all - and also not with human nature. We live in an era of information, we are drowning in information. If we want to find out anything about any country, we just have to surf the internet a little. The problem is not a lack of information, but rather that people are unwilling to access the existing information, according to the old adage, “You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink.” The trick is to find out how to make your country relevant to the lives of people in other countries so that they want to get the information of their own accord.

"Public diplomacy is the answer. We reach younger target groups in social networks"

That does not go far enough. Public diplomacy is not a media strategy, but rather a philosophy based on the idea that governments must deal with public opinion in other countries. The methods used differ greatly from country to country, from topic to topic and from target group to target group. It is true that the barriers to access to social media are very low. But that also means that they are much more overloaded than conventional media, and that it is therefore even more difficult to stand out there. The decisive factor is not which communication channels you use - this is just one detail of the implementation - but how a country enables people in other parts of the world to communicate productively with it. This is more a question of content - what does a country do, why is it relevant for a certain target group? The things that are really relevant and interesting to others usually find a way to get through to people.

"A major event is the solution"

A major event is perhaps a small part of the solution. But ultimately it doesn't tell people anything about a country. It's just a way of getting their attention, at least for a short time, so that you can motivate them to want to learn something new about this country. As a rule, however, this gain in reputation lasts for less than a year after a major event. Improving the reputation of a country is not a sprint to the home straight, but a relay race; and only a series of strategically interlocking activities carried out in many ways, in different areas and over many years can really improve a country's image in a truly sustainable manner.

In any case, major events, even the seemingly very successful ones, have the unsettling effect of damaging the reputation of the host country or city as often as improving it. The reports about the country or the city that are broadcast around the world by foreign television teams have a much greater impact on the international perception of the country than the event itself. After all, a football match or an athletics World Cup are always the same everywhere, no matter where they take place. Spectators only notice something when the organization of the event is catastrophically poor. The trappings, on the other hand, are unique to each event and are often followed with great interest. And so even a well-organized major event can have a deeply negative effect on the reputation of the host if the television viewers at home see too many unsightly images of poverty and inequality.

"Think of" I-Heart-New York ": Branding is a powerful tool, we should use it"

Conversely, it becomes a shoe. It's true that slogans and logos are often associated with strong brands. But they are never the cause of the success of these brands, but the slogans and logos are popular because the product or the city is popular. It was not Winston Churchill's cigar that made him famous - but he her. There are so many unknown and unsuccessful companies and places with wonderful logos and slogans, and there are many well-known and successful companies and places without good branding. Graphic design distracts from the heart of the matter. What really matters is what people have experienced in this place or with this product - and not the verbal or visual short form that refers to the place or the product.

Governments that practice “nation branding” often quote well-known slogans from other countries to justify their own project: “Malaysia Truly Asia”, “Incredible India” and “New Zealand 100% Pure” are often mentioned here. But that is deeply misleading, because all three slogans are advertising messages, devised by tourism associations as elements of their campaigns and PR offensives. Nobody would doubt that tourism advertising is part of conventional service marketing; consequently, the traditional tools of marketing are also adequate and effective. But promoting a vacation destination is very different from changing the image of a country, and the blending of the two has increased in recent years since the tourism industry coined the term “destination branding” to promote its PR activities describe.

The difference between the two is actually obvious: Tourism advertising is about selling a service to a clearly defined target group in a competitive context. Advertising is just as necessary as it is potentially effective. Soft power, on the other hand, does not aim to sell a product - because by definition, almost everyone lives in their own country and does not look for a new one on the open market. Rather, it is about changing the underlying attitudes towards other countries. Anyone who wants to achieve this through simple advertising messages is simply doing state propaganda - and is doomed to failure.

"There must be a reason that so many countries hire PR agencies"

At least that's what you should think. It is true that countries must invest in PR and advertising campaigns in order to sell their products and services to the world. It would be difficult to promote vacation spots or export goods without doing marketing. But there is no evidence that these tools are of any use when the aim is to change prejudices or preconceived notions about a country, region or city. On the contrary: decades ago, media studies found out that a country's bad image tends to be reinforced by positive PR. Almost all rogue states have spent gigantic sums on public relations over the past 50 years, and not a single one of them has managed to improve its reputation.

The reason why many of them keep doing it anyway is because it seems so logical: “We have a bad image because people only find out bad things about us in the media. If we can use PR to get the media to report positively about us, then our reputation would also improve. ”In reality, it doesn't work that way. First, the ability of PR agencies to influence the media is limited anyway (at least reputable media and social networks). And even if they could: Secondly, experience shows that once a person has formed an opinion about a country - or shows him a certain degree of indifference - then only his own immediate experience will shake him in this view. The opinion of others, whether expressed in the media or in the general public, tends to be ignored.

Prof. Simon Anholt advises over 50 nations, cities and regions worldwide on the development and implementation of strategies for improved engagement in other countries.