Brand Estonia under construction

  • 2001-08-23
  • Aleksei Gunter
TALLINN - The Brand Estonia project being organized by the association Enterprise Estonia, which has the responsibility for creating a new PR concept for the country, has finally found a project manager after a search lasting two months.

The story behind the project began when Russian speaker Igor Tsyganov changed his name to the more Estonian Ivar Must and launched a career as a professional composer. Several years on, he wrote the mainstream hit "Everybody," which won the Eurovision Song Contest earlier this year.

The victory obliges Estonia to host the next song contest, and this has forced the government and private sector to put more thought into international PR for the Republic of Estonia. On June 12 the government approved the idea of starting Brand Estonia. Enterprise Estonia is a unit of the Economic Affairs Ministry targeted at various levels for the promotion of Estonian companies. It has until next May to get the Brand Estonia project ready and to launch it at the song contest.

Prime Minister Mart Laar promised to head the project's steering committee, but its budget has yet to make its way through Cabinet discussions and remains unclear. The game involves millions of kroons, specialists say. From 30 million ($1.71 million) to 50 million kroons per year would be the spending needed to keep the project up and running, prominent Estonian businessman Tarmo Sumberg told the Aripaev daily on July 30.

Evelin Int Lambot is Brand Estonia's new project manager. "Several people applied for the job I eventually got, but I don't know who they are. I passed all three stages of the competition," she said.

Lambot studied medicine at Tartu University, but quit after getting a diploma in 1993 and has never worked in that field. Instead, she joined the Estonian Management Institute the same year, and dealt with adapting international management techniques for Estonian needs.

Lambot applied for a master's degree in psychology, and did not finish that either. But she has completed courses in marketing and management.

"I feel it's both my civic contribution and professional task to complete the national brand project. I think it's the highest professional point for a marketing-related person," she said, commenting on the importance of the task ahead.

While some products are often worse than portrayed by their glossy advertised image, in Estonia's case everything is reversed. "We think Estonia has a high potential as a tourist destination and as a place to invest, and we have to show this to the countries around us," said Lambot.

According to her, the existing materials that promote Estonia are surprisingly well made. But they all focus on specific issues, be it tourism or investment promotion; all of these are "sub-brands." What needs to be created is a general concept that would enable a synergy for all the existing promotional strategies to be put into play at once.

Madis Laas, from the advertising bureau Kontuur Leo Burnett, said he thinks nobody has seriously dealt with the image of Estonia, and to some extent Lambot would have to start from scratch.

"I know how Estonia approached the EXPO 2000 exhibition in Hannover, which I think was very successful, and I also try to stay in touch with the Estonian trademark project. I'm interested in the national brand project as a citizen, entrepreneur and marketing communications bureau director," said Laas.

He added that he had been expecting the state to do something in this respect for a long time. "The Eurovision victory has provided a positive and strong impulse to start the project," said Laas.

Lambot said the project will unite representatives of different interest groups in our society. The very idea of the project came from the private sector.

But that may be the project's main problem, according to Laas. The state itself, with its many opinions, ambitions and contradictory priorities, could hamper everything. "Delays are dangerous. Quick decisions will make the project go smoothly and easily," he said.

Laas said his company is ready to consult with the state on the national brand image using all the experience and know-how the Kontuur Leo Burnett agency possesses, but will consult only to a limited extent.

"As a company we still have to pay salaries and taxes," said Laas, adding that the project is so important to Estonia that civil initiative alone will not help. "President Lennart Meri and ongoing reforms have been the best image makers for Estonia so far. However, it's so difficult to find the right method for creating a state image for a worldwide audience," Laas told The Baltic Times.

The Estonian pavilion at EXPO 2000, which remains in the minds of many visitors as the "carrot patch" because of orange triangles hanging from the roof that were supposed to be pine cones.

It also featured a slogan describing Estonia as "the land that breaks the waves." Laas considers this a successful slogan in the context of the fair. "The slogan displays a clear will to achieve, and also reveals our geographical location."

Intensive emphasis of Estonia's Baltic, European or Nordic feel in the national brand project would be a mistake. "That would only be a geographical positioning. It is more important to expose our character and drive," suggested Laas.

Eurovision may be a mere concert for large countries like Sweden or Great Britain. But for Estonia it's much more than that. "The Eurovision win was a tougher challenge than arranging for the song contest next year should be. It is the PR opportunity of the century, and we should handle it as part of a one-year PR campaign meant to adjust attitudes toward Estonia," said Laas.

According to his estimations, planning the campaign would take up to two months, and the total cost is hard to predict without concrete information on the target group or without an ultimate goal for the campaign. Laas said his company would certainly agree to contribute to the project, adding that the work is not inexpensive, and requires the best specialists in the field. Using advertising methods that work in the private sector for creating the national brand is completely justified.

"Of course, it's possible to 'sell' the state. However, in this particular case brand creation would take much more time," said Laas.

In general the basics of marketing remain the same. "But our product is different, more complicated than, let's say, Coca-Cola, which is merely meant to be drunk," emphasized Lambot.

The Estonian brand will consist of many parts - Old Town attractions for New World tourists, something else for other target groups. And for every particular market and target group certain parts could be brought to the fore. "I would not say we're selling Estonia. More likely, we are actively inviting people here," she concluded.