Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers
Simon Anholt, and Dr Patrick Spaven OBE
10 November 2010
Q1 Chair: I welcome everybody
to this session of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, and
our single hearing into the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's
Public Diplomacy: The Olympics. We have two witnesses in the first
session: Mr Simon Anholt and Dr Patrick Spaven. Simon Anholt is
an independent policy adviser, author and researcher and is considered
to be a leading expert in his field. He specialises in national
identity and reputation, public diplomacy and the public perceptions
of nations. He is one of the few people I know who has actually
had an index named after him: the Anholt Nation Brand Index, about
which he will no doubt speak.
Dr Patrick Spaven is a consultant in research
and evaluation for public diplomacy, specialising in evaluation,
results-based management and social research. He is a visiting
fellow at the Centre for Public Policy in Management at Manchester
Business School, and was previously a senior manager with the
I give a warm welcome to both of you. Do you
have an opening statement that you would like to make, or shall
we get straight into the questions?
Simon Anholt: Let's plunge straight
in, shall we, Patrick?
Q2 Chair: Thank you very much.
Let me open the batting. When mugging up for this session, I was
struck by how, in the aftermath of the Second World War, Japan
and Germany had bad reputations, but 50 or 60 years later they
are first and eighth respectively in the index, for their reputations
and as a result of their public diplomacy. Quite clearly there
is a way in which perceptions can be changed. My first question
to you both is: to what extent is public diplomacy effective in
changing perceptions of a country in the wider world? Apart from
the two to which I have referred, have any other countries been
particularly successful in using public diplomacy in this way?
Simon Anholt: It all depends on
what you mean by public diplomacy. This subject, as I am sure
you have discovered, is very hard to discuss, because there is
so little rigour or systematic use of the terminology. Public
diplomacy is a term that can cover a whole host of evils. Definitions
of it range from the very precise, the very traditional and the
very old-fashioned to the very broad definition that you have
yourself just used, which is about the general long-term management
of national reputation.
I would argue that the cases of Japan and Germany
were more export miracles than public diplomacy miracles. Some
necessary political changes stopped them being immediately perceived
as pariahs after the second world war, but after that point the
way that those countries began to worm their way into international
public esteem was through the export of high-quality consumer
goods, and after a few years, people began to discover that, if
they could trust the Braun razor or the Sony hi-fi, perhaps they
trusted the company that made them. China is doing precisely the
same thing now. If that is public diplomacy, yes, it works.
Q3 Chair: Staying with Mr Anholt
for a moment, whatever public diplomacy might be, how effective
can the Foreign Office be in changing public perceptions?
Simon Anholt: If we are talking
about people's perceptions of the country generally, that's a
very long haul indeed. One of the things that my work and research
has shown me over the last 15 years or so is that national images
are incredibly robust. They really don't change very much, and
that is precisely because the people who hold those images of
other countries don't want to change them. They are very reassuring.
The way we all navigate our way through a very complex globalised
world is by having a series of clichés in our minds about
what sorts of places these countries are, and we will do almost
anything rather than change our minds. That is simply the way
it works. They are normative constructs and the temptation is
to resist changing them.
A Finnish journalist rang me the other day and
said, "No doubt you read about the competitor in our sauna
competition who died as a result of overheating himself. Surely
this has damaged the reputation of Finland." I said, "No
it hasn't," but it's an interesting question, because if
we really did change our minds about places every time a new piece
of information came along, life would be literally unliveable.
We would spend our whole time re-evaluating our perceptions of
countries, people and companies, and we would never have time
to do anything else. So we hang on to those prejudices for dear
life, and we will only change them if we have no other choice,
and that tends to be as a result of dramatically, consistently
changed behaviour over many years.
In terms of the overall reputation of the country,
the Foreign Office, or any other individual agency of Government,
or civil society or the private sector, can do very little, because
those images are cultural constructs and they are deeply rooted
in the global commons. But, at a higher level, in terms of impact
on tourism arrivals, or foreign direct investment or recruiting
talentthe other things that matter to the business of the
countryyes, those can be effective in the shorter term.
Dr Spaven: I won't go over the
same ground. I agree with Simon on more or less everything he
has said so far. What I would like to point out is that national
image doesn't exist independently of what people have in their
heads. What we are dealing with is 6.8 billion little UK brands.
Every single person in the world has some idea of what the UK
is. How those images are formed will depend on what exposure they
have had to the UK, if any, either directly or indirectly. Ultimately
you have to get down to a fairly small scale before you can start
to work out, first of all, whose impressions of the UK you want
to change and how to do it. You have to learn much more about
those individuals to be able to develop a strategy for dealing
with that. You can't just assume that they are part of an undifferentiated
mass that you can project images on to. It just doesn't work like
I spent 24 years in the British Council and
I have learned the hard way about the ineffectiveness of a lot
of the kind of projective public diplomacy that we have been used
to in the past. However, there are some good points that I can
elaborate on later.
Q4 Mike Gapes: The previous Government
had a public diplomacy effort, including producing a major report
by Lord Carter, which attempted a definition. I do not think that
this is the time to rerun all of that, but it would be helpful
if you could at least say whether you broadly agree with the definition
that was given in that report in 2006.
Simon Anholt: Yes, because I was
on that Public Diplomacy Board, so I was one of the contributors
to itnot to the Carter review, but to the work we did subsequently
to the Carter review. That, if you like, is a very correct but
somewhat narrow definition of public diplomacy. It's simply words
to the effect of the engagement of a Government with overseas
public opinion as distinct from élite or Government opinion.
Q5 Mike Gapes: The current Government
have sent us a memo that refers to the FCO's Public Diplomacy
Group study in 2009, which concluded that, overall, we had a strong
reputation worldwide, and we were fourth out of 50 countries in
your 2010 index. We are seen as fair, innovative, diverse, confident
and stylish. Given what you have just said about the historical
length of time that it takes for things to change, is that the
image that we would have had 20, 30 or 50 years ago?
Simon Anholt: Broadly, yes. When
you are talking about a country like the UK, which has been internationally
prominent for centuries, I think you will find that the roots
run very deep indeed. One of the reasons why the UK, to use that
horrible phrase, punches above its weight in reputational terms,
is because we have been at it for so long. We have so much influence
and so much engagement with other people in other countries, and
that's one of the things that makes our reputation so good, because
generallyvery generally speakingthe more you know
about a country, the more you approve of it. That is also why
it is so robustbecause it is literally knitted into the
culture of other populations. It is one of our most powerful assets.
Q6 Mike Gapes: What are the areas
Simon Anholt: Characterial, if
that's a wordto do with our character, our perceived persona.
We are perceived by a great many people
Q7 Mike Gapes: Is this duplicitous
Simon Anholt: A little bit, yes.
A little bit arrogant. A little bit overbearing. A little bit
cold. London, for example, in my City Brands Index is regarded
to be an unwelcoming, expensive place. None of this is terribly
bad, by the way, because it's quite difficult to admire somebody
and find them cuddly at the same time. Our reputation is the kind
of reputation that nine out of 10 countries would give their right
hands for. I don't think there is anything wrong there at all.
When we are talking about the Olympics, the question has got to
be: are people going to find the reality even better than the
expectation, or possibly slightly worse? That's where the risk
or the reward come in.
Q8 Mike Gapes: Dr Spaven, do you
want to add anything to that?
Dr Spaven: I just add the word
boring, which British people are thought to be. But then, so are
the Germans and they haven't done badly either in the index.
Simon Anholt: Never underestimate
being boring. Boring is a good thing to be.
Dr Spaven: Exactly. It is a question
of what matterswhat matters in terms of what we want to
achieve. We have to think about outcomes and then work back from
Q9 Mike Gapes: Would you say that
the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and presumably other Government
Departments, in the recent past have been successful in what they
have tried to achieve?
Simon Anholt: Yes, I think there
have been some successes. As long as it's accepted that this is
about, as Patrick said a moment ago, fairly tactical, fairly modest,
fairly localised initiatives. Where you have a situation in country
x, where you have noticed that there is a negative perception
that is demonstrably harming our interests and you set to work
to fix that negative perception in that country among a certain
population group over a certain period of time, it is possible
to achieve results. The question, as always, in these initiatives
is about sustainability, because the tendency for people's perceptions
of the country to snap back to the default is very strong indeed.
Patrick mentioned in his paper about Germany's World Cup, which
was one of the more successful ones in terms of its success in
moving the needle on many perceptions of Germany abroad, but within
a year or so it had just gone back to where it was before.
Dr Spaven: Yes, sustainabilityabsolutely.
One of the big risks in any campaign mode of public diplomacy,
especially if we are thinking about a campaign around the Olympics,
is that it's seen by the people that it targets as a one-off"Oh,
this is Britain's year, and the following years will be business
as usual." They will think that we didn't really want to
know them; they'll think that we just wanted to make a big splash.
You have to work on their agendas; you have to see it through
their eyes. Quite frankly, it has to be more about them than us.
All public diplomacy needs to do that.
Q10 Chair: In the past six months
have you seen any significant change in approach from the new
Government compared with the previous one?
Simon Anholt: I am rather out
of the loop because the Public Diplomacy Board doesn't exist any
more, so I spend most of my time in other countries. I have no
idea what's going on.
Dr Spaven: I have to admit that
I spent most of the last year in Africa. I picked up signals there,
but I haven't been close to the supply side.
Q11 Chair: I am sure that it is
in my brief somewhere, but what has happened to the Public Diplomacy
Simon Anholt: It had a four-year
term, which expired last year. I believeyou will need to
check thisthat another group has been set up out of some
of the remains of the previous group. That group has the word
"influence" in it and is a work in progress.
Mike Gapes: It was effectively taken
back in-house by the FCO, which now has a closer role.
Q12 Chair: Are you satisfied that
there is still a group of people addressing the same subjects?
Simon Anholt: I am afraid that
I can't be, because I just don't know what's going on. I would
be more satisfied if I were part of it.
Q13 Chair: Mike Gapes was the
previous Chairman of the Committee. The board was exercising a
sort of oversight role, which you say has now gone in-house. Is
there now no independent oversight role
Simon Anholt: I can't be sure
Q14 Chair: other than this
Simon Anholt: I really can't be
sure of that, and one would need to ask the FCO about its work
Q15 Chair: We've got the Minister
Simon Anholt: Okay, let's see
what the Minister says.
Q16 Andrew Rosindell: What is
your overall assessment of the FCO's strategy in terms of public
diplomacy? What do you think it is doing right, and what do you
think it is not getting right?
Chair: Feel free to talk at length on
Simon Anholt: The only sense in
which I can answer that is on the basis of the papers that I've
got here about the Olympics. In terms of its general overall strategy,
again I'm afraid I'm in no position to say, because I am not privy
to it. I don't know whether Patrick has anything more to add on
Dr Spaven: Only that the paper
talks about recent public diplomacy activity as well as what is
projected for the Olympics, so there are some insights.
Simon Anholt: What I see from
the scraps of evidence that I have picked up from reading this
and from watching the news coverage of the end result of their
deliberations, is that there still persists a great deal of confusion,
or at least lack of clarity, about the complex issues that we
are dealing with here. When we are talking about the reputation
of the country, we are talking about Britain's international standing.
This is, intellectually, enormously difficult stuff. One of the
things that I was pleading for over and over again during my term
on the Public Diplomacy Board was for us to take the time to sit
down and work out, really and truly, what we meant, what terms
we were using and what we were trying to achieve. We needed to
work out the difference between the country's overall standing
and our success in trade, tourism, the recruitment of talent,
and so on. There are almost no countries on earth that have sorted
out those things really effectively.
Our friends in the United States continue to
shift backwards and forwards, with every change in Administration,
from the very narrow approach, which might be called the Government
PR approach, to public diplomacylet's just make the policies
and try to sell them to peopleback to something a little
more broad. As far as I am concerned, the bottom line in all of
this is that any separation of policy-making and reputation management
is likely to be fatal, because countries are judged by what they
do, not by what they say. The moment you start saying that there
is one Department that makes policy and decides what to do, and
another Department lower down, less senior, that does not make
policy but decides how to sell it, then I think you are in trouble.
Q17 Andrew Rosindell: In your
perception, is there co-ordination and consistency between the
different Departments that are running the Olympics, looking after
the Olympics and everything surrounding them?
Simon Anholt: My understanding
is that there is recognition of the fact that these issues have
to be connected to policy making, but I think that it probably
needs more than communication. In an ideal world, the policy makers
themselves would be expert in issues of national reputation management,
and they would bear them in mind as they made policy. The idea
of keeping it as a separate division or a separate group of experts
or informersthe United States has been through this over
and over again over the last 50 or 60 years.
One of the papers presented to the Committee
was from the Foreign Office book "Engagement." I wrote
a chapter in that, in which I talked about the way in which public
diplomacy has developed over the years, from a primitive 1950s
cold war approach, which is just, "We in Government make
policies, and you just put them on the damn radio." That
was a quote from the then Foreign Secretary. It goes backwards
and forwards, backwards and forwards. I do not see any evidence
that we have quite grasped this properly yet. I think we are still
fiddling around at the edges, and I think that we're still not
measuring it properlyPatrick is the expert on measurementand
we are still not connecting it properly to policy making.
Q18 Andrew Rosindell: The new
Government want to use the Olympics to promote British trade.
The previous Government emphasised the more environmental issues.
How do you assess that?
Dr Spaven: If I was starting out,
I would emphasise those as the most important things. I do not
see a dichotomy between environment and trade. On the contrary,
I think that they're extremely complementary.
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
Q19 Chair: My colleague Andrew
Rosindell, who has yet to return from the Division, was asking
questions about trade, and whether the Government were placing
more or less emphasis on trade. You were halfway through answering.
I don't know if you can remember where you were.
Dr Spaven: I think I was about
25% through it. It depends whether we are talking about the Olympics
as an opportunity.
Q20 Chair: I would like to focus
more in this next part of the session on the Olympics and the
opportunities that it presents.
Dr Spaven: There are quite a few
references to opportunities to promote wealth creation, inward
investment and so on here, but they are quite difficult to read
because they are very general. Probably not a lot of the specifics
have been worked out yetor if they have they are not in
this paper. I make two observations.
There are two levels at which the Olympics offer
opportunities for that area of UK business. One is projecting
specifically London, and more generally and to a lesser extent
the UK, as places with a good climate for business. Climate for
business is a complex issue; it is all about infrastructure, benign
regulation or the lack of itall sorts of things. Those
issues can be projected through the Olympics if it is done skilfully,
but that area is more about broadcasting than narrowcasting.
Then you have specific connections to make in
and around the Olympicshopefully the successful management
of a large-scale project, particularly infrastructure in and around
the Olympic sites, rapid transit and so on, and the whole green
issue. That is why I said a little while ago that environment
and trade are interconnected these days. The opportunities are
there; the question is how they are mobilised. I cannot comment
on that, because there is not enough information, but there is
tremendous potential for doing it successfully, probably more
than for any other potential benefit from the Olympics.
Equally, there are risks. For example, if the
transit does not work, Britain's reputation
Q21 Chair: We will be coming to
risk in a moment.
I don't think you have had a chance to read
the FCO's submission to the Committee on the matter. In the second
part, there is a section on trade and investment activity; given
that trade is very much the theme of the new Government's foreign
policy, it seems a bit thin. Right at the end, it says that UKTI
and the Foreign Office are planning a business hub at games time
to promote UK industry in Lancaster House. Wouldn't something
like a trade fair be a more appropriate way of promoting trade,
rather than a hub? We then have UKTI's Host2Host programme, and
we will be probing the Minister on that in a moment. Do you have
any views on that?
Simon Anholt: Yes. When I read
that sentence about the event at Lancaster House, I thought to
myself that that sounds pretty much like business as usual, good
stuff and necessary. But the thing that one has to understand
about the Olympics is that they are first and foremost a gigantic
media opportunity. That is why one does it; that is why one spends
the money on it. It is the only time in the year when a country
can be the object of fixed contemplation by billions of people
around the world for weeks at a stretch.
There are two ways of taking advantage of that.
One of the ways, in very practical terms, is to make an impression
on the people who are coming to the Olympics, some of whoma
great manywill be business people, and I'm sure one should
be doing things like Lancaster House and so forth. The other thing
that one should be doing is taking advantage of that media opportunity
to make sure that the right pictures of the country are being
broadcast around the world, as far as possible. This is where
the whole issue of national reputation comes in.
I won't go into risk, because we are coming
to that, but it is worth saying that it's what people see on television
that really makes the difference over the longer term. There tends
to be an assumption that if one simply has an Olympics and it
goes off without a hitch, it will somehow, in heavy inverted commas,
brand the nation, making it more famous and more popular.
My own view is that that is highly unlikely
to happen with the UK, because it's image is so very good indeed,
and we are such a prominent countrymore, some would claim,
than we deserve to beand the chances of us putting on an
Olympics so good that people think more about the UK afterwards,
or improve their impression of it, are very remote. You could
argue from that point of view that there is a greater chance of
us suffering from the Olympics than benefitting from them. I hope
not, but anybody who imagines that a successful event will make
us more famous is probably kidding themselves, and disastrous
Olympics could set us back a few years.
The point is that even in the general media,
one is sending out messages to people who are also business people.
They are consumers and television watchers in their spare time,
but they are also potentially investors, they're potentially students
and incoming business visitors and so on. We need to make absolutely
sure that the stuff they're seeing is first rate, and symbolically
representative of a first-rate country.
Q22 Chair: Patrick, do you feel
that enough is planned on the trade side?
Dr Spaven: As I say, I think it
is probably early days. A lot of it will be about schmoozing business
people from abroad. I imagine that there is something to think
about there. Those are things that probably need to be finalised
nearer the time. From this document, I cannot really tell whether
there is enough and whether it's the right sort of thing. I suspect
that not a tremendous amount has been done yet.
Q23 Andrew Rosindell: The final
point is on promoting British culture and values. Do you think
that the Olympics will be used appropriately to enhance and promote
British culture? The logo of the Olympics does not really project
British cultural values, does it?
Simon Anholt: I think that logos
are of vanishing consequence. I couldn't care less about them.
I don't think people really mind about logos one way or another.
Earlier, Mike Gapes raised a question about the negative perceptions
of the UK, and we spoke about this perception of our aloofness,
arrogance and so forth. There is a job to be done there. There
are one or two aspects of the Olympic plan that look to me to
be very, very well thought-out, and that could seriously benefit
some of those aspects of our culture and our personality.
Specifically, there is a project, which I was
sorry to see mentioned only in passing in the FCO documentand
its name is misspeltcalled International Inspiration. There
is a little bit of information about it. Basically, this is a
project to introduce sport and sport education to 20 million children
in 12 countries by 2012. When I first heard about it, I jumped
up and down. I have been around many, many Governments in my life
when they have been hosting, or bidding to host, an Olympics.
In one way or another, they all ask themselves the same question,
which is: "How can we best benefit from this opportunity?"
This, the London Olympics, is the first time that I had ever heard
a Government asking themselves a different question, which was:
"How can we best share the benefits of this wonderful opportunity?"
International Inspiration is a wonderful example of that. It is
what we promised when we bid for the games. We wanted to ensure
that we shared the opportunity with people around the world.
My own vote would be for taking a look at things,
such as International Inspiration, which really hit very hard
and are a perfect antidote to the negative perceptions that exist
about Britain. Let's put a lot of clout behind those, because
they really prove the point; they don't say it, they prove it.
Dr Spaven: I would endorse that
example, because it sounds like an example of the exchange model
of public diplomacy, where there is as much benefit to the people
in other countries as there is to the people in the UK. The broadcast
and transfer model is just Britain telling the world about how
clever it is. The latter can work in very special circumstances
if it is done brilliantly, but it is a high-risk model. The exchange
model is almost no risk at all. It is resource-intensive, but
from what little we know from the evaluation of public diplomacythere
has been very little of that over the yearsthose things
tend to work, because they create lasting relationships.
Q24 Mr Watts: Is there any evidence
that Olympics anywhere have a long-term beneficial effect on the
economy, visitor numbers, and the reputation of an area?
Simon Anholt: I can speak for
the reputation. There have been a couple of cases that are celebrated
because they really made a substantial long-term difference to
the reputation of the country, and they are probably Barcelona
and Sydney. There were very special sets of circumstances. Australia's
reputation at the time of the Sydney Olympics was beginning to
grow. People were starting to consider it as a viable long-haul
but exciting tourist destination, and the profile of the country
was already beginning to rise. Films such as "Crocodile Dundee"
helped enormously, because people saw a picture of a country that
they rather liked the look of.
What the Australians succeeded in doing with
the Sydney Olympics was telling one very simple, very compelling
story about the kind of country that it was, and people bought
it and loved it. That is a country with a previously somewhat
weak but generally positive reputation; there was nothing negative
in there. In a situation such as that, an Olympics can have a
strong long-term effect. It simply raised its game by a notch
or two and it has benefited from it ever since. It has maintained
One thing that one has to understand about a
major event of this sort is that it is not a sprint to the finish;
it is a relay race. We spoke before about sustainability. Countries
have to become obsessive about asking themselves, "What do
we do next?" People get exhausted planning these things,
so you have to have other teams standing by to take the baton
and do the next big thing. Brazil is doing that and China is doing
that. They have big events mapped out in two or four-year intervals
for the next few decades, and I think that is the way one has
to look at it. Patrick is the expert on Barcelona because he was
posted there when it was going on.
Dr Spaven: Yes, Barcelona is probably
the most often quoted success story. It is quite a long time now
since 1992. What happened there was that it had, not exactly a
blank slate, but a fairly uniform backdrop on which to impose
the messages. Barcelona, as many of you know, was an interesting
city but it was a bit grimy. It was a declining industrial city
until it started to transform itself. It started to do that before
the Olympics, and would have carried on even if there hadn't been
the Olympics. However, it got an enormous boost from the Olympicsfrom
potential markets, because people were looking at it, but the
bigger factor was the internal market. I mentioned that in my
submission. One million to 2 million peoplenot exclusively
from greater Barcelona, a city of 3.5 millionbecame really
proud of their city and went out to become public diplomats.
There is no more effective public diplomacy
than individuals talking to other individuals. If someone understands
that a message is coming from the Government, they are much more
likely to be sceptical about it. If the message comes from a person,
especially if there is a relationship, it is going to be far more
credible. If you have millions of people saying that Barcelona
is a wonderful city, fine. So that worked at the time, but it
carried on working because the people were so proud of what had
happened in Barcelona that they were prepared to invest more and
more in their city. That meant money from their wallets carried
on transforming the city. It was that cumulative effect that sustained
the improvement of the city, and that created the Barcelona we
know today, which is unfortunately a bit more congested than it
was when I was living there. The momentum effect definitely was
an outcome from the Olympicsno question of that.
Q25 Mr Watts: Would it be true
to sayyou also used the Australian examplethat,
for the Spanish one, the benefits were specifically for Barcelona,
not for Spain? Economically and in terms of visitor numbers, it
does not seem to have had the desired effect in the long term.
Dr Spaven: I think there was an
effect for Spain as well. Barcelona, a city roughly equivalent
in size to Madridthough differentbecame complementary
to it, whereas for so many years before that they had been diametrically
opposed. Barcelona had been the junior and somewhat aggrieved
partner, and it became a jewel in the crown of Spain. That has
benefited Spain as a whole. I can't prove it, but that is my impression.
I lived there for six years and saw that happening at the time,
and I go back frequently.
Simon Anholt: I think these internal
effects should never be underestimated. One of the things I was
searching for in the FCO's paper and couldn't find was any reference
to this really significant point about the London Olympics. For
all the reasons that we have spoken about up to now, I think there
is a fairly good chance that, even if it's a success, it is not
going to have any major impact on the reputation of the UK, because
people already believe what they are going to believe.
Where it might really make a difference and
could bring some value is to the UK's perception of itself. There
is progress that needs to be made. I mentioned earlier Germany's
World Cup. We certainly recorded in my study a measurable up-tick
in other people's perceptions of Germany but, as I said, it didn't
last for very long. It went back down again after a year. What
may have changed permanently was the Germans' self-view as a result
of the World Cup. I am sure that many people will remember that
during that World Cup we could see on television ordinary middle-class
Germans gathering together and singing their national anthem without
irony or aggression, and remembering the words. That was a really
significant moment in Germany's post-war history, because they
suddenly discovered what it was like to be, say, Italian, and
just to be ordinarily proud of the country you come from. It is
just a fact of human nature that we can't love somebody who doesn't
quite know how to love himself.
For very different historical reasons, the UK
has a very similar psychopathology to the one Germany had at that
point. We don't know how to love ourselves and, rather like the
Germans, we do tend to swing sickeningly from pathological self-hatred
to pathological self-aggrandisement. The Olympics could and should
fix thatperhaps fix it semi-permanently. I would love to
see something in the paper that says how we are going to brand
Britain to Britain with the Olympics.
Q26 Rory Stewart: That is a very
exciting point, Simon. To exploit you slightly before the arrival
of the Minister and the Head of Public Diplomacy, can I push you
both on this point? If you were sitting in our position, what
would you drill down on, in terms of resources, institutional
structures, and bureaucratic structures in the FCO? What should
it should it be doing concretely to change its public diplomacy?
Simon Anholt: A very important
part of a country beginning to take control of its reputation
is creating the right structures to do so. We have spoken endlessly
in this country about the need for greater communication between
the sectors, and that much is obvious. This is a very busy world.
If this is a supermarket, it is a supermarket in which we are
competing against 204 other similar products in one way or another.
Therefore, it is incredibly important that, as a country, we fire
on all cylinders, and that the same sorts of messages about the
country are coming from every sectorand civil society,
business and so on. So, clearly, co-ordination is a no-brainer,
but my experience of working with this Government and many other
Governments overseas is that the moment you stop forcing people
to co-ordinate they will stop co-ordinating, because the tendency
is for them not to do so. They have got their own mandates, targets,
audiences and businesses. Therefore, the only way to make people
co-ordinate and work together long termwhat we have occasionally
called joined-up government in the pastis by creating structures
that make it impossible for people not to co-ordinate. I think
one has to be a little bit fiercer about it.
At the moment, it tends to be that people sitting
in meeting A then go to meeting B and reporting on the proceedings
of meeting A to the people in meeting B. I don't think that is
good enough. In the countries I have seen where this is really
working, you have actually got people from the different departmentsfrom
business, from civil societysitting together in, to some
degree, policy-making groups and doing policy together so they
can't ignore each other. When we are doing tourism, we cannot
ignore foreign direct investment, and when we are doing foreign
direct investment we cannot ignore foreign policy or the military
or anything else, because they are all working together. In most
countries, and the UK is no exception, the kinds of bodies, structures
and organisations we have to deal with this were all designed
in the 19th century and are singularly unfit for purpose in the
modern age, where reputation is everything.
Q27 Rory Stewart: Patrick, very
concretely, what would you pin the Minister down on?
Dr Spaven: My recent experience
in this area of co-ordinationI agree that co-ordination
is very importantis from Sweden, where, to some extent,
I have had some input. What Sweden has done is create a looser
form of co-ordination, which is possible in a country like that,
which is obviously smaller than the UK. In this model, which is
more of a network model, the glue between the international influence
organisationsthe obvious onesis a concept of brand.
What Sweden has done with its brand is not project it outwards;
it created it to have everybody, as it were, singing not from
the same hymn sheet, but certainly the same hymn book. So, it
is a segmented brand, but it nevertheless has a measure of agreement
and has resources that people use in a networked way. The Sweden
Promotion Forum does meet from time to time, but it does not force
the issue. That may be possible for the UK to some extent. I suspect
it probably needs a bit more accessible co-ordination here.
Q28 Rory Stewart: Can I ask you
what this actually looks like bureaucratically? What is this thing?
What is it that you would be asking? If you were Foreign Secretary,
what would you be doing?
Simon Anholt: In a couple of other
countries, I have set up a thing that is deliberately crassly
called the national marketing agency, which is responsible for
managing these reputational issues. It has some limited power
to make policy. It creates a national strategy through broad consultation
and it has senior members, very often at ministerial level, depending
on the size of the country, from all the relevant sectors. That
is what, when I first started writing about the subject 15 years
ago, I called a hexagon of national image, which is policy, culture,
population, exports and so on. I will send you a copy. They are
all sitting together and all doing this together at a very high
level, at the policy level, because that is what really makes
There is another very specific thing that I
would like to see done. That is, if it is at all possible, a bit
more refining of the objectives here. There seem to be quite a
number of messages that we are trying to get across about Britain
during these Olympics. They are somewhat vague and anodyne. They
are a bit motherhood-and-apple-pie. We would like to be seen as
caring, sharing, tolerant, modern, technological, equal, and so
on. I am afraid my heart sinks when I read these things, because
it is what 90% of all countries want to be perceived as, and it
is just not very distinctive. In my experience, you are lucky
if you can prove one new thing about your country, let alone 12.
I would love to see us just saying, "Here is the one thing
which, through close analysis, we have decided the UK can best
use the Olympics to prove about itself"the one thing.
And then let's go about proving that.
Chair: Because of the vote, I'm going
to extend the session by 10 minutes. We were due to stop about
now, but there are still a couple of questions left.
Q29 Mr Ainsworth: Let's turn now
to the downsideto the negative. You've flagged up a couple
of opportunities, but one could be forgiven for believing that
there is a lot more risk in this than opportunity. London is perceived
as a pretty exciting, positive city. What are those risks and
how do we position ourselves so as best to manage and mitigate
Simon Anholt: First of all, yes,
it's certainly true that London has a pretty good reputation.
None the less, I would never advocate resting on laurels. A reputation
is not something you learn; it's something you rent. And you have
to keep paying the rent on it.
Q30 Mr Ainsworth: And it is an
opportunity. That's what you appear to be saying.
Simon Anholt: And it is an opportunity.
Even though clearly there are risks, I would never advocate avoiding
risks. One has to do these things from time to time and, as a
prominent nation, it is very important that we do prominent, daring
things from time to timeas long as we remember to make
them prominent and daring. I would say that the risks to our overall
reputation are very slight, just because I have so seldom seen
a country ever manage to damage its reputation in any serious
way over the long term, even when trying very vigorously. Invading
other countries doesn't seem to do it. It is difficult to imagine
what one could do to damage one's reputation permanently, if one
has a good, robust reputationas we luckily enough do. Long
decline over many years would do it, but we're not planning on
In the short term and on a much more superficial
level, yes, there are risks. If the Olympics are in some way or
other not a success and are a disaster, that will have a short-term
impact on trade, on tourism, on investment, on foreign students
coming in and so on. We need to be scenario planning. If we are
not already doing so, we need to take the approach that Shell
pioneered in the 1950s, which has been imitated throughout the
world in corporations and, to some degree, in the public sector
as well. You get a lot of people who are very good at scenarios
who sit down and work out the 20 possible things that could go
wrong and what impact those would have on all the things that
matter to us. What have we got waiting to ensure that the damage
is limited as far as possible? For example, if we were to have
a dramatic infrastructure breakdown during the Olympics and getting
people to the site was catastrophically bad, that would have an
immediate impact on foreign direct investment, because it sends
out a very clear symbol that this isn't a place where things work.
It would take a little effort to reassure people that that was
an anomaly, rather than a pattern.
We should not only be anticipating those potential
risks, but trying to insure against them in advance. In the remaining
months building up to the Olympics, we should be doing everything
we can to build up a strong perception that we are very, very
good at infrastructure. We should be demonstrating that the infrastructure
is very modern, is working hard and we are making investment in
it. That will mean we maximise our chances that if something does
go wrong, it will be perceived as an anomaly, rather than proof
that things are going downhill. That sort of approach is essential.
Mr Ainsworth: And reaction too.
Simon Anholt: And reaction too.
Q31 Mr Ainsworth: Are there systems
that we should be putting in place?
Simon Anholt: Absolutely. Here
we get into the area of public relations, which is not really
my field. Certainly any good PR person would be able to say to
you, "How would damage limitation work in a situation like
this?" Broadly speaking, it is about ensuring that the moment
a bad story gets out, you are very, very close to the media and
you can get on to them straight away. That means if incorrect
or exaggerated information is published, you can immediately issue
timely and accurate rebuttals. More importantly, for every one
negative piece of information about a tube train that breaks down,
you can send 100 pieces of information about something excitingly
Countries are always complaining to me about
the fact that the media prefer negative to positive stories. That
is actually not true. The media prefer exciting stories to boring
stories. You can't tackle an exciting negative story with a boring
positive story. The trick of the thing is to find exciting stories
that are positive and are even more exciting than the negative
ones. If we are building high speed train lines and so on, that
is potentially more exciting than one tube train breaking down.
That is how you combat it.
Q32 Chair: In fact, a disaster
such as that of the Chilean miners and their survival and recovery
was an exciting, good-news story. Patrick, do you want to add
Dr Spaven: I am not quite as sanguine
as Simon about the level of risk. Britain is trying to project
itself as a country that knows how to manage big projects. This
is its best opportunity. It wants to show that its infrastructure
works. If something goes seriously wrong in any of those areas,
it will be picked up on and could set Britain back more than just
a year or two; it could set Britain back for a considerable period
in certain areas. It won't damage the reputation of Britain's
people and so on, but it will damage that sector.
Long-term, the question of legacy is always
going to be pursued by the media. They will come back time and
time again just to make sure that our legacy strategy is working,
and if it's not they will hammer us. That has been the case with
all the other Olympics and it will happen with the UK; there is
no doubt about that.
Q33 Mr Roy: I'd like to take you
back to what we were talking about in relation to Germany in 2006,
and the China Olympic Games two years ago and the Delhi Commonwealth
Games that have just finished. We know that Germany benefited
from that two-year impact. But now, looking back, what has happened
to the performance that came in 2006 to Germany? In relation to
China, were the games a success for China in relation to public
diplomacy? Were lessons learned? Thirdly, was Delhi a success,
bearing in mind the very bad news that we had from Delhi the week
before the games on the athletes' village, which I think clouded
a lot of people's vision? Where do we sit with those three in
terms of lessons learned?
Dr Spaven: I don't know whether
anyone has done a serious micro-analysis of the impact of Germany
2006 or China 2008, and certainly they won't have done it yet
for Delhi, and probably won't. We have evidence from Simon's index,
but I would slightly moderate the picture that you ( Simon) presented
of Germany. Yes, Germany has slipped back a bit in the index from
the immediate post-World Cup heights of late 2006.
Simon Anholt: But not all the
Dr Spaven: But not all the way.
If you take a longer view, if you look at late 2005, Germany was
sixth in the index. Now it'sthird?
Simon Anholt: Sometimes, yes.
Dr Spaven: So Germany's status,
in so far as the index tells the storyI believe that it
does, because it is a very robust, large-scale surveyseems
to be significantly better off in image terms now than it was
in late 2005. The only factor that I can find to explain that
is the 2006 FIFA World Cup, around which it managed public diplomacy,
in a very broad senseinternational influenceas well
as I've seen any country, and in a purposeful way. What happened
in Barcelona was almost incidental; it wasn't a grand strategy.
Germany had a grand strategy, which I think they designed and
pulled off very well.
China is a different matter. We know that China's
overall reputation has improved since, and has
Simon Anholt: And continues to
Dr Spaven: Yes, which is interesting,
because China's reputation was going down quite steeply before
the Olympics. Before the Olympics it had the fastest-deteriorating
reputation of any country in the index, but that has been checked
and it has started to rise. Whether it has risen back to what
it would have been in 2003 we don't know, because the index didn't
exist in those days.
Simon Anholt: I think the Beijing
Olympics was a clear case of simply revealing more of the country
to a population that knew very little about the country and imagined
a great deal, and what they saw was generally reassuring.
The index doesn't just measure overall reputation;
it measures it in some detail. On the question of governance,
human rights and all the rest of it, China is still regarded as
a pariah by the majority of the world's population. So that's
the ball and chain around its ankle. None the less, on most of
the other indices it continues to rise and, as Patrick said, it
got a big boost from the Olympics. Every country that hosts a
major event is in every sense a special case. That was the right
moment for China to have its Olympics, and it benefited arguably
as much as it possibly could have done from that opportunity.
And China continues to invest; they are treating it as a relay
race and not as a sprint. They have had the Shanghai Expo, and
they continue to invest massively in cultural relations, building
Confucius centres all over the world. They can afford to do so;
they are doing it well, they are doing it right. The ball and
chain aside, this is an exemplary case of how to improve your
Delhi's a rather different matter. A phenomenon
that I've sometimes observed is that countries can over-promise.
South Africa is a rather similar case. It was widely believed
that South Africa's World Cup had improved the image of South
Africa but my study has shown that it is nowhere near as clear-cut
as that. In the minds of many people in the study, South Africa's
image actually deteriorated after the World Cup. That was perhaps
as a result of the fact that many people overseas didn't really
know what South Africa looked like; all they'd seen was tourism
promotion and they thought that it was a first-world country through
and through. They then saw it on the television and realised that
in many respects it's still a third-world country, and the image
was therefore corrected downwards. I think that the same thing
is going to happen to India. A lot of people have been hearing
nothing but stories of India's meteoric rise in commerce and economics
and so on, and then they see what Delhi actually looks like. If
you come from Toronto or London that might shock you. Therefore
there will probably be a bit of a downward correction, but they
will pick up again afterwards, and one might say that that is
a necessary correction because the perception has been restored
to something closer to reality.
Mr Roy: Unlike Glasgow in 2014, hopefully.
Q34 Chair: Time is virtually up.
Patrick, right at the beginning you said there were some points
that you wanted to make. Do you feel that you've got all your
Dr Spaven: One message that I'd
like to leave is that we know very little about the effectiveness
of public diplomacy, particularly in the narrow sense. Despite
the fact that we now have an academic centre for public diplomacy
in Southern California, which is doing some good worksome
of it is rather uninterestingwe are just in the foothills
of understanding about this and I make a plea. I think that research-wise
we are learning quite a lot, but in terms of evaluating actual
programmesunderstanding what works and what doesn't and
with what marketsI think that we are woefully ignorant.
So we need to do something about that, and not just because that's
Q35 Chair: Simon, have you something
that you'd like to say in 30 seconds?
Simon Anholt: By contrast, I'm
going to sound rather fluffy, but I just make a plea for us to
be less boring. In 15 years of advising Governments around the
world, I've found that the single most common reason why countries
are misjudged is that they generally speaking make quite good
policies but very boringly. I would like to see more stuff in
here that's genuinely imaginative and genuinely extraordinary,
because that's what breaks the mould; that's what makes people
admire, respect and take interest in other countries, and I'd
like to see us asking ourselves about relevance: "Why would
anyone care about Britain?" It is not, "How do we make
ourselves famous?" it's "How do we make ourselves relevant?"
How do we touch people in other countries so that they go to bed
at night thinking, "I'm glad Britain exists"? I think
that those are the big questions that we are perhaps not really
Q36 Chair: And do you think that
the headlines we've got at the moment are good, but boring?
Simon Anholt: Yes, and possibly
not really very relevant to me sitting in Peru or Korea.
Chair: Thank you both very much indeed.
That is really appreciated.