People Will Say We’re In Love


Is it a typo or just brutal honesty?

Ainars Slesers seems to have become like Richard Rodgers – the member of not one notable collaboration but two. Just as Rodgers had his Hammerstein and his Hart, so Slesers has his original ‘Sleserkovs’ double act with Riga mayor Nils Usakovs, plus an increasingly important pairing with airBaltic straight man Bertolt Flick.

It was the latter dynamic duo in the limelight in Riga today to unveil the latest developments in their ‘Live Riga’ tourist promotion campaign.

Whatever you say about Slesers (and whatever you say won’t be nearly as comprehensive as what Slesers says about Slesers) press conferences featuring the self-styled “bull***er*” of Latvian politics are usually worth attending. This one was no exception, the highlight being when Flick lambasted the media for “destructive and amoral journalism” largely because they kept asking who was paying, how much they were paying and where the money was coming from.

But first to the Live Riga (pronounced, er, “Leave Riga”) campaign itself, which features pictures of a dismembered Cyclopean heart running around various Riga landmarks.

It’s the sort of thing that looks likely to give imaginative children a sleepless night – but it’s supposed to appeal to foreigners in seven markets when it is combined with the strapline “You may leave, your heart stays.” Given the recent stories about desperate Latvians trying to sell various internal organs to raise cash, this hit an unintentionally topical note.

The other slogan spearheading the campaign also contains some unfortunate double entendre. “Easy to go, hard to leave” suggests the phrase used by The League Of Gentlemen to promote the hellish town of Royston Vaysey: “You’ll Never Leave.”

Incidentally, it is rumoured that that slogan was itself based on a similar piece of sloganeering used in my own home town, Gloucester, which was rather abruptly pulled once the serial killer Fred West was discovered to be burying bodies in his basement.

Flick’s criticism of the media was unfortunate. Clarity and transparency of budget and benefits is all that is required rather than talk of “synergies” and hoped-for collaborations that will create added value at some point in the future. It also sat a little uneasily with Flick and Slesers’ repeated statements that a lot of money was being spent on bringing in dozens of foreign journalists, putting them up for the night and taking them out to the opera to show Riga off properly.

But it should be admitted that Flick and Slesers also made some valid points. For years, Latvia has been poor at promoting itself in a consistent and professional manner. Efforts have rarely been sustained or integrated in the way that Estonia has managed via its Enterprise Estonia agency.

That’s primarily because vested interests and political patronage have stymied efforts to produce anything cohesive – so when primo oligarch Slesers crops up in yet another semi-official attempt to become the voice of the Latvian tourist industry, it’s hardly surprising if there is a certain amount of scepticism, not to say cynicism.

So the best thing Slesers and his partners can do is to keep their promise to work hard to bring more tourists to Riga while doing their best to also spread the benefits beyond their own commercial interests. Between them they have good organizational skills, great contacts and plenty of drive – if they can show they are genuinely interested in promoting Riga over themselves, they will deserve wider support for their efforts.

airBaltic seems to be providing the lion’s share of the funding by combining its marketing budget with the Live Riga budget, but in order to justify itself as a force for economic good in general rather than just economic enrichment of approved partners, Live Riga needs to come up with much more than slogans, logos and a h0tel booking engine.

Flick and Slesers said they were open to creative criticism and would welcome suggestions. If they take some of those on board – even suggestions from the “amoral” media perhaps – they might do themselves some good and do Riga some good at the same time.

(* “bulldozer” in case you were thinking of something else)


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