Stop Pitching and Start Engaging with the Media
INTERVIEW: MARKUS KRAMER, PARTNER AT BRAND AFFAIRS
The birth of effective communications campaigns for the investment migration industry must begin with a serious ‘soul-searching’ process as to where the industry stands. If the media, policy-makers and the public at large are ever going to relate to its concepts, the industry needs to work closer together and give up its sales-driven communication approach, says brand strategy expert Markus Kramer.
Can you give us an introduction to Brand Affairs and explain how you got involved in the investment migration industry?
Brand Affairs is a growing team of talented and passionate communications experts. We offer services in the fields of Brand Strategy, Public Relations and Social Media. We run offices in Zurich, Lausanne, Düsseldorf, Vienna and London. Our client base includes international corporations such as Harley-Davidson, Chiquita and Nokia but also governments and promotional FDI and export organisations such as Switzerland Global Enterprise, for example. We also offer reputation management services and deal with reputational issues along the lines of what Volkswagen is currently experiencing. Our expertise lies in developing detailed communication strategies. We work with a global network of trusted partners in both communication and media law to see these through with precision. We have been involved in the investment migration industry for two years now. It is a fascinating, dynamic but also very complex industry, genuine on the inside, but misunderstood on the outside.
The investment migration industry has a difficult relationship with the media. From your experience, what would you highlight as the main reasons for this?
The industry is still relatively young, and it is only in recent years that it has gone mainstream. The problem with immature industries – and you can see similar dynamics in other emerging sectors – is that many people are focused on quick returns and place very little effort in building up the reputation and credibility of the sector. It is no secret that many people do not think highly of the industry and perceive it either as unethical, a security threat and so on. Perception is a reality until proven otherwise.
The players within the investment migration industry are not yet doing enough to change the public’s perception of the industry. This requires a consolidated and continuous effort and a cohesive approach, which also needs to take into account the media industry’s own dynamics. Media organisations are having to adapt to ever-shorter attention spans, which, at times, leads to a lack of in-depth reporting. It is the investment migration industry’s biggest challenge to get the media onboard. Quality journalism can play a big and positive role in shaping perception by informing and educating the public and policymakers.
How would you characterise the current communication practices of the industry?
The industry has adopted a very sales-driven communication approach and is communicating mainly to potential clients. It has paid little or no attention to engage with policy-makers, the media and the public at large. There have been cases where media organisations have carried sensational stories, and we have seen no reaction from the industry. No reaction is usually a dangerous strategy. And there are certainly ways to rewrite the sector’s nascent story. The most important thing is that the industry helps the media understand the industry. This means engage and communicate more, better and deeper. I also feel that governments – who are key actors in this sector – need to be more proactive and visible. It simply cannot be that they do not communicate and help shape this industry.
What steps should the industry be taking to manage and protect its reputation?
Inviting journalists to learn more about the industry would certainly be useful. But before a company or an industry does that, it needs to be very clear on its positioning. What does it stand for? This is the fundamental question that needs to be answered to build up and manage a reputation positively and for the long run. Industries that have this ‘clarity of position’ can then communicate confidently. I would like to make it very clear: managing a reputation is not a communications exercise only; it is an exercise of building the industry’s identity and positioning from the inside out. This position does not need to be accepted by everyone from a moral point of view but it has to be genuine and cannot just be a façade.
Can you highlight a few examples of good and bad practice?
Look to luxury brands for instance. They never had a serious problem with engagement. They are very bold in their brand messaging and are fully aware that their products are not for everyone. Another great example of how reputation can be managed is AirBnB. The nature of AirBnB’s business model is also very controversial given that it attacks the traditional hotel industry. But AirBnB managed to turn its image around from ‘staying cheap’ to offering its customers the opportunity to ‘belong anywhere’. In my opinion, the investment migration industry has some serious soul-searching work to do, and it will only be able to successfully defend itself once it comes up with a clear and aligned position.
What lessons can the industry learn from other sectors?
Firstly, don’t take your reputation lightly as a loss in consumer trust costs money. We have all seen what happened to Volkswagen in the wake of the emissions scandal. Volkswagen lost 30% of their market cap in just three weeks. Not because they build bad cars, but because of a rapid loss of trust.
Secondly, companies cannot ignore their value and supply chain – even if it is ‘behind the scenes’. Take Apple and precarious working conditions issues surrounding their supplier Foxconn, which assembles iPhones. Remember, we live in an age of a totally connected consumer.
Thirdly, and on a more positive note, education is a big enabler. A great example is Google, which provides great learning tools to help their clients get the most out of their products.
Is there any advice that you would like to share with the industry on how they could improve the industry’s image and their relationship with the media?
This industry has great momentum, it is here to stay, and it is moving in a healthy direction. However, it takes around 5 to 10 years to change the perception of an industry, which is much longer than many people think. My advice would be to ‘look for alignment’ within. It might be very tempting to follow your own agenda as a company or a government, but if the industry works together and finds one voice, it will reach its goals much faster.
Source: IM Yearbook 2018/2019