What investment promotion agencies can do now to prepare for what's coming next

Contributed by Mary Harris, Deputy Managing Director, M&C Saatchi Export

We have been here before.

These are five words no one is saying anywhere in the world at the moment. 2020 marks an unprecedented year in modern history. Previously such severe medical, economic, psychological and behavioural challenges have never been present simultaneously. For practitioners who trade on the promise of opportunity, commercial advantage and growth, the issues in play are even more acute.

But there are echoes from the recent past in what the global economy is facing today. The SARS epidemic, two Gulf Wars, the bursting of the dot-com bubble, 9/11 and the 2008 financial crisis, although affecting different regions and industries unequally, and much less harshly, were external shocks that required swift and focused action. From first-hand experience during those times, and reviewing some of the best initiatives IPAs around the world are already taking today, here is a battle plan for what to do. It is based on four sequential pillars built around Expertise, Optimisation, Value and Growth.


This is a time for IPAs to showcase how they are geared to support and deliver against the needs of their clients, wider stakeholders and prospects. There’s no better time to underscore the unique role agencies play, with their wider perspectives and networks across international, national, regional or ci ywide economies.

Easy to switch on, reactive and often managed internally rather than by agency partners, social media provides a platform for continuous engagement. But content must be focussed squarely on the current and evolving needs of audiences. Invest India have struck a good balance using different ‘banners’ to segment its social activity: ‘Companies that care’ posts celebrate businesses in the market who are supporting the effort to fight the virus. #InvestIndiaImpact highlights the role that the IPA itself is playing as their remit shifts to one of a facilitator ‘joining the dots for essentials’. Their comprehensive website is a one-stop-shop for business support, information and innovation around the crisis and live chat offers bespoke support.  

Supporting trade with updated export market intelligence is also useful, something Austrade is doing regularly. Likewise, highlighting the range and benefits of e-government capabilities is beneficial. It shows mechanisms that increase the ease of doing business in the best of times, and help simplify life now that face-to-face transactions are impossible. Offering 24/7 support, via WhatsApp as in the case of Invest Saudi for example, is a way to provide a service with an added personal touch. Where they are still operating, it is a moment to leverage local offices worldwide to create new two-way channels of communication, sharing data and on-the-ground intelligence. In developed markets, over 60% of FDI comes from current investors. Demonstrating the utility and effectiveness of the support IPAs provide can help entrench these existing relationships.


IPAs need to make more with what they have, so channels and assets perform better given new market conditions. Review and reinterpret the needs of audiences, considering your user base across websites and social media.

Your website has become a more essential portal to your destination. As digital interactions replace physical ones, identify what information might previously have been sourced by prospects through events, meetings and roadshows and make it available online. High-value content can be gated to ensure ongoing data capture. Also refocus your search strategy to ensure that your search terms and content are continuing to meet the information needs of businesses. Creating new content where relevant.

Re-purpose event initiatives into digital ideas, as webinars or other ideally multi-channel "events" to be executed on-line. We can expect that some habits formed during this unusual period might be here with us to stay. Those who find a way to use technology to facilitate virtual interactions will have the edge when it comes to engaging active prospects seeking growth potential as the world begins to surface again.


With careful consideration and sensitivity, it is right to showcase how circumstances now have strengthened and widened existing "proof points".

Talented workforce

Many IPAs are celebrating examples of citizens and industries in their market who are innovating around the crisis.

Invest Cape Town is promoting the capacity building offered by a partnership with a local university who is supporting workers with free remote training.

Robust digital infrastructure

With some IPAs looking for ways round forms that were all required physically it is clear that those who can shine a light on the efficiency of their e-government offering will present a more reassuring option.


Invest India is highlighting partnerships and companies supporting anti-virus efforts. Giving prominence to innovation, new ideas and initiatives is equally appropriate.

Take this time to update case studies, tailored to current needs and psychologies. Prowess and advances in areas of increased importance and interest, such as data, AI, EdTech and MedTech might also be emphasised. Where businesses are adjusting to address emerging consumer and market needs, commercial eco-systems, in supply chain, logistics and distribution for example, are being strengthened and unexpected partnerships and network effects occur, these could add to your value proposition as well.


It is also a time to lay foundations to make the most of the economic rebound when it happens. In other words, to reflect and prioritise for what is coming next. This is a moment where you can put in place the strong foundations that will be needed on the other side – from the content audit and gap analysis to the properly-thought-out CRM plan that never gets done.

Reappraise social channel strategies entirely. If you have left Instagram frozen on International Women’s Day celebrations whilst Twitter and LinkedIn duplicate one another with speedily spliced COVID-19 content is this because, when the chips are down, only some of your channels really make a difference for you? Review your channel strategy against your audiences and your business goals to see whether your approach still makes sense for you.

Take the time to evaluate the competitive context, refresh your view on areas of competitive advantage and consider your sector focus to reprioritise or shape new offerings. Build on partnerships and community collaboration that are happening now, to create opportunities for the future. And finally, given this is a “re-set moment” for most people, what "big picture" thinking could help sharpen and underscore your own distinct case for investment to take advantage of any upturn, however it plays out?

In the past at times of war, it has been said, “never waste a good crisis”. Today, those words may seem a little too glib. But the strength of an economy, be it local, national or global, depends on the case for investment being made skilfully and effectively. Around the world, Investment Promotion Agencies lead that charge. The purpose of the programme outlined here is to help and support everyone involved in this most crucial of efforts.

M&C Saatchi are specialists in the field of destination marketing with over fifteen years’ experience in FDI promotion. 

To support IPAs around the world we are offering a limited number of free consultations via video conference designed to help your team define their focus in the short, medium and longer term. Contact Mary Harris, Managing Director at M&C Saatchi Export for more information.

Related reading

Aftercare after COVID-19

Leveraging your place brand to create a framework for recovery | Interview with Clare Barnett, City of Brampton

top tips for destination marketers and investment promotion during the COVID-19 pandemic

Beyond marketing: How DMOs and EDOs are evolving their role during COVID-19

COVID-19 & the Climate Change Emergency: recovery planning for a more sustainable future

Missed the event in person? Don't worry...

The Place Brand Portfolio is City Nation Place's searchable portfolio of Awards case studies from the past five years.