“The Spain Brand initiative is not marketing, but an integrated public diplomacy strategy”
For Rafa Rubio, the “how” is more important than the “what”. Not a surprising trait in the universe of a man that has gradually become a recognized expert in political communication and soft power in Spain and beyond.
Although he defines himself as an inquiring conservative, it seems to me that his natural curiosity characterizes him more as social scientist with an open-minded spirit. As a consultant, university professor or as a volunteer, Rubio is, above all, interested in exploring the power of communication in the digital age.
“To some, communication is only used as a defense weapon,” Rubio said. “To me, it is a tool to effectively construct the meaning of things that already exist.”
He is one of the three editors behind the book, “Challenges of our foreign action: Public Diplomacy and Spain Brand”, recently published by the Diplomatic Corps within the Foreign Affairs Ministry. The book is written by 42 authors coming from diverse fields of expertise and delves into four main topics: public diplomacy, economic diplomacy, culture and citizen’s diplomacy. Chef Ferran Adria, fashion designer Modesto Lomba and Minister for Industry, Energy and Tourism, José Manuel Soria, are some of the popular names.
It is an independent public-private feat from the “Spain Brand” government initiative, which was launched in June and has Inditex’s board member, Carlos Espinosa de los Monteros, as its representative. But it aims at offering some good content to the official government venture.
Over lunch at Bla, Bla, Bla, a restaurant located on Calle Prim, 13, Rubio explained the aspirations of the book and recognized some shortcomings.
As a university professor and expert, he emphasizes the idea that this book moves away from any marketing and focuses on a strategic mission. “In today’s network society, there is no state in the world with enough capacity and resources to influence all the global stakeholders,” he explained. “In this context, the state becomes a facilitator”.
From Rubio’s perspective, the state should facilitate the actions carried out by private and public actors in their respective areas of influence in line with its ultimate objective: to gain an influential position in international relations.
To use “Spain Brand” to name these types of initiatives has its shortcomings, I told him. For many foreign journalists, international investors and even some members of government, these are perceived as something cosmetic and comes at the worst possible time. “We need to do our homework first,” a public official told me some months ago.
Rubio agrees, specially referring to the public promotion of the government’s Spain Brand. “It has been quite ridiculous to announce so publicly an initiative that hasn’t still materialized.” But for him the benefits outstrip the costs, and he thought a book could contribute to give some content and structure.
The initial book proposal was presented to both the Department for Media and Public Diplomacy at the Foreign Affairs Ministry (directed by María Claver and Luis Melgar, as deputy director) and the Diplomatic Corps (directed by José Luis de la Peña, who writes the book’s prologue).
“The idea of the book was to create a road map with some academic rigor to be followed by all Ministries,” explains Rubio.
Rubio highlights two things about the book. One, its vocation to unify the different ministries to advance together towards the action. The heterogeneous list of public authors shows prove of that: Carlos Espinosa de los Monteros and Fernando Eguidazu, from Foreign Affairs; Teresa Lizaranzu, from Culture; José Manuel Soria, from Industry. Rubio is aware that the absence of a representative from Presidency and Economy could be the book’s Achilles’ heel. “But we have a good starting point,” he insists.
The second aspect of the book is that it is meant to be an internal guide. The book aims at making representatives of the different ministries learn about the wide array of strengths Spain enjoys at this point of its history, incorporate it and effectively communicate it to their respective stakeholders. Diplomats and ambassadors at the different Spanish embassies across the world are an outstanding target of the book. But it would be quite beneficial if the state economists read it and assimilate the information as well.
Beyond the book is the public diplomacy initiative, which the government is undertaking without public funding. These are times of public-private partnerships, and Espinosa de los Monteros is trying to gather some financial support from the private sector.
A recent Youtube video produced by Grant Thornton, a global accounting, tax and advisory organization, has showed us, Spaniards, the many strengths that we have developed over the years in an animated and creative way. Despite our current low self-esteem, Spaniards have bought the message, incorporated it and spread it with enthusiasm. “The irony is that it was done by a foreign firm,” said Rubio. We have the “What”, but a foreigner had to show us the “How.” This video is a perfect example of Rubio’s leit motiv.