NEW YORK: The United Nations, which made a conscious effort last year to embrace the media (PRWeek, August 16, 1999), once again seems to be sinking in a sea of PR mediocrity.
NEW YORK: The United Nations, which made a conscious effort last
year to embrace the media (PRWeek, August 16, 1999), once again seems to
be sinking in a sea of PR mediocrity.
Witness the PR dilemma created recently when Senate Foreign Relations
Committee chairman Jesse Helms issued a challenge to the UN’s Security
Council to stop imposing ’its presumed authority on the American
people.’ In response, the organization had little to say, and thus came
across as ineffectual and timid.
Getting better PR for the UN presents a difficult challenge, several
industry insiders said last week. Perhaps the biggest problem is that
diplomats and bureaucrats - rather than professional communicators -
manage the UN’s official information office.
Michael Stopford, who ran the DC outpost of the UN information center
from 1992 to 1995, blames the PR problems on its organizational
’If governments run the UN, then how is the UN supposed to speak
directly to the people?’ he asked.
Stopford, now senior assistant to the president of American University,
also believes too much effort tends to be concentrated on elite media
outlets such as The New York Times. While Stopford made an effort during
his UN tenure to travel around the US in order to meet with editorial
boards of other media outlets, he was stymied by the restrictive budget
of his office.
The UN’s flailing PR may well be saved - just like everybody else - by
the growth of the Internet. The United Nations Association (UNA), a
non-partisan citizens group, is not encumbered by diplomatic rules and
thus obviously finds communication an easier task.
Like other internationally oriented groups, the UNA is shifting the
focus of its PR efforts towards grass-roots advocacy. ’It’s incumbent
upon us to conduct a dialogue on the points Senator Helms made,’ said VP
Despite its weak PR, the UN could be in worse shape, according to
American Enterprise Institute public opinion expert Karlyn Bowman:
’Americans don’t think about the UN much, but to the extent they do,
they are inclined favorably.’