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Mixing Government Communication with Nation Brand Building is Wrong, Says Expert

Lagos, Nigeria. Saturday, December 6, 2014: Miss Wendy Tlou, Chief Marketing Officer, Brand South Africa, has said one of the keys to a successful nation branding initiative is to separate it from the government communication programme.

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Speaking as the guest speaker at this year’s Public Relations Consultants Association of Nigeria (PRCAN) Annual Public Relations Gold Medal Lecture themed: “Destination Marketing: A Case Study of The South Africa Experience” in Lagos, Tlou said the inability to separate the two distinct functions could hamper the progress of a nation brand building project.

Drawing from South Africa’s experience in building “Brand South Africa”, a project whose marketing and communication programme she has been privileged to drive, Tlounoted that while the government’s activities and achievements could go a long way in supporting nation brand building, having the managers of that process to also act as mouth pieces of the government could be counter-productive.

She said: “The secret of successful destination marketing lies in separating national communication from government communication. The mistake we all make is to assume that government is the only source of information about the country. Government is a great source of information in terms of how it is running the country; it is not however the only source.

“The role of government is to communicate the steps and programmes, what service delivery it is putting in place to ensure that the lives of the citizens are improvedevery single day, while the role of the nation brand builders is to position the country to the world as a destination for tourism and investment, irrespective of what administration is in power at any particular point in time”.

According to Tlou, although ‘Brand South Africa’ is the brain child of former President Thabo Mbeki and also reports directly to the Presidency, it operates independently as a private enterprise.

Speaking further, she argued that building a successful nation brand is not about a geographical location but about the people in that location. According to her, the government must obtain the buy-in of the citizens, who then naturally become the project’s ambassadors.

“At the heart of nation brand building must be the people of the nation. If the people are not convinced to buy into the dreams that the country is selling to the world, the whole effort will be nothing but a waste of resources.”

Tlou recalled that one mistake Brand South Africa made at the outset of its work was to ignore South Africans themselves -the citizens, business organisations, civil organizations and the media – and to run off, trying to sell their country to the international community.

Earlier in his opening remarks, Mr. John Ehiguese, CEO, Mediacraft Associates and President, PRCAN disclosed that the choice of the theme was informed by repeated past failures of Nigeria at nation brand building. He noted that there were lessons to learn from South Africa that has successfully turned itself into a tourism and investment destination of choice in Africa.

He said: “The choice of this year’s theme was informed by the simple fact that over the years our country Nigeria has made several efforts at destination marketing, but it does appear those efforts have not been particularly successful. On the other hand,South Africans who came out of the harrowing experience of apartheid have successfully turned their country into a destination for tourism and investment. So we said to ourselves that perhaps there are some lessons we can take home from them. Hence the choice of Wendy Tlou, who happens to have been deeply involved in the whole process in South Africa.”

The Annual Public Relations Gold Medal Lecture is a thought leadership initiative of PRCAN to stimulate public discourse on national issues that have direct bearing on Nigeria’s economic, political and social well-being.

This year’s is the second in the series. The first edition, held in October 2013, featured ex-Governor of Ekiti State, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, who spoke on the topic: “The imperatives of Policy Communication in Deepening Democracy and Governance”.

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