David Brockdorff is managing director of BPC, a leading Malta-based marketing communications agency
If there is a tide in the affairs of men, there can be a veritable tsunami in affairs of statehood. It does feel as though we are living through such a time; as the world struggles to resume a normal trajectory, following a 2020 year-that-was. As each one of us comes to terms with personal pressures, Malta itself has also been shaken, for a different set of reasons. Some of these are well documented, others are still unravelling, in unpredictable and sometimes unsettling ways.
Left unchecked and unmanaged from a communications point of view, there is a real danger that the good people of Malta, and I believe there are many, will collectively sleep-walk into a spiralling nightmare. We need not look far over our horizon to see an island with ingrained image challenges, where attracting significant long-term inward investment is a perennial challenge to the detriment of all. Why, on calm lucid days, when our vision is clear, we can actually see it – a stark reality check, if one were needed, of just how close we are to such a fate.
In truth, whatever our business, profession or activity, and whatever our aspirations and dreams, sustained reputational risk for our country is tragic. Until a few years ago, it was possible, and perhaps useful, to conceive of Malta and “the world” as two separate and distinct entities. This is no longer the case. Membership of the European Union, unprecedented technological change and media pervasiveness have updated our address to the global village. Whether we like it or not, we are firmly on the map and, quite literally, on the international news menu.
Whatever our own political views or persuasions, we can all surely agree that brand Malta is under unprecedented strain. Arguably, some of this may be unfair, and some may be orchestrated by competitors or detractors. But this is neither here nor there.
Harmful and potentially chronic as it is, this external reputational risk is not our only problem. Our primary audience is ourselves. What we see, think, believe and above all, what we feel about Malta matters. For if we, in our heart of hearts, do not buy it, few others can.
And yet, across a number of areas, we are walking the walk, if not at pace at least in intention. While long-term success will also depend on a genuine reckoning with what has gone before, we can now start to see a new direction ahead. In the private sector, for example in manufacturing, there are exemplary players committing considerable investment to produce truly world-class quality products.
However, a future in which we walk the walk simply will not cut it. We have to talk the talk too, and make sure we are heard, that we are understood, and that we are believed. If we control or at least manage our own narrative, Malta needs not be a loser or part of the supporting cast. Yes, we can overcome our challenges. Yes, we can win.
A number of business organisations and lobby groups, and also, to be fair, state entities and authorities, are indeed now thinking along these lines and considering how to grab the bull by the horns. Such efforts are commendable, but we need to engage meaningfully and strategically with critical audiences – both internally and externally.
The challenge is truly significant, nothing short of the greatest country brand repositioning task Malta has ever faced. As a cynical world looks on, there may not be a second chance to get this right.
We must overcome our size, our tendency to compartmentalise and, dare I say it, to miss the wood for the trees. Let’s get our strategy right, then roll it out properly.
Reputation Malta – crisis, opportunity or possibly both. On such a sea is our fragile island now afloat, and we really do need to take the current when it serves us.