April 07, 2009

Tribal Lovefare

Shortly after St. Patrick's Day, economist David McWilliams posted on the opportunities available to us through the extensive Irish diaspora: Going Tribal Will Save Us From Economic Oblivion. According to McWilliams, the challenge for the Irish State is reinvent the relationship between Ireland and the Irish diaspora.

I was reminded again of the power of the tribe and the connection to the homeplace last Saturday, when I went along to see the Erris Player's excellent production of Synge's Playboy of the Western World in Dublin's Liberty Hall. It seemed that the whole of Mayo was there and the first appearance of each actor on stage was greeted by a delighted murmur of recognition and, presumably when a more notorious local character arrived, by a smattering of applause.

Many years ago, I used to see similar connections maintained in Hong Kong at Chinese New Year when families returned to the Mainland to visit relatives in the home place or when they gathered for the sweeping of graves in April.

Some time later, I was able to make great inroads into the ad agency world in both New York and Chicago as I piggybacked on introductions from Irish-Americans and often found myself no more than two degrees separated from someone I wanted to meet (this was in the days before LinkedIn and the various social media sites).

David McWilliams has a point when he suggests that "the next chapter of the Irish story will involve harnessing Irishness and turning our worldwide family into the greatest commercial network the world has ever seen." Last month, with my colleagues at the Smile Conference, we launched a Facebook Failte campaign, to encourage Irish people all over the world to send a personal invitation to a friend or colleague to visit Ireland during 2009. The campaign has started slowly but is beginning to build momentum. (As we're on the subject, why not drop along and issue your own Cead Mile Failte?).

McWilliams is also right when he suggests that the Irish, like the Jews (and, in my experience too, the Chinese) enjoy a natural advantage in terms of the spread of our diasporas.

But wherever you're from, ask yourself what you can do to link in your brand to the tribe that connects you and millions of others to your homeplace.

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