New Kids on the Eastern Bloc

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Author: Allan Riska
Team: Georgia
Project: Develop marketing strategies to attract foreign investment

Our cab driver finally showed up to the airport at 1am, about an hour after our flight from London had landed. Alper, Rahul, Pulak and me were piled in the back seat to make room for the luggage. Ripping through the Georgian night at 120km/hour, the capital city of Tbilisi drew closer. Revealed was the cheerfully illuminated landscape of the it’s exposed rock faces, castles and cathedrals, inviting visitors to change their perceptions of the former Soviet state.   

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“An egg-white omelet, sir?” Don’t mind if I do. The five-star breakfast would be key to fueling our days that were  scrambled with government interviews, a dash of research and a pinch of mind mapping. To tackle the work, we generally split up into teams of two so that we could interview the most people, in order to get the widest perspective of the issues. The work hours were also and adjustment to make, 10am to 7pm, which stretched out our interviews time slots. AC was rarely present in the government buildings, so thankfully we were able to do most of our diverging and converging from the comfort of our hotel.

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Our moment of shock came when we showed up to meet Vera Kobalia, the Minister(ess?) of Economy and Sustainable Development. We thought it would be a casual half-hour interview, but it turned into a surreal moment when we ended up doing TV interviews and having the press film our meeting. Another unexpected moment was when we came back from dinner at 11pm only to find approximately 50 tanks in the street, practicing for Georgia’s 20th Independence Anniversary celebration.  Alper was definitely surprised by the girl who really wanted an autograph from a Turkish Diplomat…

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Throughout the process we established common themes that Georgia needed to focus on; transparency, transportation, fast business, and clean energy. The growth that Georgia has seen has been remarkable. One electrifying fact is that through liberalizing policies, Georgia has gone from experiencing rolling blackouts to being a net exporter of energy in only seven years, mostly while developing clean, hydro-power resources. For reasons like this that that we feel Georgia will be in a great geographic and political position to attract more FDI. Our client was receptive to our final presentation, where we converged on the final marketing execution strategies. It would be great to see new ads based on our work!
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Food & Wine
We ate at traditional Georgian restaurants, such as Breadhouse and Maspindzelo.The fare is quite heavy, and consists of fresh meats, breads and veggies. The Kinkali (dumplings) were particularly delicious, especially when paired with Georgian wines. I highly recommend the unique “semi-sweet reds”, of which many bottles will be making a stow-away trip in my luggage. Wine production originated in Georgia, and it shows. There was also and excellent Italian restaurant and Thai restaurant in the area, as chefs from the US and Europe return to the area. I had a special affinity for restaurants run by M Group, as the prices were perfect given the high quality, location and service.

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Side Trips
It wasn’t all work.  We did take time to enjoy Tbilisi and the surrounding areas. We were lucky enough that our assignment required us to enjoy the tourist aspects, and we did so with great admiration for the natural beauty of the area. First, we took a side-trip to towns east of Tbilisi, where the cave cities sit near the border of Azerbaijan.  The monastery on the opposite side of the hill provides a breathtaking view of the natural landscape. Next we were off to Batumi, an area described as the “Miami of Georgia,” on the coast of the Black Sea. We missed the analogy because the summer rush hasn’t yet begun there, but were shown a fun time by our hosts nonetheless. Any rush not found in the city is available during the five hour car ride from Tbilisi where our cab driver was driving in the wrong lane at 120km/hr, passing other vehicles through mountain passes. Aside from that minor brush with death, we were impressed by the hospitality of those in the government and the service industry – an area we are pushing for re-branding campaigns. 
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If you’re in the Eastern Block, take a trip to visit. You won’t be disappointed.