Holtzman hired to improve America's image overseas

WASHINGTON: The US Department of State is taking another stab at putting private-sector marketing smarts to work for America and its image problem. But this time, it's being quiet about it.

WASHINGTON: The US Department of State is taking another stab at putting private-sector marketing smarts to work for America and its image problem. But this time, it's being quiet about it.

Mike Holtzman, a partner at PR firm Brown Lloyd James, was recruited by the department's Policy Planning Staff several months ago to help plot a new course for US public diplomacy. He's since been working closely with policy planning director Mitchell Reiss, secretary of state Colin Powell, and acting undersecretary of public diplomacy and public affairs Patricia Harrison to enact a series of reforms.

"There are 100 commissions out there making recommendations, but nobody's yet come up with a clear, comprehensive idea," Holtzman said.

He characterized his recruitment as "a signal that the State Department and the government are taking these issues very seriously and want some fresh thinking."

Holtzman declined to discuss details of the proposal that he and his colleagues are designing. But a look at two op-eds he's published on the subject - articles he credits with landing him the new post - suggests a move away from government-branded initiatives and toward youth-oriented cultural campaigns.

"Perhaps a center could be established that would coordinate sporting events, cultural and educational exchange, technological and medical training, and other activities aimed at engaging ordinary people - particularly the young - in more dialogue and interaction," he wrote in The New York Times in 2002. "The best way to practice public diplomacy is through ordinary people."

Such an approach would mark a significant shift from the department's previous post-9/11 attempts to use private-sector marketing wisdom to "sell" America in the Muslim world.

Amid much fanfare from Congress and secretary Powell, former advertising CEO Charlotte Beers was appointed undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs in 2001 and charged with using her advertising skills to promote American values overseas. The resulting $15 million advertising campaign, known as "Shared Values," was banned by some Arab governments and deemed insulting by the Arab press.

Beers resigned due to health reasons in August 2003. Her successor, diplomatic veteran and former ambassador to Morocco Margaret Tutwiler, then served in the position for just four and a half months. She left to become head of communications for the New York Stock Exchange in June; the post has since remained empty.

Though Holtzman is an official State Department employee, he retains his partnership role at Brown Lloyd James, an independent PR firm with offices in New York and London.

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