Ambassador of Croatia Dr Ivan Grdešić offers some tips from the trade
In an ideal diplomatic world all countries are created equal. But if you are an ambassador from a smaller country, you and your diplomatic staff will probably struggle to gain visibility and access. Your counterparts in the foreign service of the host country have limited time, perhaps a different agenda from yours, and you are inevitably competing with other diplomatic representatives with larger economic and political clout.
Your ‘competition’ may also have a larger diaspora in the host country that will attract the economic and/or electoral interest of the host government politicians. In the long run, you can wait it out and count on your term of duty as an ambassador, which – according to the rules of diplomatic precedence – may give you more visibility since you will have been at your post longer than any others… or at least, you will get a better view since you will be in the front row for important events.
There are, however, a few things that you can do to bring more visibility to your mission and country. These actions may create opportunities which can be beneficial for trade, tourism, culture, security, or the brand of the country you represent.
Join the club
First, join the club. No, that doesn’t mean joining the traditional ‘leather chaired clubs’ in London, but rather, join the grouping of countries that are connected by interest, geography, or both. Countries tend to work together driven by their geographic proximity, which creates common interests. Ambassadors will either meet more formally in this format, like the European Union ambassadors do during the Council of the EU Presidencies, or meet more informally such as the Visegrad Group, the Baltic and Caribbean states, and many others. These groups can also be created for some special interests that can be shared and achieved together. In 2000 in Washington DC, the then-NATO candidate countries created the Vilnius Group to lobby together for their membership of the bloc. The Vilnius 7 was then expanded to the Vilnius 10 as new states expressed interest in joining and working together on the common strategic interest of joining NATO. Later this group was followed by the US-Adriatic Charter for those not invited and is still active. In this smaller and more equal environment there is more opportunity to participate and represent the interests of your own state. Using the synergy of the group and the power of numbers you can be invited to be present at meetings and forums that you would not otherwise be invited to. Host ministers will have more difficulty dismissing invitations for a meeting when they are invited by five or six countries together.
A second way to provide visibility and presence of your mission is (today rather obvious but still ignored by many) through the use of social media and new information technology. Creating communication channels on social media can provide access to different groups of the public both at home and in the host country. Though these channels are often cheap in terms of finances, getting them right is expensive in terms of time and commitment. An Ambassador can demonstrate what he/she is doing or planning to do, project an image of his/her country, and engage with a wider audience. Efforts will not bring immediate success, and they are not easily measured, but it is important to continue developing these channels of communication for a longer period of time in order to create presence and credibility. While reach and impact cannot be controlled and managed, the content that one wants to share is based on one’s own choices. You are free to choose what to post but then you are also responsible for any possible negative consequences. Twitter and similar communication technologies allow for quick and multiple messaging about immediate events, reactions, and announcements. Facebook, Flickr and other internet accounts of that nature provide more space for text and images, and tend to build a community of followers and a more stable public. They may serve as a diary of events, keeping in touch with a less active but more permanent base of interested friends and followers. Both types of social media can be extremely useful to inform your citizens and others about emergency situations, accidents, provide consular information, or disseminate important information quickly.
My third suggestion is more old-fashioned – and that is to work with traditional media – newspapers, magazines and journals. While access to such publications is much more difficult, once achieved it is more prominent and influential. Of course, you don’t want bad news from your country on the front page of newspapers, but one can still find ways of getting one’s message in the pages of the prominent national newspapers. If you want to gain access in these publications, you need to study your targeted publication. Do they publish op-ed pieces? Or letters from the readers? Do they have pages open to the readership in some other way? Weekend editions often have more opportunities to showcase your country – such as in travel sections, sections allowing comments on some important event or development, etc. If the publication does have a space for readers to participate, then use the opportunity to send your contribution. For example, during my tenure in Washington I managed to publish a small contribution ‘Life as Haiku’ in a popular weekend section of the Washington Post. It was well received among my ambassadorial colleagues and the interested public. It was not heavy political stuff but based on personal experience, with a touch of ironic humor:
For my wife and me, it was the first diplomatic black-tie event we attended, since I had arrived as the new Croatian Ambassador to the United States. The diplomatic reception rooms of the Department of State were filled with diplomats. A small jazz band played dancing tunes. On the crowded dance floor was an elegant couple that moved gracefully, the best dancers of the evening. They knew what they were doing and they loved it. Later in the evening we asked which country they represented. They smiled and the man responded, “Thank you, we work here, we are the Secret Service.” Washington Post, March 23, 2003.
The world of diplomacy is not that different from other businesses. It has competitive actors, limited resources, a defined and distorted ‘market’ space, rather similar products, and sophisticated consumers. In this kind of environment to achieve your ‘company goals’ and ‘make a profit,’ innovative marketing is useful. Technology, talent, and of course, hard work will make your embassy’s ‘business’ more successful.