Branding USA: Government Seeks Pair to Boost Travel, Improve Image

Congress Seeks CMO for New Corp. for Travel Promotion, While State Department Looks to Fill Public-Diplomacy Post

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How would you market Brand USA?

A pair of job openings are going to require the answer to that question: the CMO slot at the new Corp. for Travel Promotion, a public-private partnership created by Congress with a potential $200 million budget; and the undersecretary for public diplomacy and public affairs post at the State Department, whose current occupant plans to step down July 1.

"The individual filling this high-profile role will have the historic opportunity to create 'Brand USA,'" the travel corporation's job listing says, "improving the worldwide reputation of the United States" along the way to attracting more visitors.

Visitors to the U.S. are projected to increase 7% to 64 million this year, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. But the U.S. has been losing share of the international travel market as global travel has boomed, according to CTP. "Our failure to simply keep pace with this growth has cost the U.S. an estimated 68 million "lost' arrivals, $509 billion in total spending, $32 billion in direct tax receipts and 441,000 travel-related jobs that could have been created or sustained in the years over the past decade."

The State Department's public diplomacy position "isn't about marketing," according to its current occupant, former Discovery Communications CEO Judith McHale, as much as conversations and connections, often enabled by digital and social media. "It is about entering into what we call the marketplace of ideas, and debating and discussing with people and listening to what they have to say, on the theory that that 's the best way to get your message across."

"Our goal is not to have people love us," she said. "It is to have a respectful relationship with them so when we disagree it doesn't stop us from working in areas where we agree."

The State Department now has more than 100 foreign-language Twitter feeds. "We analyze the incoming information to see what the critical themes are for a particular population, such as democracy or jobs, and then we tailor our messages to respond to that ."

The job openings come at a potentially pivotal time for the global perceptions of the U.S., according to the Pew Research Center's Global Attitudes Project. "We've seen a decline in ratings for the U.S. over the last year in Jordan, Turkey and Pakistan," said Richard Wike, associate director. "At this point only 10% of Turks have a positive view of us and the numbers in Jordan and Pakistan aren't much better."

Credit: Sources: PewResearch Center Q7a, 2000 survey trends provided by the Office of Research, U.S. Department of State

Last week, however, President Barack Obama said the U.S. would begin pulling troops out of Afghanistan, declaring that the "tide of war is receding." The tumult known as the Arab Spring continues to reshape the Middle East and Northern Africa.

Marketing pros at Cannes last week offered plenty of ideas for Brand USA. The tourism push should promote places outside New York City, said Magnus Djaba, managing director at Fallon , London. The annual World Barbecue Championship in Memphis would hold great appeal for British travelers, who love to grill out, he said.

Smirnoff Global Marketing VP Michelle Klein suggested a road trip-style user-generated campaign, which would fly people from around the world to drive a camper van around the best of America. "But not in a touristy way," she warned. "Every time they get somewhere you could vote to tell them where to go next and enter for a chance to join them."

The CTP's priorities include emphasizing areas that aren't traditional first stops for international visitors. It plans to develop an integrated program including ads, PR, social media, trade shows and more. Its annual budget -- a mix of private-sector contributions and funds from visa entry fees -- could grow to $200 million.

But squaring promotion with policies will be as crucial. "The global public is much smarter now and they're much more skeptical," said Philip Seib, director of the Center on Public Diplomacy at the University of Southern California. "Their attitude now is , "You say you're a great country? Prove it.' An ad campaign is not going to take care of that ."

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Contributing: Abbey Klaassen

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