New Ways of Representing Sweden

Description: The Stockholm Bulletin. Aug 03

The economy of the United States is by far the largest in the world. As such, it is the engine that drives the entire global economy. And when it coughs or slows down, as seen recently, so does the rest of the world.Between 1995 and 2002, the U.S. generated 65% of the world’s total economic growth.

A Swedish commercial presence in the United States is therefore critical to our export industries and to our long-term prosperity. Add to this the fact that New York is the world’s greatest stage. What makes a splash in New York will almost certainly also be a hit in Florence, Taipei, Paris orStockholm. It’s not unusual for Swedish companies, products or artists to be launched in New York in order to get the attention of Swedish media.

The Consulate General of Sweden in New York covers all of the United States, with the exception of California and the greater Washington D.C. area. We are Sweden’s largest information office abroad, receiving around 10,000 questions from the general public each year and organizing up to 50different events to support Swedish companies and to advance Swedish culture in the United States.

Our efforts in promoting a modern image of Sweden in New York depend heavily on relations with the media. Last year, events initiated and organized by the Consulate General of Sweden in New York received close to two hundred mentions in the New York press. This means we’re capable of reaching an audience of millions.

After four years in New York and at the beginning of a fifth, there are reasons to reflect on what works in New York and what doesn’t. These experiences and observations are no doubt relevant and useful to many others beyond the immediate sphere of the Consulate.

  • To succeed as a Swede in New York, you have to be prepared to swim inAmerican waters. Americans, often quite openly, tend to pose the question:”What’s in it for me?” And the right answer does not necessarily have anything to do with Sweden being pleasant, modern or beautiful. An interest in Sweden alone can not be counted on to attract the ”right people”.Representatives from over 100 different nations are working actively to promote their respective countries and various companies in New York. The most effective means of ensuring credibility is joining forces and working together with an already established U.S. partner.
  • The United States is different. Every country has its own particular business culture. The American one differs from the Swedish much more than many Swedes might think ­ and vice versa. The ubiquitous yet superficial influence of American culture on Sweden has led many to believe that the similarities between the two countries are greater than they actually are. With this in mind, it’s always a good idea to work with American lawyers, publicists, etc.
  • Your product, concept or selling point has to be unique. To be ”world famous” in Sweden won’t get you far. You have to be able to explain, in one sentence, exactly what is special and unique about what you’re presenting.After all, due to the sheer size of the U.S. market, American customers always have the option of looking to their own backyard, of choosing a domestic product or partner.
  • It’s important to note that everything takes longer and costs more in theU.S. than in Sweden; the country is huge, New York is huge. Contractors,messengers and others will inevitably give you hassles and take up precious time. Traffic congestion can easily make you late for appointments. And meetings may not always be rescheduled until several days later. The bureaucracy can approach third-world levels and the technology is often outdated, for example in the processing of financial transactions.Something that in Sweden may not take more than a few days can easily take several weeks in the U.S.
  • To be able to deliver on demand is critical. A contract with a major U.S.client or distributor requires a readiness on the part of the supplier todeliver large quantities of a given product ­ and to quickly finance large expenditures. Many Swedish products ­ from wood houses to Västerbotten cheese ­ have been forced to withdraw from the U.S. market due to an inability to produce the mass quantities demanded.
  • Organizing events can be a key to success. There has to be a considerable element of attraction; Swedishness in and of itself will generally only attract other Swedes as well as the already converted. Organizing events is one effective way of getting widespread attention. A glamorous launch party. An in-store reception. Offer something. Put something on display.And, if possible, engage a charitable organization with a compatible purpose to secure the involvement of their social network. The Swedish boutiqueClearly First on Madison Avenue organizes new events on a biweekly basis,presenting products and designers for a different audience every other week.
  • Avoid the ”Swedish trap”. Swedes in New York can often be excellent ambassadors; they have great amounts of valuable experience and are usually happy to share advice and personal contacts. But, all too often, Swedes arriving in New York will end up in a closed circle, unable to reach the irintended audience. With this in mind, it’s important to first identify your target audience, client or consumer base and then, secondly, assess the ways in which Swedish groups in New York can help you gain access to it. Many seem to think that their target customer base is the Swedish community in New York. This is almost never the case; Swedes in New York are too few and do not have enough purchasing power. We often encounter Swedish exhibitors or entrepreneurs who claim to have an extensive network of contacts in NewYork, but this often proves to be little more than the usual group of people from Swedish banks and other Swedish organizations.

The American asks ”What’s in it for me?” The answer is not ”I am Swedish”but rather ”I have the world’s greatest product”. (Americans find it perfectly natural to brag and exaggerate a bit.) The interest for things Swedish will eventually follow.