Discovering Northern Irish Connections

Although the Greater Tokyo metro area is a teeming megalopolis of around 35 million people shoehorned into just 13,500 km2, I often forget how jam-packed the whole shebang is because most things run pretty much to order and public expectation.

But set those numbers against the country of my birth, Northern Ireland (NI), with 1.8 million people occupying almost the same space ( about 13,800 km2 ), and the ‘catch yerself on ‘ part of me suddenly groks why life in the Japanese capital can be simultaneously mindnumbing and exhilarating.

I suspect that N. Ireland’s two main politicians, First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, had similar thoughts when they arrived for a trade visit last week. Their participation in a power-sharing executive is something I never thought I’d see in my lifetime after almost three decades of civil rights-inspired strife / terrorist campaign / low intensity urban warfare (pick your poison).

niconnections-tokyoSo, when I discovered that they were coming (through Irish ex-colleagues, who are a well-connected lot here), I was able to wangle an invite to their launch in Japan of ‘northern irish connections‘.

This appears to be a global initiative by ‘Invest Northern Ireland‘ to tap into the northern irish diaspora for the mutual beneft of ‘homeland and a shared heritage.’ (A wordmith’s delicate dance around traditions and tribes in our wee country – but a step in the right direction, and one away from the mosh pit of head banging conflict.)

The evening went well. Both politicians spoke warmly of their Japanese hosts, of Prime Minister Abe’s visit to “Titanic Belfast” (outside of the G8 security bubble), and of their hopes for deeper business relationships with Japan.

How to make the latter happen consistently is something that will take, effort and, you guessed it, pots of money.

Nonetheless, they’re off to a good start in my opinion by coming here in person, meeting senior executives of companies who show interest in investing in Northern Ireland,  and also getting a 20 minute audience with PM Abe, distracted as he probably was (and still is, as of this writing) with turmoil over a disputed rock in the S. China sea. (The Japanese translator did her best with Mr. McGuinness’s offer to help with any peace making talks…)

While Mr. Robinson’s keynote speech was businesslike and formal, Mr. McGuinness (on the left, in the photo) laid on the Irish charm with a few words in Japanese and then a focus on the success of, and respect for, existing Japanese inward investment in the “north of Ireland.”
(Kudos to whichever Ad agency staffers came up with “northern Irish connections” as a suitable bridging name that reflects how the two major traditions can work together for mutual social and economic benefit.)

It’s not easy to brand a country as “open for business”, especially one with latent cultural and identity divisions like NI.
However, where there’s a will there’s a way and I think that the “peace making” global brand imagery may be an effective way of getting mind (or meme) share.

Many of the benefits that NI offers – educated workforce, tech infrastructure, excellent universities, superb leisure and tourism etc – are not top of mind ‘ideas’ in and of themselves to foreign business people because other locations around the world can point to their own equivalents.

But the ‘peace building’ is iconic and also bearing fruit, despite lingering problems and residual threats.

C2C (Country-to-Country) branding – something else to think about when you’re trying to ‘own’ a marketing space in a b2b prospect’s mind.

cs-lewis-book-sandy-smithI’ll leave the last message to a picture of the gift we received on leaving the event venue:

Sandy Smith’s wonderful book about author CS Lewis (of Narnia fame) and his time spent growing up in Ireland, north and south.

At nearly 200 pages, and filled with beautiful photographs, “C.S. Lewis and the Island of His Birth” is a treasure I look forward to reading over the New Year’s vacation period (no Xmas holidays here in Nippon, alas.)

All it takes is a wee bit of imagination… and a lot of hard work.

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About the Author

Author: Mark McClure – A freelance b2b case study and white paper writer to the computer networking industry. Based in Tokyo, Japan. About the ‘Samurai Writer’.

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