Peace Corps Writers
Talking with Nick Wreden (page 2)
 Talking with Nick Wreden
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What is the most interesting developing in business today that relates to branding?
The democratization of technology, the increasing marketing and other sophistication of consumers and the growing control over messages that reach them are creating new branding challenges that few companies are meeting well. Email is symbolic of that change. It can be a wonderful marketing vehicle, but many have opted out of receiving any messages. How do you brand in a world that is increasingly opting-out of any marketing?
  Looking at the Peace Corps, what suggestions would you make for the agency to improve their branding?
  First, it must protect its current brand. One key to protecting its brand is reinforcing the absolute ban on intelligence activities. It was extremely troubling to see the Peace Corps kicked out of Russia on suspicions of conducting intelligence operations.
     It must also seek to extend its brand in two areas. First, it should expand its reach across more countries with more resources. Second, it should expand its efforts to leverage the vast resources of RPCVs. The effort to encourage RPCVs to speak at schools, etc. is a great start, but more needs to be done to harness the incredibly valuable perspective of RPCVs on international issues.
How would you use the RPCV “brand” in America? Do you think “Returned Peace Corps Volunteers” might have an influence with regard to how America sees the world, and how should be go about “branding” our image?
RPCVs have an enormous amount to contribute. We’ve given two years of our lives to our country, speak two or more languages and have an understanding of culture and perception that few Americans do. RPCVs continue to serve, from the halls of Congress to the corridors of business. However, RPCVs do have a brand problem. Unfortunately, we’ve been better at cross-cultural communication than communication about our contributions here at home. Federal government support and visibility has been low for the last two decades. In some quarters, altruism is regarded suspiciously; look at the trouble Americorps had getting through Congress. And major media have regarded military activity as the most newsworthy aspect of U.S. foreign policy. To change it, we need greater support and contributions in Washington, including greater PR efforts with national and local media. We need to coalesce around issues that reflect our international understanding, such as the full-page ads in the NY Times by RPCVs. And, after 9/11, we need to do a better job of linking our past and future efforts to the long-term security of the U.S.
What about branding and American foreign policy as it is linked to the Peace Corps?
   I’m hesitant to offer observations to a group of RPCVs who might be much more knowledgeable about foreign issues than I, but I would make the initial case that a national brand is dependent on a foundation of diplomatic, economic, military and personal initiatives. There’s some overlap among those, and the Peace Corps would cover economic, diplomatic and personal issues. I’m a great believer in the Peace Corps, but believe that it must be subservient to diplomatic and even economic goals.
     The general characteristic of PCVs and the work they do is the face of America that is acceptable and appreciated. Peoples hostile to the American government (or a particular administration) have had little trouble making a distinction between U.S. government policy and an American citizen, like the resident PCV.
     However, I fear that too many years of anti-American policy will morph into anti-Americanism that will, among other things, hurt our ability to sell — and brand — overseas.
     For the Bush administration, selling an improved “American Brand” must include delivering the goods on promises made, like the US/UK Middle East plan. Will the occupation of Palestine end, will all Jewish settlers in Gaza and the West bank decamp, will we convene an all party conference on the disposition of Jerusalem? Hopefully, responses to those questions would go a long way to repairing US/Arab relations and perhaps prolong our shelf life in the Middle East.
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