Jewish News meets Joanna Landau: Woman on a mission to show Israel to the world!

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Jewish News meets Joanna Landau: Woman on a mission to show Israel to the world!

If anyone is well placed to talk about the frequently difficult relationship between Israel and the diaspora – how we see Israel, how Israel sees us – it’s Joanna Landau

Jenni Frazer is a freelance journalist

Joanna Landau with President Rivlin at the launch of Vibe Israel
Joanna Landau with President Rivlin at the launch of Vibe Israel

Born in the UK, she has been shuttling between Britain and Israel since she was five. Today, Landau, who, among other things, is Dame Shirley Porter’s granddaughter, is the founder and chief executive of a remarkable initiative called Vibe Israel.

Its mission is to figure out how to “sell” Israel in a completely different way from the hoary hasbarah strategies of old. Backed by ruthless research, Vibe Israel looks at rebranding the Jewish state to accentuate the positive.

Landau is 45, married with three children, and lives in Tel Aviv. After sixth form at Carmel College, she read law at Girton College, Cambridge, but says she decided to live in Israel only when she returned to do her army service.

Ten years ago, she began to reassess her life. “I began to think about perception and reality when it comes to Israel, and to wonder why there were not more conversations about how we feel about the country.”

Initially she looked at Israel advocacy,but was not convinced that “explaining Israel’s policies improves Israel’s image”. She was aware of a Foreign Ministry programme to develop Hasbarah using marketing and branding, but this never really took off. Instead, Landau decided to create “influencer marketing” for Israel. She explains: “Every country does some sort of marketing for itself, whether in tourism or trade. But Israel didn’t really have it”.

To begin, Vibe Israel, funded by private donations, took groups of “influencers” to the country for a week at a time. “We would bring, for example, mummy bloggers, from Britain, France, and Spain, to showcase family life,” Landau says. “We ran about 40 tours for people from, eventually, 30 countries. Mothers would meet mothers or people starting small ‘kitchen-table’ companies such as making nappy bags. The idea was to get people to Israel to meet like-minded counterparts, not dignitaries.”

Joanna Landau

Success was measured in the level of engagement or social media mentions. Eventually it became apparent “there was a way of marketing Israel that was not about the conflict”. Examples, says Landau, are Eurovision, last year’s
Giro d’Italia cycling race, or the global success of Gal Gadot as Hollywood’s Wonder Woman.

Vibe Israel hired specialist company Bloom Consulting to interview defined groups around the world about perceptions of Israel. The results were fascinating, says Landau, and form the backdrop to her company’s future work.

The main three groups were Generation Z (respondents aged 14-21), millennials (those aged 22- 38), and mothers.

In one set of questions, British respondents were asked if they had heard of the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement; only six percent of the Generation Z group had.

The numbers for millennials and mums were equally low – 18 percent and 14 percent.

That’s pleasing, but placing Israel against other countries, UK mothers gave the least positive views and both the millennials and Generation Z placed Israel very low.

Landau and her team are still digesting the survey results and trying to apply them to a strategic way of presenting Israel to the world.

But she is sure of one thing: “We should be showing the entire range of what Israel represents. The majority of respondents didn’t know what Israel does best, or what was cool about the country.”

There is, Landau concludes, “a huge missing element in the way in which Israel presents itself. It deserves great marketing”.


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