Not every country has a brand but every country has an image that comes to mind.
Despite multiple attempts to conceive a positive and internationally recognized brand of Ukraine, the global perception of the country still revolves around negative narratives of war, corruption and poverty. Nearly 26 years after independence, Ukraine is still viewed through the prism of tragic chapters of its history such as the Soviet regime, Chornobyl’s nuclear disaster, or Russia’s war against Ukraine.
Leading international experts will discuss how to change Ukraine’s weak branding situation at the Kyiv Post’s Tiger Conference on Dec. 5 at the Hilton Kyiv hotel.
First of all, Ukraine needs a solid country brand that would stand strong against ongoing Russian disinformation and would give credit to the country’s rich history and high-quality products, experts say. Such brands would help Ukraine move from victimhood to becoming a trustworthy European partner, and eventually, a top destination for tourists and investors.
So far, Ukraine invests very little into promoting itself globally.
Other countries spend billions “to make the world love them,” as the Economist put it, through cultural institutions abroad, exchange programs, and hiring international public relations firms.
A country’s strength can be measured by its economic success, military strength, and how many consumer brands and famous people it is globally known for. There’s also a more subtle yet effective way of global dominance. Soft power, a term coined by an American political scientist Joseph Nye, describes a country’s ability to shape the perception of it through appeal rather than coercion.
Ukraine ranked 48th out of 60 countries in the latest Soft Power Index.
Jonathan McClory, general manager for Asia at Portland Communication, a UK-based public relations firm that developed the index, will speak at a panel focused on branding Ukraine at the Dec. 5 Kyiv Post Tiger Conference.
“Ukraine showed best results on digital diplomacy, but it needs to work on culture, education, enterprise, and government,” McClory explained in an interview with the Kyiv Post. “Ukraine doesn’t do well in terms of engagement, meaning it has a limited number of diplomatic missions abroad.”
While it’s impossible to erase tragic events from the country’s past, Ukraine needs to find positive stories to tell and define what role it sees for itself on a global scene. Poland, which has a troubled history similar to Ukraine’s, ranked 24th, McClory said.
“Perhaps, Ukraine could position itself as a bridge between the West and Russia, which seems to be moving further away from West and becomes harder to understand,” he suggested.
Ukraine must also reclaim its cultural heritage that was falsely accredited to other neighboring countries. This happened to Ukrainian-Polish artist Kazymyr Malevych who is still widely named as a Russian painter.
Ukraine does not have to rebrand itself on its own. It has many examples to learn from. The leaders of the Soft Power Index are Ukraine’s allies such as France, the United Kingdom, United States, Germany, and Canada.
Taking branding lessons matters because it helps tourism, exports and investment figures grow. It also impacts how global leaders make foreign policy decisions.
Barbora Maronkova, director at North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s Information and Documentation Center in Kyiv, reckons that building Ukraine’s brand as a nation is vital to promote its interests abroad and gain support from other governments.
Some of Ukraine’s most recent foreign policy successes include visa-free regime and an Association Agreement with the EU.
“Ukraine needs to communicate actively its achievements to all the NATO allies and address key concerns of every individual member state,” Maronkova told the Kyiv Post. The country’s leaders must be proactive, not reactive, she added.
Tetiana Popova, a strategic communications expert at the Kyiv-based non-governmental organization Information Security, believes that it’s time for Ukraine’s government to take lead in information policy with foreign audiences and media.
“There are StratCom departments at the ministries but they lack cooperation among each other,” Popova told the Kyiv Post. “There are no regular meetings where different parts of the government could coordinate their public affairs and StratCom policies.”
Popova should know well what she is talking about. She used to serve as the Deputy Minister of Information Policy of Ukraine and an adviser to the Minister of Defense. She will join Tiger Conference’s branding panel discussion as one of the speakers.
Unlike many critics who blame journalists for negative coverage, Popova sides with media professionals and doesn’t tolerate any bullying against them.
“The government and law enforcement have to understand that cracking down against foreign journalists or journalists who investigate corruption works against them,” she said.
McClory, Maronkova, and Popova will be joined by Farzana Baduel, CEO of London-based Curzon public relations strategic communications agency with an extensive experience on consulting governments.
The panel will be moderated by Michael Bociurkiw who served as spokesperson for United Nations Children’s Fund and Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine.