Selling Canada or just selling PR?

Found in the pile on the desk today was an op-ed written a few weeks ago by a former communications director for Prime Minister Jean Chrétien. A quick re-read had us smiling. It reminded us too much of being a young public relations person almost 50 years ago. Back then Hill + Knowlton Canada did not exist but the company was a prestige PR firm in the United States.

At the time, we joined a well-established Canadian PR firm and only found out afterward it was the Canadian affiliate of New York City-based Hill + Knowlton. While we found that the disciplines needed for the larger firm were beneficial to us, the relationship was more beneficial to them than it became for us. It was about four years later that Hill + Knowlton Canada was in operation. We parted amicably.

But the point of this is the recent op-ed by the Hill + Knowlton Canada vice-chairman, Peter Donolo. It proposed putting more money into branding Canada to cash in on the new popularity of the Liberal government and the ‘star appeal’ of our new prime minister.

Donolo thinks that $100 million per year would be a good start to an international campaign to build on Canada’s brand. That is the kind of money that PR firms only get from clients such as trans-continental pipelines. And Donolo wants to seize the moment—if not the day!

Mind you, thinking back, that was what this PR guy was doing for free back in the 1970s. In travelling around the world for the International Federation of Multiple Sclerosis Societies at that time, holding news conferences in many countries and getting in good plugs for Canadian scientific research, we always got good coverage for Canada.

While there was some slippage in the perception of our country during the Harper years, Canada has usually been high on the list of likeable countries. There is no question that we are perceived as more exciting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the helm.

But a $100 million might be the Hill + Knowlton budget but Tourism Canada can sell Canada effectively for much less. We have to pitch Canada as a tourism destination. We can do that by bringing the foreign writers and videographers to see what we have to offer. And we have plenty.


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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