COMMENT: The Big Pitch - What PR tacks can best help convey the US'message to the Arab world?

JACK BERGEN, President, Council of PR Firms



I shudder when I hear Sen. Hyde say that America should draw on

Hollywood and Madison Avenue for help on the public diplomacy front.

Most of the Arab world's moderate opinion leaders already blame the US

movie industry for global cultural pollution and the US ad industry for

exporting an unwelcome consumerism. If ever solid PR was needed, now is

the time. We can't reach the Arab media from a briefing room in the

Pentagon. The Americans on the ground best know the local media, so

every US embassy in every Muslim country should be holding daily press

conferences, complete with the same visuals and updates available to US

reporters. We need a people-to-people, Iman-to-Iman program. We must

bring respected thought leaders, journalists, academics, and religious

leaders to the US to meet Americans in town meetings, in mosques, and in

our universities. We need an Afghan airlift, bringing food and shelter

for the millions of refugees massing on the Pakistan border. American

companies should gather their best and brightest to lead the effort. Who

better to arrange the US people-to-people tour than our underused

hospitality industry? And who knows more about distributing food and

materials quickly and efficiently than global companies like McDonald's,

FedEx, and UPS?



JERRY OLSZEWSKI, Senior partner/international, Ketchum



To borrow a message we hear often: this won't be quick and it won't be

easy. Let's begin with the major assumption that we're communicating

within the context of coherent US policy objectives in the Middle East.

From there, let's make a long-term commitment to communications - no

illusions about quick fixes. Then let's find ways to support Islamic

believers who are prepared to publicly distinguish their faith from

terrorism, and support that effort in the Middle East, Europe, and the

US. In time, we'll need relationships with credible, non-governmental

Arab groups, "third parties" if you will, who are willing to help us

communicate with street credibility (a challenge that will span many

years). Let's think broadly about our communications assets in the

region - diplomatic, corporate, and otherwise - and activate all of them

with information that counter-balances anti-US messages. Finally, we

must accept that the issues of Palestine, poverty, corruption, and

terrorism will constantly disrupt our best-laid plans. Our adaptability

and commitment will be tested repeatedly, and we'll need to persist for

decades.



WILLIAM MURRAY, SVP, public affairs, The MWW Group



The campaign must overcome a sense of history, strong religious beliefs,

and mistrust of American intentions - all of which have become a part of

the region's culture. Success depends on who delivers the message, as

much as what the message is. And, just as the war on terrorism will be a

long-term struggle, so will the communications campaign. In the short

term, securing news interviews and ads on Al-Jazeera television is

important. But it needs to include information delivered through someone

other than traditional government spokespersons, preferably a male of

Arab descent. We need to include leaders in the American-Muslim

community, as well as those within the region itself. Featuring

survivors and victims' families of the World Trade Center attack,

particularly those of the Muslim faith, may help create empathy. But,

considering that the majority does not have access to television, and

literacy rates are sporadic, the campaign also must secure local buy-in.

That means establishing networks of community and religious leaders to

present the US position. Outreach and tours by American-Muslim leaders

can help establish better ties in the region and place a more credible

and receptive face on the American message.



RORY O'CONNOR, VP, Dittus Communications



For most of the Middle East, the real issue is not the Taliban, it is

the grinding poverty in which they live. Egypt's GDP per capita is

one-tenth that of the US; Pakistan's is one-thirteenth. People in the

Middle East want a better quality of life. Beers' message must convey

that the US wants to help them achieve that by building stable nations

and economies. In putting forth that message through press outreach and

in ads, she should remind the people of the Middle East of the US'

decades-long commitment to improving their national economies and their

daily lives. Egypt, at $2 billion per year, is the second largest

recipient of US economic aid in the world. The US has given Turkey a

total of $4 billion in (non-military) economic aid. We have built

universities and hospitals in Lebanon, and given the nation $250

million in relief and rehab aid since 1975. And just this year, the US

gave Jordan the first installment of a $150 million economic

improvement grant. She must work hard to put these numbers before the

region's people, or the only numbers they will likely associate with the

US are casualty figures and refugee counts.



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