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[Diplomatic News] The Golden Age of Publicity Ambassadors

[Diplomatic News] The Golden Age of Publicity Ambassadors

Posted December. 16, 2005 08:34,   


What do Korean Ambassador to the U.S. Lee Tae-sik, former Minister of Justice Kang Geum-sil, the popular singer Rain, and soccer player Park Ji-sung have in common?

The answer is that all of them are serving as “incumbent ambassadors.” Ambassador Lee Tae-sik is an “Ambassador Extraordinare and Plenipotentiary”; former Minister Kang Geum-sil is an ambassador of female human rights; Rain is a publicity ambassador of Korean tourism; and Park Ji-sung is a publicity ambassador of the Youth Committee. It may be fair to say that we are living in a “Republic of Ambassadors,” as not only government agencies but also local governments, social groups and businesses are enthusiastically pushing for “publicity ambassador marketing.”

Ambassadors: representatives of Korea-

Ambassadors are the heads of permanent diplomatic missions. Ambassadors are considered the “essence” of diplomats, for they engage in diplomatic negotiations, representing their country, and carry out missions to protect and monitor their nationals there. Currently, Korea’s Ambassadors Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary are dispatched to 95 permanent missions and three missions, including the United Nations (UN).

Some diplomats are given titles of ambassador, excluding Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, on the authority of the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MOFAT) when it is recognized that an appointment as ambassador is necessary for conducting certain tasks, including negotiations with foreign countries.

Some ambassadors are not diplomats. Citizens highly recognized in their special fields are appointed as ambassadors-at-large to support their diplomatic activities. Currently, 10 distinguished figures, including former Justice Minister Kang Geum-sil, Human Rights Ambassador Park Kyung-seo, and Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) Ambassador Chung Chan-young are serving as ambassadors-at-large.

“Overlapping” publicity ambassadors-

Since the late-1990s, the designation of celebrities (mostly entertainers) as “publicity ambassadors” has been popular as a means of marketing. Publicity ambassadors are everywhere, ranging from government policy promotions, such as health, nonsmoking and tourism, and volunteer activities like fundraising for child cancer and organ transplants, to promotions of events like exhibitions and local festivities and car manufacturers’ promotions for new vehicles.

As there is much demand, most entertainers have at least one publicity ambassador title. Some top stars have several titles of publicity ambassador. For example, the popular singer BoA is serving as the publicity ambassador of the city of Seoul, the health publicity ambassador of the Ministry of Health and Welfare (MOHW), and the publicity ambassador of the city of Los Angeles.

I am a “publicity ambassador” as well-

Being a publicity ambassador is not the privilege of entertainers alone. North Jeolla Province recently appointed 4,600 drivers of public transportation (e.g. bus, taxi) as “publicity ambassadors of North Jeolla Province on the move.” Lotte Department Store and other businesses are holding “publicity ambassador contests” for their customers; the titles of publicity helpers at universities have been also upgraded to publicity ambassadors.

The reason why designation of publicity ambassadors is all the rage nowadays is that it might be effective in publicizing the organizations’ activities and encouraging people to participate in the activities. Celebrities can also boost their images through volunteering, so both parties can benefit from the designation.

Truths and falsehoods about publicity ambassadors-

Some indicate, however, that excessive designation of publicity ambassadors can undermine promotion effects. In many cases, the only activities of those publicity ambassadors are to receive a certificate of appointment and to take pictures; a film festival even designated an actor who appeared in just one movie as its publicity ambassador.

Nevertheless, this “inflation of ambassadors” does not always work out in a negative way. An exemplary case is the “Voluntary Agency Network of Korea” (VANK), an organization serving as an online diplomatic mission that focuses on correcting errors related to Korean history. The VANK currently has some 15,000 members, and 831 members with excellent performance are serving as its “publicity ambassadors.” Though they have not received any certificate of appointment, these members are playing as active a part as Ambassadors Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary in publicizing Korea.