This headline will surely elicit excitement or scorn. Let me go straightaway and announce the good news: that Nigeria, this year, made it into the list of the 50 Most Reputable Countries in the World in 2012! This was the result of the 2012 Reputation Track conducted by the US-based Reputation Institute (RI), the world’s foremost organisation that imparts reputation knowledge and monitors reputation of organisations, places and leaders. The announcement was made at the just concluded 17th international conference on Corporate reputation, Brand identity and Competitiveness held from 5-7 June 2013 in Barcelona Spain. Nigeria was noted to have made some significant improvement in its reputation. Before now, the country was not even considered for ranking.
The not-so-good news, however, is that Nigeria was rated 47th out of 50. It scored only 31.54% mark above Pakistan (26.59%), Iran (21.34%) and Iraq (20.32%). All the eight countries that scored below 40% (China, Colombia, Russia, Saudi Arabia, etc) were noted for poor/bottom tier reputation. Two other African countries – South Africa (33rd) and Egypt (39th) made the list in the weak/vulnerable reputation category. Canada, Australia and Sweden topped the list of countries with strong/robust reputation.
The criteria for the ranking were three-fold: effective government, advanced economy and appealing environment. Under “effective government”, a country with robust reputation is expected to have adopted progressive social and economic policies, is a responsible participant in the global economy, is a safe place and operates efficiently. Under “advanced economy”, a reputable country is supposed to produce high quality products/services, have many well-known brands, is an important contributor to global culture, is technologically advanced, has a well-educated workforce, and values education. And under “appealing environment”, a reputable country is supposed to be a beautiful country, is an enjoyable place, offers an appealing lifestyle, and the people are friendly and welcoming to visitors.
A good reputation makes visitors to feel good about the country, makes them to respect the country, and makes them to make positive comments about the country and its people. A good reputation makes investors to invest in the country; and tourists to visit the country. A strong/robust reputation is an invaluable, intangible asset to any company, country or leader.
That Nigeria was indeed mentioned among the world’s 50 most reputable countries was therefore cheering enough for me at the conference, especially with all our concerns about corruption, insecurity, challenges of governance, poor economy, weak institutions, decayed infrastructure, high unemployment, among others.
The other Nigerian who attended the conference was Mr Sina Odugbemi, head of Issues and Risks, operational communication, external affairs at the World Bank in Washington DC. While I attended the conference from Nigeria, he did from the United States. Mr. Odugbemi was my senior colleague at the Vanguard newspapers, Lagos, between 1986 and 1988. I didn’t know how Mr. Odugbemi actually felt about the news as he remained calm as usual.
Nonetheless, the fact that Nigeria was mentioned among the most reputable countries in the world would certainly excite many Nigerians, especially government officials who would now incorporate the information into their campaigns. But for serious minded professionals, this is a wake-up call for strategies to pull Nigeria up the reputation ladder in the ranking for next year. Besides, this result shows that reputation is not earned by sloganeering, propaganda or the so-called “image-laundering” which is the practice of quacks. Reputation is the result of hard work -- effective governance, appealing place, good people and strong economy. Slogans are only devised to communicate the goodness.
Reputation management follows the classic 80/20 principle which advocates that we devote 80% of Organisational resources to achieve success in what we do, and devote 20% resources to project and communicate that success. But Prof. Sam Black, the iconic public relations scholar advocates a 90/10 rule. Unfortunately, in many developing countries, they do more talk than work.
As the Reputation Institute clearly stated in its report, just like companies, the world’s places --- its countries, states and cities exist in a reputation economy. How they are perceived by stakeholders, tourists, investors, students, workers and consumers can make the difference between having a robust or depressed economy. The economic impact of good reputation on countries is enormous: they attract more foreign direct investments (FDI), increased exports and foreign knowledge and talents.
Investors want to invest in countries where their investments would be profitable and safe, where there are infrastructures to harness the investment, where the people are friendly, and where there is respect for the rule of law. Tourists want a beautiful place where they can go, watch exciting scenes, meet friendly people and go back home safe. Spain has no oil. Its economy is sustained mainly by tourism. In 2012, the country recorded 57 million tourists. Out of that number, Barcelona, where the RI conference was held --- a very beautiful city--- had more than 43 million tourists! And although summer was not yet on, Barcelona as at last week was already breaming with thousands of tourists, young and old.
The Nigerian government must find a way to build and manage its reputation through a strategic approach. Whoever is in charge must understand the concepts of corporate reputation and branding. Such a person must work very closely with the President (as is done in companies) and the key ministers of government. Indeed the Country’s Chief Reputation Officer (CCRO) is the President himself. What he says or does adds or subtracts from the country’s reputation.
If the President truly leads by example, if he truly fights corruption, if he is truly in effective control of governance, if he truly promotes rule of law – all these will enhance the country’s reputation. That means that the minister or special adviser in charge of the country’s image/reputation must be the President’s and the Government’s key advisor. Indeed, like in the companies, he must exercise some level of oversight on all ministries and agencies of government, and report directly to the President.
The government in Spain for instance, takes the country’s reputation very seriously. Two years ago, Spain found itself on the throes of serious economic crisis. The government appointed a Minister in charge of Brand Spain. The Minister addressed as High Commissioner, Mr Carlos Espinosa de los Monteros addressed us at the conference and spoke very strongly on the strategies the government devised to rebuild the reputation of Spain and keep tourists coming in again. Spain was on the 18th position in the 2011 reputation ranking. In 2013, they moved up to 16th position. This was not achieved by mere sloganeering that Spain is good, come to Spain!
Mr. Monteros told the conference that his office monitors every credible reputation ranking, every important newspaper article about Spain, every comment about Spain by critical stakeholders, every report of any misbehaviour of any government official or agency --- and follows up to ensure that the right things are done. He was not employed as an attack dog. Mr. Monteros also ensures that good things about Spain – its strengths—are communicated effectively through various channels in many parts of the world, especially the G-8 countries (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, United Kingdom and United States of America) where the major economic decisions of the world are made.
Building and managing reputation of a country has a lot to do with strategic communication and effective engagement with the critical stakeholders (investors, tourists, global financial institutions such as IMF and the World Bank, ambassadors, international agencies, etc). But most importantly, building reputation begins with getting things right, doing the right things, and so on.
Reputation Institute advises that countries that want to raise their competitive profile must adopt a systematic approach to reputation management. That means to understand how they are perceived by current and potential external stakeholders; defining a strategy to emphasize their strengths and mitigate the weaknesses revealed in the perceptions; developing key performance indicators to ensure accountability; and making sure that all relevant government agencies are speaking and acting as one.
I have a story to illustrate my point: When I arrived Barcelona Airport on 4th June, 2013, my luggage was missing. I reported at the Airport’s Help desk. The officer in charge promptly contacted the Airline which promised to deliver my luggage that evening. The officer went further to contact my hotel to confirm my reservation. Thereafter, she asked me to go to my hotel and wait for the luggage, which she promised would be delivered to me the next day in my hotel. By the time I got to my hotel, the information was already on display. And as promised, the next day, my luggage was delivered to me in good condition. The system worked for me; and I felt even better about Spain.
Indeed, I think Nigeria has a lot to learn from the Reputation Institute and Spain!
• Sir Jossy Nkwocha, a fellow of the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR), is former General Editor of Newswatch Magazine, and currently Head of Corporate Communications / Special Adviser to the Managing Director at Indorama Eleme Petrochemicals Limited, Port Harcourt, Nigeria.