How to overcome the British image in Europe

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BRITISH companies have an image problem in Europe. Company managers are aware of this and have responded by trying to appear multinational or nation-less rather than British, according to research published by Sampson Tyrrell, a corporate identity consultancy.

'As a whole, companies of UK origin do not consider their Britishness to be a competitive advantage in Europe and they prefer to play down their nationality,' said Dave Allen, managing director of Sampson Tyrrell. 'Japanese companies regard their Japaneseness as a primary strength which communicates a whole host of values - reliability, good design and so on. Collectively, Japanese companies get enormous trading advantage from this.'

Mr Allen wants the Government, the Confederation of British Industry and the British Council to co-operate in an international campaign to promote 'British brand' values.

The study, which polled the executives responsible for Europe-wide communications in 100 of the UK's top 400 corporations, concluded that British enterprises abroad suffer from unhelpful historical associations and fail to exploit positive values linked to Britain.

It found that only 43 per cent of executives think British companies have an innovative image, 30 per cent a responsive one and 29 per cent that they are environmentally aware. But 78 per cent think British companies are perceived as trustworthy, 69 per cent as professional and 68 per cent as polite. Even so, most prefer to disregard this and concentrate on their individual corporate reputations. 'Most respondents were unable to perceive the potential benefits of being a British company,' Mr Allen said.

This view is backed by Peter Ball, corporate publicity manager for Castrol International. 'We focus on the advantage of being a lubricants specialist rather than a British company,' he explained. 'You sink or swim according to how good your products are.'

A similar trend can be seen in the tendency of some companies seeking global opportunities to retreat from the use of 'British' in their name. In June Sir Michael Bishop, chairman of British Midland, said the airline would adopt a new brand name without 'British' for services it may operate between non-UK destinations.

This follows British Telecom's transformation into BT in 1991 and the increasing informal use by British Gas of the acronym BG.

The survey found that France was considered the most anti-British country, while the Netherlands was thought the most pro-British.

When asked which European nationality they would choose for their company, the most popular choice was German, which was associated with professionalism, quality, innovation and expertise.

According to Mr Allen, the sensitivity of the issues was clearly illustrated by the reluctance of many companies to participate in the study. Many companies may be reluctant to admit they play down their Britishness, for fear of being thought unpatriotic.