You won’t find this in any of our official job descriptions, nor in our Unit’s mission statement, but we generally consider that, a°) we’re cool and b°) part of our job is to make the EP cool as well. There are many reasons why this is not written anywhere, one of them being the idea that institutions cannot even dream of being cool, which is all nice and well since they simply don’t need the coolness factor. Let’s discuss that.
This the XXIst Century but it did start ages ago: if you work in the communication area, you know that branding your organization, your product or just yourself has become an important part of any of your strategy. Even military operations are branded nowadays so don’t tell me this is not an important part of your marketing-mix. Branding doesn’t necessarily include the « cool » (quite volatile and subjective) factor but it usually doesn’t hurt.
Don’t tell me what’s cool, dude
Before we go further, I shall define « cool ». Not an easy task, as this adjective is, by essence, subjective, and volatile. What’s cool to me might not appeal to you, and vice-versa. What’s cool today may not be tomorrow but might well return in three days. For the sake of this case study, let’s agree that the cool factor mixes likability and the will to belong. It’s not enough that you like, say, navy leather jackets, but you like them so much you would buy one and wear it even under your shower – this is not recommended for any leather outfit even if it would be über cool.
When it comes to branding, the cool factor combines the likability for the brand and the will to be part of it, either by joining, by buying products, by being friends with this cool person in the office next to yours. For public institutions, whether they are national or international, the branding question still arises. Should an institution be branded? I’d like to further: could an institution be actually « cool »?
I’ll try to call few examples of cool institutions and hint at how they achieved this branding status. I’ll also look at a perfect counter example. By respect to my « devoir de réserve », no European institution shall be considered in this case study.
Cool institution #01: UNESCO
Unesco does a lot of things and their website lists eight main priorities (see the footer) and nine « popular topics ». I am sure all of them are worth the yearly $653 000 000 budget of the institution but I’d like to focus on the activity that renders Unesco cool: the natural and cultural world heritage. As I am sure you know, this program aims at listing the natural and cultural wonders of our world, which can be locations, human constructions or even intangible work (like, recently, French gastronomy) under the label « World heritage » in order to raise attention to those and to support their protection, transmission and preservation.
The World Heritage List includes 936 properties forming part of the cultural and natural heritage which the World Heritage Committee considers as having outstanding universal value. These include 725 cultural , 183 natural and 28 mixed properties in 153 States Parties. As of June 2010, 187 States Parties have ratified the World Heritage Convention. (Source: Unesco).
I am not sure the actual job consists in traveling around the world seeking beautiful stuff, deciding they should belong to humanity as a kind, adding them to the list and moving on to the next wonderful place – although if it does, hire me.
I am not sure the actual job consists in traveling around the world seeking beautiful stuff, deciding they should belong to humanity as a kind, adding them to the list and moving on to the next wonderful place – although if it does, hire me. I suspect the process is far more complicated and involves enough meetings, discussions and compromises to drive regular human beings crazy. Nevertheless, ain’t this cool? Not only the World heritage label makes concerned people (eg national or local ones) happy and proud, it does also release some dopamine drops in all of us every time we hear about it. This conveys the nice idea that there is still some beauty in our world, that we can visit or access to it (and it proved to be a real boost for tourism) and it plays the famous « It’s a Beautiful World » song in our mind.
Was there an intention to create the cool factor?
If I judge by the Unesco logo or by the World Heritage’s one, I’d say no.
The 309 pages long Approved Program and Budget for 2010-2011 doesn’t detail the institutional communication strategy, although the Division for Public Information (DPI) seems to get $13 671 800 for 2011 for its activities.
Caveat: I didn’t have time to dig in the document so maybe they get more for Unesco own communication, since that’s DPI mandate:
The Division of Public Information (DPI) brings together the different information and communication departments of the Organization. Its activities aim at making UNESCO’s ideals, projects and achievements known to different audiences. It thus contributes to spreading the knowledge generated by UNESCO’s programmes, raising its profile and encouraging partnerships with public and private groups. (Source: Unesco)
But unless contradicted, I’d state that Unesco’s DPI receives quite a tidy yearly budget.
As far as I can tell, the World heritage promotion comes mainly from the countries who are lucky enough to host one or more items on the list, from third parties writing books about them (even if Unesco publishes books about the list itself), and from the media reporting new addition or destruction of an existing item. You may remember the fuss caused by the destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan in Afghanistan, in March 2001, on orders from leader Mullah Mohammed Omar (source:).
Their own communication may feed the cool factor, but I would not identify it as the main source of coolness. In the case of this institution, the source of cool is to be found in the very own nature of its work, the creation and updating of the World Heritage list.
Of course, Unesco, again, does a lot of different and super important other things. But nothing beats, yet, this World heritage list. In this case, the cool factor is, therefore, brought by the raison d’être (as perceived by the audience) of the institution. Unesco is an ontologically cool institution. Somehow, this institution is cool just because it exists – the fact they actually work and deliver their list helps and maintains, if not extends, the cool factor. But one could almost live with the idea of such an institution and be happy with it. Unesco, just like Fonzie in Happy Days or Clint Eastwood, is a natural born cool being.
The Nobel Prize (although not an institution stricto sensu but a series of awards granted by the Royal Swedish Academy of Science, the Nobel Assembly, the Swedish Academy and the Norwegian Nobel Committee) belongs to the happy natural born: they celebrate outstanding skills or achievements, providing all of is with the pleasant feeling our human kind is moving on the positive side.
Congrats to them – we’ll see in the next post that for some other kind of institutions, there is a way to inherit the cool factor.