Bratislava was the first city in this part of Europe to host the Nation’s and City Branding Masterclass, led by renowned experts Simon Anholt and Robert Govers. In their careers, they have advised more than 70 governments, cities, and regions on branding strategy. After the event, which took place on 4 June 2024, we spoke with Zuzana Mikulášová, executive director of Brand Slovensko, a civic association dedicated to Competitive Identity theory and practice.

Q1: The Brand „Slovakia“ was founded 30 years ago. What does it mean to you personally, and how do you think Slovaks experience it?

Yes, Slovakia as a country recently celebrated 30 years of its independent existence. As part of the name Czechoslovakia, Slovakia, in my perception, and I believe also as understood in the general public, remained for many years in the shadow of its western neighbour, which already profited from a well-known “brand”. In my understanding, building a country’s brand starts with national pride and defining national identity; these are recurring issues discussed in public over three decades. I used to be one of the witnesses of several attempts to work with this agenda in the past years. I have changed from the person who observes the topic to the one who puts effort into processes we have been administrating for a couple of years now, accompanied by the team of Brand Slovensko. Yes, we are trying to change the status, break the paradigm and come up with something done by the biggest world economies on their path to a better reputation. We have completed two stages of work. The third stage, without a doubt, might be only assisting with our capacities to the politicians.

Q2: Who were the participants of the “Competitive Identity” conference?

The Competitive Identity Masterclass event was aimed at a wide professional and international audience interested in the topic of building a country’s brand or who are professionally affected by it. At the same time, the event aimed to transfer foreign best practice examples of the two main experts of the event to Slovakia. The event was attended predominantly by tourism professionals, representatives of state and public administration and representatives of destination organisations. However, the topic of building a brand is not only a topic of the tourism industry but also public diplomacy, export or knowledge transfer. Therefore, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Slovak Republic and the State Export Bank Eximbanka, a crucial player in exports, were also represented at the Event. The Masterclass took place under the patronage of the Ministry of Tourism and Sports of the Slovak Republic, which we see as a crucial step in developing the agenda.

Q3: What were the main takeaways Simon Anholt and Robert Govers left you with?

World experts Simon Anholt and Robert Govers presented the results of their survey – Nation Brand Index – and the implications resulting from the measurement. Based on examples from practice and projects on which they collaborated as strategy creators, they explained the importance of managing a country’s brand and portrayed several case studies. The basic outcome can be summarised as follows – a country with a strong image has everything easier in life, it costs less effort and less money. On the contrary, for a country with a poor image, everything is much more complicated and expensive. Exploring some of the case studies within the program was a major part of the agenda. It is not only about methodology and measurements because people always need concrete examples of how others managed to implement such a robust agenda in a country with less renown. To put it all into a kind of humorous perspective – we, most probably, redirected all people at the event from understanding the word BRAND as a LOGO to the correct understanding.

Photo: Brand Slovensko


Q4: How does the external perspective of the Brand Slovensko differ from the perspective of Slovaks?

Simon Anholt is the founder of the scientific discipline Nation Branding, and he states that this is not an emotional topic but based on theory and knowledge measured in the world index. Few people know, apart from experts on this topic, that the image of a country can be purposefully managed. A country can thus position itself, which it does based on deliberate efforts. If we speak about our external perspective as a civic association, we stick to numbers and measurements only, trying to avoid any emotional stuff. Slovaks, in general, are keen to qualify “the image issue” sometimes in a far too easy way, mostly related to various widespread discussions on social networks. I am trying to say that sometimes we can be shocked by how easily (some) people think the image of the country grows or falls according to minor events happening locally. Most probably, this is the crucial issue of agenda we work with – to avoid quick judgments on this topic. The images of the countries are changing, but as the measurement shows, only slowly and over a long time. If it is a quick process, there has to be a relevant or shocking event behind this, like invading a neighbouring country.

Q5: The lecturers presented some examples of best practices in strategic reputation management of a country. Which one is the closest to you and why?

Of the many examples explained at the event, the examples of Austria, the Netherlands, and Iceland were unforgettable. The closest example to us can be the consolidation of the image of Austria or the setting and creation of the image of Slovenia abroad. I can relate to many of them since I have been living abroad for a decade. But the one that was not mentioned specifically at the event is Germany. I admire the way they managed their reputation and their international standing. The country which caused World War II has been perceived as the driver of the European economy for decades. The producer. The inventor. The leader. Most of all, this was not caused by propaganda but fostered by the hard work of their leaders and the nation itself. Generally, Slovakia can find many examples in other countries easily, as this field is vastly monitored even in the academic field, and there is lots of practice in books and case studies there. The founding father, Simon Anholt, showed a couple of them.

Photo: Brand Slovensko

“One road is muddy and is represented by coming back to the state where we would be again “only communicating” in Slovakia. And the other one is the right one.”

Q6: What are the next steps in strengthening the reputation and recognition of Slovakia?

On the way to a positive image and recognition, Slovakia needs to clarify how it wants to appear in the world and what needs to be fulfilled. That is crucial. To get to the point, we can say that we would love to be perceived globally this way in 10 – 20 years. These considerations should be included in the country’s vision and reflected in public policies. The country creates a positive image through public policies that are adopted against the background of a societal consensus. This is an equation of the game called nation branding.

As the next step, we suggest to politicians as the primary goal – to get everyone relevant on board as the discussion of the national image proceeds. Let me mention our internal phases. The first one was Slovakia as a brand and conference, which aimed to frame the topic in general, then to organise the Masterclass, and the next phase was getting everyone behind the right methodology and defining an action plan. The correlation between consensus and the right methodology is imperative for this process. Let me underline that the agenda of the brand of the country is at its crossroads. One road is muddy and is represented by coming back to the state where we would be again “only communicating” in Slovakia. And the other one is the right one. Trying to identify relevance for our country on an international level. I have just watched the speech of President Peter Pellegrini in the Czech Republic, and I can say this politician has a strong feel for the issue of the relevance of the country in the international field and naming its prospects. We strongly hope for cooperation with him and his office.

Find out more about Brand Slovensko here

Photo: Brand Slovensko