Jonathan McClory on Soft Power, Nation Branding and Country Reputation in Asia

Jonathan McClory, General Manager for Asia at Portland Communications, in this interview introduces us to the Soft Power 30 study and discusses the links between soft power, place branding and country reputation, with special focus on Asia.

Learn about:

  • How Jonathan McClory's views on place branding have changed over time;
  • The link between soft power, place branding and country reputation;
  • How the Soft Power 30 study measures and monitors soft power;
  • The biggest pitfalls of nation branding - mistakes to avoid;
  • How countries, such as Sweden, can leverage from their strong nation brand in Asia;
  • Jonathan's thoughts on the Good Country project.

Jonathan, do you remember the first time you heard about “place branding”, and your thoughts back then?

It would have been around 2009. I was still working in the think tank world at the Institute for Government in London. I was doing some research on public diplomacy and came across Simon Anholt’s work, which has been a great source of inspiration to me. I was particularly taken by his work in trying to measure something quite difficult to pin down.

I thought it was an interesting concept. A reasonable way to conceptually blend public diplomacy, foreign policy, and branding/marketing.

How has your view on the topic changed since?

It has changed a great deal from when I approached it as a researcher. I think I was lucky to get my introduction to the concept as a researcher to really get to grips with it and see how it relates to other areas of International Relations – like soft power. In practice, I find that many people, on the client side at least, tend to prioritise the visual and communications elements of place branding.

I’ve realised that one needs to strike a balance between the research, strategy, & policy side of the work, and the visual elements.

For better or worse, clients tend to want to make quick progress on elements that they can see, touch, or feel. But without the right evidence base and strategy, the best designers in the world won’t be able to create the right place brand.

How does the concept of soft power link to place branding and country reputation?

I have found soft power to be an ideal analytical framework for approaching place branding and country reputation. The way I think about it, soft power assets are ultimately the building blocks a country uses to shape a positive reputation.

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The Editorial Team

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