Communications advice from Mexico’s Tourism Secretary – “Focus on your Assets”

Gloria Guevara Manzo speaking at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business.

Let’s play word association – what is the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the word Mexico? Do you think of Mexico’s beautiful beaches? Immigration? Danger? Or do you think about some other unique and positive attribute of Mexico?

Gloria Guevara Manzo contemplates such questions as the country’s Tourism Secretary. She’s had to alter perception about Mexican tourism to emphasize more than just beaches while also overcoming the perfect storm of the global financial crisis, the swine flu disease, and security issues that was keeping tourists away from the country back in 2009.  She led a number of initiatives that have helped Mexico shatter its previous records for national and international tourism and generate 18 consecutive months of growth in the industry. Key to this was proactively communicating the unique attributes of Mexico and countering any negativity head on.

I had the opportunity to speak with Guevera when she was at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business Latin America Student Symposium held on November 14. She discussed with me the keys to Mexico’s tourism turnaround and provided some tips to MBA students, many which apply to individuals trying to promote either their corporate and/or individual brands. Here are some of these key insights:

1) Engage stakeholders and collaborate in communicating a unified message. Guevera discussed the importance of getting others to tell the positive Mexican tourism story. These stakeholders ranged from Mexican President Felipe Calderon – who declared 2011 as the year of tourism in the country – to celebrities, tourists, expats and CEOs. “Be inclusive. Along with communicating proactively yourself, also be sure to collaborate with others and have them help in delivering a unified message,” says Guevera.

2) Focus on your assets. Communications and marketing campaigns countered some of the negative news and highlighted the unpublicized aspects of Mexico, such as its culture, gastronomy, adventure, and sustainability. “We told our story,” she said. “We used testimonials to set the record straight when necessary and to tell unique aspects of Mexico. We engaged in an aggressive PR strategy in conjunction with the Mexican private sector that led to more than 800 interviews and also complimented this with ad campaigns. We took a holistic approach and combatted fire with fire.”

3) Embrace uncertainty. In facing some of the perception obstacles and external challenges several years ago, Guevera shared an interesting quote:  “When it is dark, one can better see the stars”. She explained the importance of going after opportunities that others can’t see because of the conditions and noted that “you can never have all of the information at your disposal, but you can be clear on the end goal and not lose focus of it.”

So in conclusion, which stakeholders could you bring on to help you tell your story? Are you focusing on all your assets in your communications? Are there positive areas that are being overlooked about your brand, be it corporate or personal? Are you embracing the unknown and potential opportunities that could result? Just as was the case for Mexico’s tourism industry, I trust that heeding these lessons will help all of us increase the chances of achieving key goals.