How to Sell America to People Who Hate It

"Fighting the anti-American fury that fueled the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks will require more than bombs, intelligence and diplomacy. This is a job for the public relations industry," writes Carl Weiser, Washington correspondent for the Gannett News Service. He asked PR, advertising and marketing experts what kind of campaign they would create to convince the Islamic world "that this nation is not the Great Satan, but good and generous." Responses included:

  • "This is a branding issue, plain and simple. ... Countries are no different than soap flakes or automobiles," said Los Angeles consultant Rob Frankel. In branding terms, "we should be the gentle giant, not the menacing ogre. Or in corporate terms, we should be Federal Express, not Microsoft."
  • Listen to the target audience. "What we've got now are embassies that live in a bubble and talk to the same 150 people that everyone in the embassy has talked to for the last 50 years -- the people who speak English, who study in America, who like to come to our cocktail parties," said Washington public relations executive Bart Marcois, who worked at embassies in Yemen, Jordan, Tunisia, and Kuwait. "You need creative ways to learn who are the players and meet them." PR pros suggested conducting surveys and focus groups in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan.
  • Bring them here. Jack Bergen, President of the Council of Public Relations Firms, suggested bringing journalists, editors and columnists from the Arab world to the United States.
  • Admit mistakes. "This might be both the touchiest and yet most effective," Weiser writes. "Some in the United States might take it as an admission that the terrorists were right, or at least had a point. But a number of public relations professionals said this was a key to credibility. 'The best PR is when you fix your house first. One of the major things the U.S. has to do if we are trying to do a public image campaign is to admit that at times, the U.S. has been overbearing in some respects, that the U.S. tends to mandate how others should act,' said Rochelle Tillery-Larkin, a public relations professor at Howard University."