David McKie

National projection: Theorising competitive advantages, countries, and strategic leadership

Projection, in Wikipedia’s current definition, has 13 meanings. This paper considers the utility of all of the meanings beginning with Wikipedia’s first offering as “a projecting or protruding part” to focus on how countries jut out or intrude in transnational consciousness in line with Bernays’ famous description of the job of a public relations counsel as instructing a client how to take actions that “just interrupt . . . the continuity of life in some way to bring about the [media] response” (cited in Ewen, 1996, p. 14). The paper goes on to illustrate how national projection links semantically and practically with the core public relations business of interrupting continuity to attract media attention as for example, China is doing, by hosting the Olympic Games in Beijing for the first time, and, equally, what Tibetan protestors are also doing by interrupting the interruption with demonstrations.

The paper will also mobilise ideas from Wikipedia’s other definitions with particular attention to projection as the following: the “calculation of some future thing” – in order to explore forward-looking dimensions; “the act of communicating distinctly and forcefully to an audience” – in order to examine the challenges posed by the diverse audiences of the internet from key Diaspora stakeholders to rogue sites set up by nationals from other countries; the “systematic construction of lines drawn on a plane surface representative of and corresponding to the meridians and parallels of the curved surface of the earth or celestial sphere,” from geography, in order to adapt into mapping the coordinates of key national differences and similarities; “the act of reproducing” from photography and cinema, in order to generate debates around the nature of authenticity and realism in national representations; from psychology, “the tendency to ascribe to another person feelings, thoughts, or attitudes present in oneself, or to regard external reality as embodying such feelings, thoughts, etc., in some way” – in order to address psychological aspects; and, from psychoanalysis, using “such an ascription relieving the ego of a sense of guilt or other intolerable feeling” – in order to explore those negative aspects.

Using discussions of these definitions, the paper will explore the practicalities of some already existing national projections in, for example, Korea and New Zealand, and will consider how to provide ethical counsel to nations in ways that encourage democratic, rather than propagandistic, tendencies, and facilitate national debates within cosmopolitan contexts, rather than the currently-uneven globalisation ones. The emphasis on practicalities will include a discussion of what role public relations could and should play in national identity construction and look at the question in terms of historical precedents (e.g., in Asia and Europe) and contemporary turf wars (e.g., with marketing, public affairs, and tourism). It will also be focussed through the use of scenarios and strategic canvases as illustrative of ways that can enable wide-ranging conversations without ignoring competitive realities in war and peace.

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