2nd January 2014

News, Alumni news

Recognising the importance of image and reputation, whether for a product or a country, has not only brought Wadham alumnus Simon Anholt (1980, Modern Languages) a dazzling international career, it has led to his becoming a much respected independent policy adviser to Heads of State and Heads of Government the world over.

Play Simon Anholt at TED

At Wadham, Simon Anholt studied French with Christina Howells and Italian with David Robey (at Worcester College).

After Wadham, and a first job in an international advertising agency, Simon set up his first business in 1989: World Writers specialised in helping exporting companies adapt their approaches to overseas markets: this included the cultural adaptation of their messages, images, marketing plans and sometimes even the products themselves. By the year 2000, Simon was employing 48 permanent staff from 43 different countries, based in an office in Wardour Street, London, where World Writers was world leader in the sector.

In 2000, he sold the business, having become interested in how the international standing of countries related to their economic and political success, and wanted to focus on this new idea. In an earlier paper published in the Journal of Brand Management in 1998, ‘Nation-Brands of the 21st Century’, Simon had written that a country’s good name was its most valuable asset. He has since found himself being called upon to advise the monarchs, Presidents and political leaders of 53 countries on their international engagement. His advice is partly informed by a database of around 200 billion data points which he has collected since 2005 through his survey, the Anholt-GfK Roper Nation Brands Index. This survey, one of the largest social studies ever conducted, tracks and analyses how a sample representing nearly 70% of the world’s population perceives 50 countries (and 50 cities in the Anholt-GfK Roper City Brands Index). Around 30 governments subscribe to the Index, which is conducted for him by an international market research company based in New York.

One of the most interesting findings from this large annual poll is the discovery that the most significant driver of a positive national reputation is the perception that the country in question makes a positive contribution to the global commons. Simon explained: “People admire good countries, and by ‘good’ I mean countries which contribute to humanity or the planet, for example by reducing environmental pollution, tackling poverty, injustice and crime, or minimising international conflict. This makes them seem more relevant and more benign: put simply, we feel glad that such countries exist. And being admired in this way is important because there is a strong correlation between a country’s reputation and the amount of business it does. For example, any armed conflict tends to damage a country’s image, resulting in less tourism, trade and investment. If a country is associated with drug trafficking, people are less likely to go there, invest there, hire someone from that country or buy products produced there. So politicians should be treating their country’s global contributions as intrinsically connected and equally important to the way they serve their own populations.”

Changing the way a country is perceived is not, however, something that can be achieved through marketing or communications, says Simon.

“Countries are judged by what they do and what they make, not by what they say about themselves”, he says. It’s a slow process, and democracies, where politicians who have the power to change policies are only in office for a short time, do not always provide the ideal environment for long term thinking about national ‘grand strategy’.

In July 2014, Simon announced the publication of the Good Country Index at a TED talk which promptly went viral and, barely a month after its release, had received over a million views. The Good Country Index combines 35 large datasets – mainly produced by the United Nations and other multilateral agencies – which together provide each country with its basic ‘balance-sheet’ with respect to humanity and the planet. During the next few months he will be launching the Anholt Institute, in a European city to be announced, whose functions will include the continuous updating and enhancing of the Good Country Index, the organisation of an annual Good Country Summit, and a think-tank which will develop policy ideas designed to give equal priority to the domestic and international agenda, and distribute these ideas freely to governments around the world, as well as helping and advising on their implementation.
September 2014 will see the launch of what Simon is currently calling ‘the Action Phase’ of the Good Country project: no details are yet forthcoming, but he says “It was never my intention to publish a survey, give a TED talk, and then disappear. The next phase involves giving people specific support and guidance so that they can start to implement the Good Country idea for themselves.

The basic principle is easily explained, he says: “We need to establish the simple fact that all governments now have a dual mandate: to serve their citizens and to serve humanity, because their interests can no longer be separated.”

  • Simon Anholt speaking at a recent Masterclass