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Korea: For Mature Audiences Only



Permit me to challenge your economic, geopolitical and trivial knowledge. Name the country matching this description:

  • American ally
  • First-world economy and high GDP
  • Growing dichotomy of “haves” and “have nots”
  • Home to some of the world’s highest-grossing corporations
  • Ample skiing

Answer: Switzerland? France? Japan? No. Try South Korea.

I would bet a considerable sum that Korea — even with its enormous capital metropolis of Seoul, where my family and I now reside — is not a leading response to that query in the Western Hemisphere. I’ve taken some time to consider why this is, and what that might mean for myself and others intending to communicate on behalf of clients based here.

We at Edelman refer to Seoul one of our “mature” markets. Strong infrastructure, ample local talent, long in-market presence and reputation. Inherently, these qualities manifest as both opportunities and challenges. But to assume this might translate as limited prospects for further growth would be to seriously sell South Korea, and its global ambitions, a bit short.

You might have thought I was kidding about the skiing. Host to the World Cup in 2002, South Korea has just hosted the Special Olympics World Games (an Edelman client) and won by a wide margin the right to host the 2018 Winter Olympics — for which the world will again descend on the peninsula, yet in greater and perhaps more diverse numbers.

You’ve heard of LG, Samsung and Hyundai (the latter two are clients), but you probably haven’t heard of more than one or two of the 13 other Korean companies (including clients SK and Hanwha) with more than $10 billion in annual revenues.

Both the Olympics and massive Korean companies are incredible opportunities in stepping out further on the world stage, with communications implications at every level.

South Korea has elected its first female president in Park Geun Hye, whose father ruled South Korea for nearly two decades. And while her win is a huge leap forward for any developed nation, her election platforms speak to some of Korea’s current challenges: overcoming the wealth gap, creating jobs and strengthening the welfare system. Policy-setting in itself has proved challenging, as evidenced recently in the public outcry over a restart of whaling in the country (since reversed) and a proposed (now withdrawn) military pact with Japan. Let’s not even mention a certain neighbor directly to the north.

But with challenge comes opportunity, and Korea appears ready. 2013 will mark the 60th anniversary of the end of the Korean War, which is of course still one of the most prominent Korean reference points for the “average” American such as me and perhaps others. While that conflict should and will not fade from memory, I expect to see a number of other popular and productive (sorry Psy) reference points continue to build. One could likely be that Korea is open for business, and not just for “mature” audiences only.

Mike Iacovella arrived in January 2013 as Global Fellow for Edelman in Seoul, South Korea, after seven years with Edelman New York Corporate & Public Affairs. You can also follow him on Twitter: @mikeiacovella.

Image by anja_johnson.
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