Jamaica's PM needs to go on more overseas trips in the New Year
NOW that I have your attention, let us discuss what I mean by the headline.
If he or she wants, the Prime Minister or President of a country has the ability to be a country's best salesperson. This is because, as befitting their rank as leader of a country, large companies will make available key decision makers to them, even the "Imperial" CEOs of some of the large mega corporations, who
the ordinary marketing executives might not otherwise get access to. A clear example is earlier this month, when UK Prime Minister David Cameron travelled to China with over 100 British Business leaders, to increase UK China trade and investment.
As I noted in a recent interview on News Talk 93 on improving Brand Jamaica, it is tiresome to hear people talking about the power of brand Jamaica, without taking effective action to convert what is essentially public relations (PR) into marketing that ends with a sale, with actual dollars being the measure of success. Tessanne Chin's superb performance on The Voice is likely to be converted into actual money, and not PR, because Universal will give her a contract as part of her prize. She made a sale, in short, and is clearly on her way to making many more, in the large US "export" market.
Today, a brand is not mere image, but a promise of the consistent delivery of a product, whether a service or good, that meets the consumer's expectations. It has a value because a consumer is willing to pay a premium, choosing it over other alternatives, or spread the word. It is no longer a logo or design or a wrapper (or country for that matter), because if you, as the consumer, won't choose it or recommend it, there is no brand. Jamaica's "brand" has long been severely damaged by our crime problem.
Jamaica is competing globally, as a small country of just under 3 million people, against the entire world for investment, and needs every advantage it can get. One advantage Jamaica has, like the Irish, Indians and Israelis, is our diaspora, with Jamaicans in almost every country in the world. The mobilisation of our diaspora in the US to support Tessane Chin over the past two months is an example of what we should be trying to achieve, but for our overall economic development instead.
A real-life example of what we should be doing with our diaspora is our Prime Minister's planned trip to Stanford, announced on their website, in late January next year to speak in their global leader speaker series. Stanford has seen three Jamaican Professors of Economics, Emeritus Professor Donald Harris (his daughter, President Obama's friend, is now California's attorney general), Peter Blair Henry (now Dean of the immensely influential Stern Business School based in New York) and currently Renee Bowen. The Jamaican Silicon Valley network includes principals and alumni of the world's leading management consulting company (particularly to the US Fortune 500 and the larger countries round the world), Sheldon Lyn and Edward Sharpe respectively, and a host of Jamaicans working in California's leading technology companies, such as Jon Stona at Google, which are of course the world's leading technology companies. In fact, a Jamaican, Lloyd Carney, is CEO of Brocade Communications, a US$2.2 billion company by revenues.
As a state, California has one of the largest economies in the world, and is a leader in a number of the key industries Jamaica is targeting, including tourism and hospitality, information technology, the creative industries (including music, film and animation), and healthcare, to name only a few. It is ideal for a trade mission approach, bringing as many businessmen and women as possible along on a Prime Ministerial trip. Indeed, one would need to make several for just this state alone. There is an active Jamaican American Association of Northern California that has publicized her event to build upon.
Today, all these overseas-based Jamaicans can connect with home more easily than ever before, through websites such as LinkedIn (also based in California), which can be used to mobilise our diaspora in ever widening circles of referrals of opportunities for Jamaica. Their expert knowledge can be shared with our government so as to enable our marketing people (say at Jampro) to understand what is required to get US firms to invest in Jamaica. Jamaica has underperformed in terms of US investment for many decades, so 2014 would be a good time to go on a marketing programme to the US, state by state, targeting their major companies, a "pivot" if you like, from East to West.
Whilst it is good news that we have passed another IMF test, the IMF will not grow our economy, but merely provides a platform for short term financial stability. Neither will large investment projects from state-owned enterprises, whether from those based here or overseas e.g. China, as infrastructure does not by itself create new industries. What will grow our economy is the creation of thousands of new businesses, whether new companies created by local entrepreneurs, or large private overseas companies setting up operations here, which will all need to primarily be in exports.
It is notable that Ireland, despite being one of the countries suffering the most from the global financial crisis, managed this month to exit its IMF agreement. Despite its very severe recession, over the past four years it has seen an even higher level of overseas foreign direct investment than during its Celtic Tiger period, as it painfully rebalanced its economy from the bursting of its property bubble back to exports. Once again, as during their Celtic Tiger boom, it is likely that its huge diaspora played a key role, working hand in hand with the Irish government.
Perhaps this time, Jamaica can finally learn the right lessons, from them and many others, on what it takes to achieve a turnaround in our economy. It all starts with the sale, which can only be achieved through getting on the road (in our case a plane) to meet people. For this reason, I hope the Prime Minister spends much more time overseas next year, meeting with the CEOs of the large global companies, opening doors for
our businessmen and bureaucrats. Jamaica's economic future will depend not on markets here, but markets abroad, and the time to act is now.