Basic Understanding of Public Diplomacy for Businesses


Public diplomacy can be explained as the transparent conduct of international relations by governments or sovereign nations in communicating with foreign publics. The purpose of such communication is to inform and influence foreign audiences and promote one’s own national interest. In simpler terms, public diplomacy can be seen as the intercultural communication with foreign publics to establish a dialogue designed to inform and influence public attitudes on the formation and execution of foreign policies. Many argue that public diplomacy has a propaganda-like element by engaging media and non-media channels to present a country’s policies and dispel any wrong impressions.

Professor Nicholas J Cull divides the practice of public diplomacy into five essential elements: listening, advocacy, cultural diplomacy, exchange diplomacy and international broadcasting. Other proponents of public diplomacy include media diplomacy, public information, and educational/cultural programs under this umbrella term. Many public diplomacy programs and initiatives include educational exchanges, active and informative social media, interfaith dialogues, leadership projects, professional exchange programs, as well as the wide reach of music, sports, movies and the arts. Public diplomacy can be practiced through avenues such as cultural and education centers, business forums, national press clubs, and foreign correspondents clubs.


Why is public diplomacy important?

A public diplomacy that is proactive, well-coordinated, innovative and informative is essential in advancing the interest of the nation abroad. The significance and strength of a nation’s public diplomacy program is essential, not only to the achievement of many foreign policy objectives, but also to achievements in education, culture, social issues, and the discovery of common political ground between diverse traditions. At its most basic level, public diplomacy is an important tool in communicating a country’s policies, values, and culture and reaps the benefits of people-to-people contact with foreign audiences in influencing public opinion on key issues.

Through its use of soft power as opposed to the use of force, it increases potential targets for direct communication of diplomatic messages. Public diplomacy practices at the international level help to create harmony and avoidance of conflicts. It also works to serve national interest in fields like investment, trade, tourism, and state branding, which can only be successfully achieved by promulgating various unique cultural and economic factors. As Tara Sonenshine, then US Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, explains: “[Public diplomacy] explain[s] our values and our interests. To build mutual understanding. To provide individual connections that can improve lives-- that advance human rights, and religious tolerance, and freedoms that can be guaranteed by constitutions and protected by government practices, rule of law, and a vibrant civil society.”


How will engagement in public diplomacy relevant for embassies and their main activity in sourcing trade and investment?

Public diplomacy is key in securing economic well-being by enhancing regional trade and investment to spur on growth and jobs. It not only promotes the state’s prosperity, but also manipulates commercial and financial relations in support of foreign policies. Public diplomacy is also essential in establishing state brand. In strengthening the state image, reputation and the establishment of a trademark, it is necessary to invest greatly in planned communication. The state as a trade brand cannot be artificially designed. It must be based in the identity of the country, in its self-perception, vision, and national culture. Public diplomacy, and in turn national branding, contributes directly to how a foreign audience perceives a nation, encompassing the audience experience as consumers of a country’s products.

Jason Bouzanis explains the economic aspect of public diplomacy in The Economic Face of Public Diplomacy: International Business Promotion and Tourism, saying how the primary goal is to enhance either national, regional or economic prosperity and that “traditional activities associated with public diplomacy, such as cultural programs and educational exchanges, are increasingly being help achieve specific international business and tourist objectives.”

Successful public diplomacy can create an environment in which business deals can prosper. The incorporation of investment and trade promotion companies into international cultural and academic relations strategies help to foster broader mutual understanding that will benefit economic prosperity.


How can public diplomacy engagement be useful for businesses?

Businesses are essential in helping to bridge political, cultural, and social barriers between nations and ethnic groups. The role of businesses in public diplomacy affects the country’s ability to build coalitions and alliances to achieve political objectives. Engagement in public diplomacy can be beneficial for business because of the influence on perceptions and purchase decisions regarding products or services from certain countries of origin and flow of foreign investment. Also, as companies expand overseas, it is essential to gain social legitimacy and authority in the host country market and engaging in relationship building helps to develop a competitive edge. On the other hand, negative public opinion about a certain country can cast a shadow on that nation’s companies and brands.


How can public diplomacy improve embassy relation with civil society and businesses?

Public diplomacy can improve embassy relations with civil society and businesses because of its essential focus on communication. By creating a dialogue between the embassy and social, educational, economical sectors, relations will develop with a better understanding of the other’s role and how they can mutually benefit one another. By being more in check with civil society and businesses, embassies are more representative of the various peoples they are serving and more aware of the world they are living in.