In June of 1997, ICI Partner David Lightle received a phone call from a professional acquaintance at Time Warner CNN Asia headquarters in Hong Kong. The caller informed David that the Government of Thailand was seeking assistance to “prepare the country for a very bad economic event.” David quickly left Taipei and landed in Bangkok as the general consultant for a program initiated by the Investment Bureau of Thailand, operating under the Prime Minister’s office.
The higher-ups in Thailand had foreseen the financial and economic crisis that would strike East Asia a short month later. Perhaps the most devastating economic crisis since the Great Depression, it rocked every country in East Asia, including Japan. The first dominos fell in Thailand, where a rapidly falling currency and loan defaults spawned a host of economic troubles throughout the region.
David was called in to help Thailand prepare for the crisis in terms of communications. The World Bank and IMF took care of the nuts and bolts elements, but communication ended up being what guided Thailand through the crisis, both at home and abroad.
The program focused on foreign investors, citing the reasons why they should not abandon Thailand, as they were doing with other Asian countries during the crisis. A strong case was made for why Thailand deserved special attention from the foreign investment community. In a campaign dubbed “TRUST THAILAND,” the Thai Government, with David’s help, laid out how it understood the underpinnings of the crisis, what painful steps it would take to weather the crisis, and how the nation would emerge better for it. The program was driven by a print ad campaign—not a splashy colorful one but rather an all-text series of ads that explained all the above—and by a cable TV campaign that delivered the same messages, only through the biting format of video.
In the end, some countries in East Asia were ruined and have taken years since to recover. Thailand, on the other hand, did NOT experience investor flight. The campaign worked. Foreigners maintained their faith in Thailand, and she has since been a strong example of a nation that continues to make good economic progress by promoting the three essentials: Tourism, exports and investment attraction.
The program lasted six months (the second half of 1997) and was instrumental in seeing Thailand through the economic and financial crisis of 1997. Click here to view case study graphics in PDF format.