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    Raising Awareness Can Grow Trade in Services


    © International Trade Centre, International Trade Forum - Issue 2/2005

    Photo: photos.com

    Because many national strategy-makers and businesses are not aware of the potential of service exports, they do not tap into this growing opportunity. Raising awareness about services is an important first step.

    Despite growing global demand, many developing countries are not taking advantage of the opportunities that exist across several sectors to export services. Mainly, this is because neither businesses nor governments are aware of the capacity that already exists in their country.

    Most developing countries already export services, but businesses may not always be aware that they are exporting. This situation may arise, for example, if they send translated documents to another country by e-mail or post, or if they provide services to foreigners, such as tourists, in their country.

    If firms don't know they are exporting they don't report it, so often export strategy-makers don't realize the potential of their service sectors either. Once both these key players become aware of what service exports are and how to export them, it can unleash creativity and boost entrepreneurship.

    Doreen Conrad, Chief of ITC's Trade in Services Section, gives the example of a United States computer services firm, which realized that many business services are traded as a result of word-of-mouth recommendations. It decided to give employees a bonus if their customers agreed to act as references to attract new clients. The result? A 50% increase in customer referrals and a tenfold increase in the size of a typical contract.

    A multifaceted approach

    Getting more service providers to export, and getting export strategy-makers to devote more resources to develop services, requires a broad approach.
    Trade promotion organizations (TPOs), for example, can use a mix of tools, including the media, to raise awareness about services both within the country and externally.

    A proactive, multifaceted approach is paying off in Zambia, where services account for more than 64% of overall economic activity and have been growing at more than double the growth of the economy.

    "Today, service exports should be at the heart of our country's long-term growth strategy," explains Glyne Michelo, Executive Director of the Export Board of Zambia (EBZ). "But because they are a relatively new phenomenon, most decision-makers and private sector players have paid little or no attention to building capacity."

    To increase awareness, EBZ is using a number of approaches, including training workshops for business and public officials, reaching out to print and electronic media (TV and radio), as well as using the Internet.

    In Uganda, service exports account for about 40% of gross domestic product, 70% of formal employment and eight out of every ten new jobs. The Uganda Export Promotion Board (UEPB) is championing efforts to create awareness about this burgeoning opportunity through a strategy that includes workshops, communication and public relations tools, as well as using the media.

    A national awareness workshop was held, involving the business community, government offices, policy-makers and service professionals, with a view to building knowledge about the service sector and highlighting areas that need action. Plans include a quarterly news bulletin, an award scheme for the best service exporters and a regional promotional programme for education and health services.

    The Uganda Service Exporters Association is complementing UEPB's work in promoting service sector exports through generating publicity and information on sectoral issues.

    Working with the media

    EBZ spent time briefing media contacts about service issues and invited them to attend and report on events for exporters and government.

    "The subsequent coverage has enabled EBZ to reach millions of Zambians with news about services," says Mr Michelo. Today, there is more widespread knowledge about the importance of service exports.

    "When we started, we had to run to the media to get them to cover our activities," Mr Michelo recalls. "Today, they come to us asking if we have activities that require coverage."

    "The media has enabled us to communicate successfully to the business community, government and professionals about the growing trade opportunities in services," says UEPB Executive Director Florence Kata. "It has also been a medium for raising policy issues for advocacy with the government."

    Ms Kata says it is vital to publicize this growing opportunity to enable the business community to tap the benefits of growth and globalization of service trade. "We are looking to the media as a dependable medium for disseminating opportunities and as a platform for policy discussions, opinions and advocacy," she explains. "Media is a key component of our strategy. We will definitely commit more resources in this area."

    TPOs can take the lead

    TPOs are well placed to develop awareness workshops and organize media campaigns. They can be supported in these activities by specialized sector associations and individual businesses that can showcase best practice. UEPB, for example, plans to develop a weekly insert about service exports in a local newspaper.

    The strategy includes preparing a media plan, identifying the newspaper and signing an agreement. Next, it will promote the insert to the business community, who will be urged to buy ads. Articles will be solicited and missions abroad will provide examples of export opportunities.

    It is also important to raise awareness of a country's service offering among potential buyers. Some traditional trade promotion activities, such as trade fairs, don't often work in the service sector. Because businesses are selling something invisible, creative thinking can yield maximum returns.

    In another example from Ms Conrad, Canada's TPO recognized potential in the environmental services sector. It worked with the industry association to identify a few companies offering innovative services. A communications specialist helped companies describe their services. The TPO arranged meetings with environmental journalists and editors during a media tour in the United States, a target market. Three months after the interviews, one of the companies was mentioned in an article about wastewater management, resulting in 60 solid trade leads.

    Raising awareness has proven successful in increasing exports. As such, it should be a first step for any government, association or business intent on maximizing the untapped potential of service exports.

    Giving a message to the media

    Give journalists the message you want to see appear. The journalist is looking for a fresh story of interest to their audience. You are looking to promote your message, which should be "ten-words-or-less". To capture the attention of a journalist, use:

    • Facts, statistics (impresses, gives weight).
    • Opinions (strong views draw attention and show credibility).
    • Controversy (controversial views give good hooks for your message).
    • Relevance (to media type, time and situation).
    • Information (give background sheets, names and curriculum vitae of people involved for credibility).
    • Difference (what is different in your story/approach? Check what has been published already, so that you don't come up with old news).
    • Timing (address the right journalist at the right time with the right story; you have to know the media and how they work, learn about their deadlines and find out who is in charge of assigning stories).

    Contributors: Emmanuel Barreto, Doreen Conrad, Natalie Domeisen, Prema de Sousa