Corporate cultural diplomacy; how it works in practice (with examples)

Playground provided by Omo/Unilever Foundation,
Đời Đường Beach, Phan Thiết, Vietnam

By Grant Hall.  Founder of League Cultural Diplomacy

Regular readers of where words fail would know that I spend my days espousing the benefits of corporate cultural diplomacy.  Intelligently designed and well executed cultural diplomacy initiatives along with high quality business operations will reap outstanding benefits including increased business stability and sales growth in foreign markets. The Institute of Cultural Diplomacy (ICD) published a helpful paper titled Benefits for Corporations to Engage in Corporate Cultural Diplomacy and  I summarised it in an earlier post.  The paper describes how cultural diplomacy uses activities or programs as the vehicle to deliver cultural engagement from which  beneficial relationships, trust and influence can be built.  The paper states:

Cultural Diplomacy may best be described as a course of actions, which are based on and utilize the exchange of ideas, values, traditions and other aspects of culture or identity, whether to strengthen relationships, enhance socio-cultural cooperation or promote national and global interests. Cultural diplomacy can be practiced by the public sector, private sector or civil society [i]

For a corporation to follow this course of actions it must design and implement suitable activities or programs; the ICD says:

Activities include a wide range of forms, such as the engagement in higher education programs and educational exchange, intercultural exchange programs, youth and young leaders programs, international conferences and cultural events, engagement in particular thematic programs or initiatives in the fields such as human rights, arts, sports, music and film programs, as well as research programs [ii]

Here are some of the more traditional types of cultural diplomacy activities that you or your organisation could undertake to build relationships, trust and influence abroad:

  • Commission a new work of art
  • Sponsor a local cultural organisation or sports team
  • Provide cooking lessons or demonstrations
  • Produce a film
  • Manage a festival
  • Run a cultural grants program
  • Stage an art exhibition
  • Run dance workshops

It’s easy to add to the list, and it can be as long as your imagination will allow. These examples are initiatives that are commonly managed by governments through their foreign diplomatic missions or via their cultural diplomacy body; China’s Confucius Institute or France’s Alliance Française, for example.  Corporations and individuals can implement these initiatives to develop beneficial relationships, trust and influence abroad or accross cultures. These days there are many more modern and effective approaches, such as digital diplomacy, which I will discuss in future posts.

I can almost hear you asking how these activities produce the corporate benefits that cultural diplomacy activities are claimed to deliver. Success is largely achieved through leverage of the CCD activity or program. Cultural diplomacy methods are tried and tested techniques that have been successfully used by governments for hundreds of years.  Professional cultural diplomacy activity managers know many tricks of the trade to ensure the intended benefits are obtained.  Cultural diplomacy is more than simply getting people together in a room and hoping they like each other. The success of cultural diplomacy activities depends largely on how well companies leverage the opportunities the activity brings for relationship development. Let me give you just three examples of how cultural diplomacy activities can be leveraged for further benefit.

  • VIP functions might be attached to the main event to allow for engagement with important prospective partners
  • The activity might be central to a PR campaign which will bring about more editorial cut-through that a PR campaign would if it were simply about a product
  • The activity might bring a benefit to a cause close to a client’s heart, so much so that the client is motivated to maintain good relations with you to encourage your support for his or her cause

But the proof they say is in the pudding, so here are a few examples of CCD in action!

The casino and the arts  

While seeking to open a new casino in Sydney Australia, James Packer, Executive Chairman of Crown Resorts Ltd, sought to improve community relations and counteract concerns about possible negative societal outcomes by investing in an Arts Fund of which AU$60m would be provided to arts organisations in Sydney.  Crown Resorts used the fund to ensure community relations started off positively and to leverage PR opportunities to obtain media cut-through promoting the new casino.  

The sports hero and music in India

Former Australian cricketer Brett Lee established a music foundation in India called Mewsic.  Growing up in a musical house Lee understood the value of music education.  Mewsic makes musical instruments and lessons available to children in India who would not otherwise have an opportunity to play an instrument and enjoy the benefits that playing an instrument brings to a person.  Not only has the foundation brought value to the children it assists, but it also helps Lee to build a strong, multidimensional personal image, which is a good asset to any businessperson today.  

Mining companies making movies  

In order to strategically counteract some of the negative perceptions that exist regarding the mining industry, Australian companies have funded movies that portray the industry in a more sympathetic light.  The most notable example of this is the film ‘Red Dog’.  The mining industry also works closely with Indigenous traditional land-owners, the people who often own the land where mines are located.  Mining companies have also funded the making of movies that promote Indigenous culture, which is a good example of corporate cultural diplomacy being used to improve community relations across cultures.

Celebrities becoming diplomats

Former child movie star Shirley Temple became an American Ambassador.  Australian sportsmen of Fijian background, Nic Naitenui and Mal Meninga have been recruited by the Australian Government as goodwill ambassadors to Fiji at a strained time in Australian-Fijian political relations.  Likewise, Angelina Jolie is a Goodwill Ambassador to the UNHCR and Bono is, well, Bono.  It’s been said that basketballer Dennis Rodman has achieved more in opening communications with North Korea than the international official diplomatic community has in fifty years.  Sports stars and most celebrities come from the cultural field and understand how to communicate at a cultural level.  Their star appeal often opens doors that can’t otherwise be open by official diplomats or business people.

The bank and the virtual concert hall

Deutche Bank, which is an international bank, works with the Berliner Philharmoniker Orchestra to broadcast orchestral performances of exceptional quality on the bank’s webpage.  Over four million people have viewed these concerts worldwide, enhancing the prestige of both the orchestra and the bank.  The bank also has an excellent and very large art collection and supports young artists through workshops and purchasing works.

Building two-way trade through orchestral projects

A new initiative between the China Philharmonic and the West Australia Symphony Orchestras is so impressive I wrote a whole post about it! The project was launched by the Australia China Business Council and is being backed by business leaders both in China and Australia as a way to foster beneficial trade relationships between the two countries.

All of the above are examples of initiatives that my business, League Cultural Diplomacy, can facilitate.

For further reading.

To check out other posts about CCD from click here.

The Institute for Cultural Diplomacy (ICD) has an excellent document about the benefits for corporations to engage in corporate cultural diplomacy activities

The ICD Diplomacy also has a good list of historical acts of cultural diplomacy.

Here is an excellent article about future trends for corporate cultural diplomacy.

Endnotes and sources are listed on the next page.

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