Maria Luiza Abbott: A look at the image of Brazil abroad

brasilobserver - Aug 18 2015
BO_10.11 (site)

(Leia em Português)

Attentive observer of Brazilian public relations, founding partner of AJA Media Solutions speaks to Brasil Observer about his career and communication strategies


By Ana Toledo

Working as a communications professional in the city of London presents a major challenge. After all, here are some of the most influential publications in the world, the oldest and largest network of radio and television, the BBC, and no less than 1,700 foreign correspondents. Still, Maria Luiza Abbott has excelled.

Passing through important media companies in Brazil and winning the coveted Esso award in 1998, the journalist arrived in London 15 years ago as a correspondent of the newspaper Valor Econômico. Then she worked in other outlets in the British capital, including the BBC, where, ironically, after a voluntary resignation program, had the opportunity – as she says – to create her own job. The result was AJA Media Solutions, a company dedicated to establishing public relations bridges to Brazilian companies abroad.

Apart from her practical experience, Maria Luiza has an MA in International Journalism from Cardiff University and speaks four languages ​​other than Portuguese: English, Spanish, Turkish and French. With this background, she is an attentive observer of the perception of Brazil abroad, particularly in Europe. In an interview with Brasil Observer, she speaks about her career, the challenges of operating in this market and analyses the consequences of the lack of a unified policy of the Brazilian government’s communication to underpin competitiveness for businesses and products from Brazil.


How was the process of creating AJA?

I was working at the BBC and they offered a voluntary redundancy package, which was very generous. So two colleagues and I decided to take the opportunity to create our own jobs. But the two were gone in the first six months of AJA.

We felt there was a need, because Brazilian companies began to internationalize. We realized that there was room to do an outreach work in Brazil. We’re talking nine years ago, Brazilian companies were unknown. I remember calling journalists and they did not have an idea about ​​the companies we were talking about, and for us they were giant companies.

Brazil has advanced greatly in recent years and this has given a much larger array. At the same time, Brazilian companies started to look for more international participation. We are no longer seen only as the country of football, the stereotypes. But it’s still a concentrated thing in large companies and in the financial pages.


What is most difficult for a Brazilian company to enter the European market and the role of communications?

The ignorance that the world still has about Brazil. There is no work in Brazil to strengthen the brand, something more focused. The brand is for when you go to buy something, you pay a premium for it because you trust it. And countries build their brands with different characteristics, according to what they have. It is not clear to Brazilian companies, which have no way to separate the company from the country where it was founded.

The communication strategy has to be done in order to give value to the brand. The company will choose the market that it wants to enter, and from there you need a strategy that is able to communicate and make a cultural bridge. It is not enough to speak English, French or German. You need to speak the language of your market. You have to give your values, what is your marketing strategy and adapt to the language and local culture of your potential customer.

Moreover, anticipate the vision that people have of your company, starting from the image of your country of origin. So you can make a cleaner image. And also value the Brazilian qualities, because there’s no use to sell something we are not. The company or the product is Brazilian. And we have many good things.


How do you evaluate Brazil’s image today?

Perception is what we generate. A very influential thing in image formation is that the correspondents that are based in Brazil are informed by the Brazilian media and coverage is always negative. This is not to say that the media is right or wrong, only that the media is focused on pessimism. Correspondents who are there will read this and reproduce, which reinforces the negative image.

In the financial markets we have a very clear issue that are the undeniable difficulties of the Brazilian economy. The market follows it closely, the rating agencies. This adds more to the negative image, but is given due the concrete and objective reality. When you have this problem of the economy, is not enough to have a communication policy that says that is not dysfunctional. It is necessary to explain what is happening, what is being done, talk to investors and opinion leaders. Brazil don’t do it.

South Africa is a good example. Jim O’Neill, creator of the acronym BRICS, didn’t put South Africa at the beginning. How did South Africa get in? Because of a communication policy that gave an extra dimension to the country. The economy there is minimal when compared to other countries in the group, has no impact. However, they were so insistently willing to enter, to participate, to be part of this group that the country today is there. They have concrete goals, such as the Brand South Africa campaign. They want to move up the rankings of the World Economic Forum, the countries where it is best to do business. And that is to follow. Brazil does not have a communication policy out here, both for the financial market and in relation to the media. We cannot forget that what the media reproduces, the market reads and absorbs, is a two-way street.


How not to be at the mercy of the markets?

The market is an institution, but an institution made of people. If you can have a dialogue and tell them what is being done, it will be understood. You cannot allow that companies perceive reality through the lens of other people. You should be in front to tell what’s going on. Brazil depends on investors to run the economy, to develop, create jobs. And the point of view of exports, this is what will allow Brazil to grow, generate foreign exchange, allow healthy growth. Companies and the government had to have some joint action to sell what we do with quality, we have many creative things.


How to create a positive agenda?

The Great Britain campaign, for example, is one of the most successful ones. The person who coordinates is directly subordinate to the Prime Minister, has the power to impose the policy to others. I think that the fundamental command is unitary; it is not good each one speaking a different thing and wanting to spend a different speech.

One of the things the coordinator of Great Britain, Conrad Bird, draws attention is that Brazil in terms of advertising and creativity is one of the best. We have a tradition of winning awards in the area. But for some reason we cannot do this when it is a campaign for the country. Recent campaigns we have seen from different Brazilian government agencies do not reflect that quality. There needs to be a separation between what is a project for the country and what is project for the government in power. In the case of Great Britain, it is not a campaign of the British government. It is a campaign of the country. This shows a clear difference, as with the BBC, which is not a government station, but a public network.

Brazil has to find a model, not adapt. Each country has its characteristic. It’s time to do something, to talk to people here from outside, but who understand Brazil as well. No use hiring a person who knows how the world works, but has no knowledge of Brazil.