Brand Israel set to launch in GTA

TORONTO — The Israeli consulate in Toronto is gearing up for 10-month branding campaign and its consul general, Amir Gissin, couldn’t be more pleased.

“In my wildest dreams, I didn’t expect how enthusiastically the Toronto
community would receive my [Israel branding] initiative,” Gissin told
The Canadian Jewish News last week, as he pored over tentative
promotional material and finalized the details of next Monday’s
official inauguration of Brand Israel at the Miles Nadal Jewish
Community Centre.

Upon his posting to Canada last year, Gissin made it clear that his mission was to “make Israel relevant” to Canadians and use Toronto as a test market for the Israel brand during his term.

The lessons learned from Toronto will inform the worldwide launch of Brand Israel in the coming years, Gissin said.

Since his arrival to Canada, he’s spoken on radio, TV and in print about how he wants to take the emphasis off the politics and strife in his homeland and shift it to what matters to Canadians.

To that end, Gissin has, among other projects, gamely gone fishing with TSN’s Italo Labignan to promote fishing in Israel; relentlessly touted the national Israeli hockey program and the Canada Centre in Metulla; and on Aug. 25, will unveil the official Brand Israel logos and advertising that will go up across the GTA in bus shelters, on billboards, on radio and TV starting in September.

“The media has lots of power. But it is at best an agenda-setter,” Gissin said. “In Israel’s case, people are already talking about it. It’s on the agenda. Our job is to change the focus.”

Gissin said the upcoming Toronto campaign is the outgrowth of partnerships with local Jewish business leaders who are not afraid to “combine their businesses with their love for Israel.”

According to Gissin, the campaign launch could not have been achieved without the help of a triumvirate of high-powered business leaders in the community, namely Sidney Greenberg, vice-president of Astral Media; Joel Reitman, president and CEO of MIJO Corporation; and David Asper, executive vice-president of Canwest Global Communications Corp, all of whom have dedicated resources to Brand Israel.

“This trio has come together in a significant way to help Israel create a $1-million campaign based solely on new brand thinking,” Gissin said. “Never has there been this [scale] of combination of business and philanthropy for Israel.”

In addition to himself, a roster of notable guest speakers will make presentations at next week’s Brand Israel conference, including Larry Weinberg, executive vice-president of Israel 21c –  a California-based non-profit, Internet news feed about Israel – and Barak Orenstein, a brand manager for Absolut Vodka in Toronto.

Orenstein will talk about “how to introduce a a brand into Toronto” with emphasis on grassroots exposure, Gissin said.

This last point is something the consul general cannot stress enough.

“We want everyone to have a personal stake in this process,” he said. “The idea behind brand initiative has been coalition-building… [and] with the conference, we want to continue recruiting people within and outside the Jewish community.”

The consulate sent out invitations to select organizations and individuals in the community and expects around 200 people to attend the branding conference. Gissin hopes guests will take it upon themselves to disseminate the information they hear at the event.

“The way to fix negative images of Israel is to present Israel in a positive light elsewhere,” Gissin said.

A major part of this fix will revolve around ads featuring Israeli medical developments and technology, including testimonials from patients who benefited from the Holy Land’s medical innovations and the doctors who implement them will run on local radio.

Gissin said the ad blitz will be “an attack on all the senses.”

The Brand Israel initiative will also pay specific attention to wooing other ethnic communities, particularly the Asian communities of Toronto.

“Asia is important to Israel. It’s a major market both politically and culturally,” Gissin said. “But the direct relation to [Brand Israel in Canada] is that these cultures hold their own weight in North America. I’m very interested in inter-community dialogue.”

Brand Israel ads will also be strategically positioned within these communities around the city, he said.

Gissin added that the consulate is also  “building bridges” with the Muslim-Somali communities in the GTA, adding that the consulate is bringing in Israeli-Ethiopian performer, Yossi Wassa, to speak to these communities exclusively next month.

“This will be our modest contribution to the Israeli-Muslim dialogue in Toronto,” he said.

The consul general also alluded to other major plans for next year in his Brand Israel attack arsenal.

He revealed the Dead Sea Scrolls are scheduled for exhibition in Toronto in 2009 and that plans are in the works for a major Israeli presence at next year’s Toronto International Film Festival, with numerous Israeli, Hollywood and Canadian entertainment luminaries on hand.

With the help of the Canada-Israel Cultural Foundation, Israel will also have a “significant presence” at this year’s TIFF, he said.

In the interim, Gissin plans to expose Canadians to “an exceptional number of Israeli cultural acts and scientific achievements” over the next year.

When asked if the Brand Israel initiative would be affected by a leadership change in Israel now that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has announced he will step down, Gissin said he believed  that since the initiative is being run in co-operation “with local partners, I’m confident everything we plan to do will happen, regardless of the situation in Israel.”

As the campaign unfolds over the next year, research to gauge the brand’s efficacy with “opinion leaders” will ensue. This will be conducted every three months by Northstar Research Partners, Gissin said.

“We have a real product to sell to Canadians… but above all, we need to make Israel relevant to Canadians.