Work continues to decide Latvia's 'national image'

The Latvian Investment and Development Agency (LIAA) is continuing to work on developing a concept for Latvia's national image, despite the cancellation of a tender in September. 

The Latvian Institute was once the agency responsible for creating the image of the Latvian state, but a year and a half ago this work was entrusted to LIAA. 

The Latvian Institute's website and social media accounts still exist, but do not give an impression much is happening. It last posted on its Twitter account in October 2020 and its YouTube channel a year ago. Its Facebook account has been dormant since May 2021 and mainly posted stories from LSM's English-language service.

Confusingly, another Facebook account originally run by the Latvian Institute, with the odd title If You Like Latvia, Latvia Likes You does remain active with a LIAA banner on top of its page. "This is the one and only official Facebook page for Latvia," it claims.

Over the years various slogans and marketing strategies have been used to promote Latvia overseas, including 'The land that sings', 'Magnetic Latvia' and 'Latvia – best enjoyed slowly'.

Notoriously, LIAA also launched the slogan 'Ahead of the curve' in mid-2020 when it appeared Latvia was not being hit as hard as many other countries by Covid-19.

"While some countries are still struggling are still struggling with Covid-19, one country is a success story... Latvia is officially ahead of the curve," promotional videos boasted.

It proved to be a monumental case of misplaced hubris and subsequently backfired in spectacular fashion when Latvia rose to the top of the world's Covid-19 infection charts.

Last year LIAA launched a tender for the development of a new national image study, strategy and action plan worth half a million euros, but after receiving complaints about the tender regulations, the Procurement Monitoring Bureau canceled the tender in September.

Šarlote Līduma, the head of the LIAA State Image Department, said that despite the canceled tender, work on the national image concept is continuing.

A year ago, more than 100 experts from various fields participated in a series of workshops and decided to develop the concept "Mission - Latvia" based around the idea of ​​Latvia as a country where solutions to global challenges are being created.

"It is a cross-sectoral, cross-departmental cooperation that unites individuals, companies, public administration, research and education institutions, non-governmental organizations. By sharing everyone's experience, they can come up with a real solution faster,” said Līduma.

The first event coordinated by the Latvian Investment and Development Agency to build the country's image will be "Sea 2030" - stories about innovations and projects in the field of water resources.

"As the purpose of the national image is to promote the country's economic development and attract investment, we want to become interesting internationally. We can be interesting if we offer some solutions to problems that are also understood internationally.

Water is the most necessary thing besides oxygen, so we have chosen this niche,” said Līduma.

One of the first projects will be the digital twin or prototype for the Baltic Sea.

"This will be a set of data that can be used, for example, to study digitally how phosphorus would affect the Baltic Sea in order to know what might happen to the environment in such situations."

The government has already conceptually supported the first mission, "Sea 2030", which will talk about the conservation and restoration of the planet's drinking water resources. In total, it is planned to invest around 4 million euros in the development of the country's image and marketing campaigns over a three-year period.

Communication strategist Zigurds Zaķis told Latvian Radio that the formation of the image of the state is a constantly evolving process, and slogans, beautiful words and campaigns should be transformed into action.

At the end of the last century, the popular desire to use simplified business tools in national strategies, such as branding, has proved ineffective, he said.

Zaķis said: “They have a place in business tasks, in the promotion of certain sectors as in tourism, but in general the state is too complicated a tool. The second is the focus on change, in this case the whole involvement of public administration in the broadest sense, but there is still a long way to go."

The aim of creating a consistent national image is to promote Latvia's international recognition in various fields, including the economy. Pēteris Strautiņš, an economist at Luminor Bank, said that a good image of the country also helps business. Latvia's image has improved, but we are not yet at the level of Sweden or Germany.

"If a country exports goods and services, then these products can be of more value to buyers if the country is perceived as technologically advanced, modern, with high quality standards and so on. A good image of the country is very useful in attracting investment. If there is a good idea about the state business environment, infrastructure, the level of education of the population, the quality of the products produced in it, then there are greater opportunities for the state to attract investments,” Strautiņš emphasized.

From an economic point of view, Estonia's image is better developed than Latvia's, while Lithuania's conflict with China, with its political support for Taiwan, could have a significant impact on the country, the economist predicted.

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