PR for the US: Damage Control

War going badly?  Bring in the PR professionals to help with America’s image-problem (Via PR Watch):

The January 2007 public diplomacy summit was co-sponsored by the State Department and the PR Coalition, an “ad hoc partnership” of groups representing the public relations, investor relations, lobbying and other communications professions. Nearly 160 PR executives and government officials attended, engaging “in a dialogue over how the private sector can become more involved in and supportive of U.S. public diplomacy,” in the words of PR Coalition chair and Accenture PR chief James Murphy.

The PR Coalition’s recently released summit report (PDF file) contains the usual warnings about the United States’ “image problem” overseas, while fretting that “anti-Americanism is bad for business.” Not surprisingly, it skirts around the root causes. The opening page tersely notes that summit participants “were there to address the image problems, not create foreign policy.” (While this admission is routine in public diplomacy circles, PR pros often say the opposite, insisting that their clients’ new-found concern for human rights, the environment or other noble cause reflects a real change in policies and practices.)

Sadly this in’t terribly surprising.  It isn’t like the Bush administration is going to change course without a serious and sustained challenge.  This is all about providing a valuable service to the client: the US government.

Some of their suggestions are pretty worrisome:

Other suggestions boil down to co-opting civil society groups (referred to as NGOs, for non-governmental organizations). These include “strategic philanthropy and greater engagement with responsible NGOs” (emphasis added), closely followed by the clarification, “Companies should partner with NGOs that ‘fit’ their business model.” A similar suggestion is to “create ‘circles of influence’ through relationships with organizations, chambers of commerce, journalists and local business leaders.”

Yikes.

Problems with a deep impact are cropping up as a result of America’s occupation, and putting PR in between this country and international opinion seems like a potentially dangerous move.

Members of the PR Coalition are skilled at portraying image-challenged clients — like pharmaceutical companies, oil companies and the nuclear industry — as responsible, commendable contributors to U.S. society. But applying the same PR tactics to issues of war, national sovereignty and global economic development risks increasing international resentment of the United States.

Even worse, applying these tactics may work at covering up some really nasty problems.  Even if these efforts fail on an international level, they may succeed domestically.  After all, such actions have a habit of finding their way back home.

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4 Responses

  1. This reminds me of everyone in the far-right that accuses Americans in general of not having enough “spine” to fight the “War on Terror”. That is all about “Might” and the “Will” to use it. And the blame the media and the lefties and what not, of course they forget when most of the population supported them and they ignore the fact that both Vietnam and in Iraq, the people supported the war until they realized that they had been lied to, that there was no light at the end of the tunnel, only a fading candlelight along side a dead canary. No amount of PR can change the fact that people don’t like to be lied to.

  2. Exactly. Manufactured will cannot replace genuine will. When that runs out, you have problems. But especially on point about people not liking being lied to. Which is why efforts to infiltrate ngo’s is so worrisome. It will either result in the PR message getting through via trusted channels, or it will corrupt trust that ngo’s need in place in order to function.

  3. Those whole thing simply means that corporate PR slags are going to try to pimp the Bush administration’s bad policies to us. The propaganda machine will be in full effect with poll tested messages and bright shiny spokespeople. They can slap as much lipstick as the want on Bush’s pig, its not going to make us forget the more than 3,000 Americans soldiers nor the tens of thousands of Iraq civilians who have been killed in Bush’s unnecessary war.

  4. Yes bloggernista, I certainly imagine the some of the strategies worked out for consumption abroad will be shamelessly and directly turned on domestic audiences. I don’t know exactly how bold they will be in this regard (especially since much of their work will circle back to us eventually anyway). I can easily see some of the lessons learned refining already sharp methods and practices used by the PR industry.

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