Investing in Ukraine

Viral video promotes new Ukraine

Rebranding Ukraine: Golden domes and embroidered skirts make way for IT opportunities and knowledge economy as Ukrainian international image is given a timely overhaul

Business Ukraine magazine
Thursday, 01 October 2015 15:36

Ukraine desperately needs to attract foreign investment, but the country faces image issues as it seeks to convince international business that it is a good place to invest. In addition to the well-documented problems created by ongoing Russian aggression coupled with decades of corruption, Ukraine must also contend with the harsh realities of a low international profile and overwhelmingly negative outside perceptions. A small but important step towards confronting these issues was taken in summer 2015 with the release of a short but striking promotional video entitled ‘Ukraine. Open for U’, highlighting the country’s wealth of intellectual assets and promoting the most dynamic elements of Ukraine’s growing knowledge economy.

The video, which premiered at the landmark US-Ukraine Business Forum in July, proved an instant hit, clocking up hundreds of thousands of online views within days. It was widely hailed as the most successful promotional video produced since Ukraine achieved independence in 1991, and is currently being translated into a range of languages in order to take the message to as wide an international audience as possible. Business Ukraine magazine spoke to some of the people responsible for creating the ‘Ukraine. Open for U’ video in order to uncover the story behind this fresh approach to promoting the new, post-Maidan Ukraine.

 

Bureaucracy-busting government input

The ‘Ukraine. Open for U’ video was a collective creation that was championed by the Ministry of Economic Development with the idea and concept originating from Horizon Capital, financing provided by USAID-funded Western NIS Enterprise Fund and filming and production led by Titanium Presentations. Horizon Capital Founding Partner & CEO and Western NIS Enterprise Fund Executive Vice-President Lenna Koszarny says that the collaboration involved in the creation of the video, together with a promotional brochure and leaftlet ‘Invest Ukraine Open for U’, reflects the ‘can-do’ attitude that is increasingly coming to epitomize the new Ukraine. “The video was produced in record time, with just a few weeks between the decision to create a promotional clip and the premiere of the final cut with everyone involved working round-the-clock on the project,” she explains. Ms. Koszarny recalls the initial brainstorming sessions fondly, and points to the super-fast interactions with various participating ministries as an example of how the bureaucratic delays of old have given way to more dynamic decision-making within government circles. “We received detailed and impressive feedback from five different ministries within three days, clearly demonstrating how a commitment to a common goal and business and government working together can lead to impressive results,” she shares.

Ms. Koszarny also attributes the success of the video to a spirit of volunteerism and collaboration between government, civil society and the wider business community. Location shoots at a range of Ukrainian businesses were coordinated at breakneck speed – a process that relied very much on individual goodwill and a collective desire to contribute to the country’s post-Maidan rebranding efforts. Stock footage was kept to a minimum and no actors were used in the making of the video. Instead, Ukrainian employees at featured companies participated in filming, giving the video an authentic feel. “People are coming together to help Ukraine with an enormous sense of pride in their country and what Ukraine and its people have to offer the world,” she offers. “We wanted to communicate that sentiment in the video.”

 

IT excitement replaces golden dome clichés

Viewers familiar with previous efforts to promote Ukraine to outside audiences will be struck by the absence of traditional elements such as agricultural idylls and golden domes. This was a conscious decision and part of a bid to turn international attention towards the dynamic aspects of Ukraine’s economy, with a particular focus on educational and IT excellence, breadbasket potential and infrastructure appeal. “We’ve all seen videos featuring historic churches, bread and salt greetings and embroidered shirts. Those images are great, but we are trying to show a new Ukraine and the new economy driven by the young generation,” says Ms. Koszarny. “You have to sell the country to international audiences. You can’t wait for people to come to Ukraine.”

In place of well-worn folksy Ukrainian clichés, this post-Maidan promotional video was built around slogans supporting the idea of a new and exciting investment opportunity and backed by a soundtrack by popular Ukrainian artist ONUKA. It opens with the line, ‘Ukraine reborn, driven by the new generation’, and carries on very much in that vein. Only one church – Kyiv’s decidedly untypical Andriyivskiy Church – makes an appearance in the entire two-minute clip, and there is not a Carpathian shepherd or Cossack dance troupe in sight. Instead, the focus is on economic achievements such as Ukraine’s strong position on international agricultural markets, and the intellectual potential evident in the country’s education system and thriving IT sector. Such slick presentations have long been the norm for other emerging central and east European economies, but this is the first time that Ukraine has been portrayed in these terms, making it a watershed moment in the country’s rebranding process.  

 

Introducing audiences to the real Ukraine

The video concept was ironed out in collaboration with the Ministry of Economic Development, with the Deputy Minister of Economy and Trade Representative Nataliya Mykolska and the Ministry’s Project Manager Maryana Kahanyak playing key roles in driving and coordinating government input. From the very beginning, the stated aim was to create a social media tool that would go viral and reach a maximum number of viewers all over the world. Video production was overseen by Kyiv-based Canadian advertising executive Luc Chenier of Titanium Presentations. He says the commission was one of the biggest and most challenging of his entire career, deadpanning, “it’s not like there was any pressure. I only had 45 million people depending on me.”

As a long-time Kyiv resident, Mr. Chenier says his key objective was to overcome the low expectations often associated with the country, and to introduce outside audiences to the real Ukraine that he himself knows so well. “How many times have you encountered people who visit Ukraine for the first time and are completely shocked and impressed by what they encounter? The whole goal for me was to demonstrate that Ukraine is so much more than the expectations people tend to have,” he says.

 

Praise from government leaders

The team behind the video first felt that they had achieved something noteworthy when the initial cut drew praise from a range of senior Ukrainian government officials. Prime Minister Yatsenyuk reportedly responded to a private screening of the video preview with the one-word endorsement ‘cool’ and personally came up with the tagline ‘Open for U’. When the video received its public premiere at the US-Ukraine Business Forum in Washington DC, it received a standing ovation from an audience of business and government leaders, and proved to be one of the talking points of the entire event. Mr. Chenier says the Washington DC premiere was one of the proudest moments of his life, and claims he even received praise on the video’s production values from US Vice President Joe Biden.

Meanwhile, the video proved an online hit, garnering enthusiastic comments from all over the world and generating no small amount of pride among Ukrainian viewers thrilled to see their country finally depicted to international audiences in a positive and fresh light. After decades of largely negative Ukraine coverage in the international media, here was the Ukraine they knew – a land of opportunity capable of inspiring revolutions and generating a powerful sense of patriotism. “When I saw the video being tweeted by world leaders and high-profile investors, and especially when I read through some of the comments from Ukrainians expressing their pride and delight, I knew that what we had created resonated with viewers and truly captured the spirit of this great country,” shares Ms. Koszarny.

 

Rebranding Ukraine in the Image Age

The ‘Ukraine. Open for U’ video has now become a core component of Ukrainian government promotional efforts. It is shown at Boryspil Airport and on intercity trains throughout Ukraine. It is also featured wherever government officials are trying to raise the profile of ‘Brand Ukraine’, and will play a central role at a number of high-profile upcoming international business forums. Ukraine will seek to repeat the success of the US-Ukraine Business Forum with a German forum in Berlin in late October, and at a similar French event in Paris in November. Meanwhile, plans for a major China-Ukraine forum are currently being finalized. As if to underline its importance, the video has already been translated into Chinese. 

One promotional clip will clearly not succeed in fixing Ukraine’s image ills overnight, but the enthusiastic reception for the ‘Ukraine. Open for U’ video has highlighted the readiness of international audiences to move beyond traditional post-Soviet narratives and explore the opportunities presented by the new, post-Maidan Ukraine. Similar efforts along these lines will have a big role to play in the coming months as Ukraine looks to reposition itself and attract investment. In an age where image is everything, Ukraine still has a long way to go, but the county may now finally be moving in the right direction.

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