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The Canadian Flag flies over the Peacekeeping memorial in Ottawa Tuesday May 29, 2012. (Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
The Canadian Flag flies over the Peacekeeping memorial in Ottawa Tuesday May 29, 2012. (Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

cultural exports

How do we brand our content for the world? Think ‘Cool Canadiana’ Add to ...

Guy Laurence is chief executive officer of Rogers Communications Inc.

Every country has its moment. In my humble view, it’s Canada’s moment.

The world is full of uncertainty – Brexit, terrorism, large movements of displaced people, and even the Zika virus. Contrast that with Canada: Things are not perfect, but there is a lot to applaud. There is peace at every border, enviable health and education systems, a real commitment to diversity and inclusion, a relatively stable economy.

Canada has always been respected and admired, but not quite like it is today. Among all the chaos outside its borders, Canada stands out.

However, allow me to be the vocal outsider. I believe Canada is not maximizing its opportunity on the world stage. First, its brand is not well defined in the world. In my experience, it is defined by what it is not, and that’s the United States. Second, Canada should be more ambitious about promoting itself and reaping the benefits that come with that.

I was in Britain the last time it had an opportunity to rebrand itself. We had a fresh, new Labour government led by Tony Blair. London was reasserting itself as a global financial centre. More importantly, there was a British cultural renaissance.

The government harnessed the opportunity with Cool Britannia, a campaign representing stars such as the Spice Girls, Oasis, Alexander McQueen and Kate Moss. They wrapped themselves in the Union Jack (some literally), but it wasn’t just about waving the flag – it was about creating a brand under which all things cool and British could live.

I see the same opportunity for Canada. This isn’t about tourism or waving the flag, it’s about building a brand.

Like 1990s Britain, Canada has become a cultural powerhouse: claiming the most streamed music album of 2015; dominating four of the top 10 spots on Spotify’s global playlist this summer; bringing the world Lilly Singh, one of the top 10 YouTube stars in the world, plus some of the most coveted stars in Hollywood; building thriving film production hubs in Toronto and Vancouver, a red-hot gaming industry and media companies like Vice, and winning multiple literary awards.

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development recently released data ranking countries by the value of their cultural production. On a per capita basis, Canada ranks fourth, virtually tied with third-place Germany and not far behind second-place Britain. Given its population, Canada is clearly punching above its weight. So it’s time for Canada to embrace this and capitalize on it.

A strong brand can do as much for a country as it can for a company. Yet Canada is missing out on selling its cultural products to the global market. According to United Nations trade statistics, Britain exports $21-billion (U.S.) worth of cultural goods each year. Canada exports just under $2-billion. That’s 21 to 2, with a British population just two times larger than Canada’s.

Historically, Canada’s cultural policy has focused on telling Canadian stories to Canadians. This made sense 25 years ago, when Canada was in the early stages of its cultural development. But it’s 2016 and we live in a global content market. There are more than one billion content creators in the world. It’s time for Canada to stop playing defence and start playing offence.

The new government sees this opportunity. Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly has shared a vision for Canada’s cultural policy that includes promoting Canadian content globally, and it’s clear Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is determined to raise Canada’s profile. They recognize the value of a strong Canadian brand, the role of culture in it and the payback for the country and the economy.

At my company, Rogers, we can amplify this brand through the $580-million (Canadian) worth of Canadian content we create and fund – and use it to open up new opportunities with international distribution channels.

We believe the government should support a funding model that creates incentives to export Canadian content globally. There is enough money in the system and the last thing we need is more rules and bureaucracy. Content should be funded on a platform neutral basis, meaning it could be destined for a television screen, a movie screen or a smartphone screen. Consumers are going digital, and Canada needs to go digital.

Canada should cultivate a creative identity that the cultural sector, government and diplomats can sell. There’s a huge opportunity for the government, and the Prime Minister, to leverage their fresh appeal and launch a clear brand for Canada.

When Canadian content gets out there, the world laps it up. It wants more Canada. We can, and should, take advantage of this moment – it truly is Canada’s time.

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