In Nicholas Cull’s Public Diplomacy: Lessons from the Past, he broadly defines public diplomacy as “an international actor’s attempt to manage the international environment through engagement with a foreign public" (12). By this definition, nation-branding might be considered public diplomacy. Especially because one of the distinctions between typical public diplomacy and the “new” public diplomacy is that international actors increasingly come in nontraditional forms, I can see how there would be a new space for hired marketing firms in this way.
However, there are a few facets of nation-branding that don’t quite fit with the view of public diplomacy:
- PURPOSE: The approaches of country branding seem to be more driven by investment and tourism than political gains. According to India Wants to Be Your Friend: India and the “New Public Diplomacy” by Elizabeth Hanson, the 2002 “Incredible India!” campaign increased the number of tourists from 2.3 million to 6.3 milllion in 2011. Of course, while having a positive image in the world will no doubt reflect well in the political arena, this appears to be more of a byproduct than the original intention. Nation-branding aims to create a broad, optimistic and memorable impression, but I see public diplomacy as more informative and based on factual evidence and actions.
- ENGAGEMENT: Nation-branding does not involve the foreign public in any kind of dialogue or discussion, but instead pushes information out without inviting a response. This is antithetical to the new public diplomacy model that has emerged. Instead of seeking any kind of feedback from the public of the foreign nation, the main purpose of nation-branding is to spread a carefully constructed positive image of the country.
Ultimately, nation-branding can be considered public diplomacy, but I don’t know that it is more effective. That depends on how you measure success, and as I discussed above, the goals of nation-branding are often very different than other means of public diplomacy, which makes it difficult to draw a meaningful comparison.