Beers draws mixed review after one year

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As veteran ad executive Charlotte Beers finishes her first year as undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs, there are mixed reviews over whether she has accomplished her goal of improving the nation's image beyond its borders.

Supporters praise Ms. Beers for bringing an outsider's perspective and fresh ideas to the thankless task of rebuilding the country's overseas public relations and education efforts, which largely atrophied after the cold war. She also gets credit for providing better training for embassy public relations staffs and for implementing sharper marketing research tools.

outside status

Critics, however, paint her as too much of an outsider, whose inexperience negotiating the bureaucratic corridors of the State Department, White House and Congress have delayed needed programs. They also question whether an advertising background is what the job needed.

Ms. Beers, a former chairman of WPP Group's J. Walter Thompson and Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, declined to be interviewed for this story.

Naysayers insist the world's image of the U.S. has deteriorated over the past year. "She is not doing well at all," said Youseef Ibrahim, a senior fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations. "Nobody has felt the impact of anything she has done. The image of America is as bad as it's ever been among the world's Muslims, and it's pretty bad in the Arab world."

Even supporters agree that the nation's image has suffered, but they suggest it is unfair to blame Ms. Beers, placing the blame instead on Bush administration policies on Israel and Iraq. Ms. Beers' success, they say, should ultimately be judged not on whether she can get people in other countries to embrace U.S. policies, but whether she can employ the right mix of tools to at least more clearly communicate the nation's view to the rest of the world.

"We are not in the business of getting the world to love us, but to understand us," said Harold C. Pachios, chairman of the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy. "Prior to 9/11, the public diplomacy apparatus of the U.S. government was essentially dismantled because no one believed it was necessary, no one believed we had to worry about the opinion of foreign publics."

Sam Stratman, an aide to House International Relations Committee Chairman Henry Hyde, R-Ill., said Ms. Beers walked into a job fraught with problems. The 1999 consolidation of the U.S. Intelligence Agency into the State Department that created her post also relegated the department to a lowly status prior to Sept. 11, 2001. Its budget had been raided and its programs slashed.

"Trying to recast a structure is not an easy thing to do," Mr. Stratman said. "Her tenure is a successful one."

Ms. Beers does seem to be making progress. Congress is in the final steps of providing additional resources for public diplomacy. The first major international ad campaign to promote the U.S. is also coming soon, a $10 million effort from Interpublic Group of Cos' McCann-Erickson WorldGroup that features stories of Muslim life in the U.S.

new campaign

The campaign, still in final testing, is due to break next month on TV and radio in locations from Indonesia through the Middle East and will be part of an integrated effort by the State Department that will also include speeches and exchanges. Radio Sawa, a new Arab-language rock network that is a younger, modern version of the Voice of America, was launched in March and recently added news content.

A senior U.S. State Department official who works with her described her as "energizing" and said she has reinvigorated the division.

"Public diplomacy has been much more active than it has been in 10 years. The undersecretary has instilled a sense of dynamism in what had been a moribund activity," said the official. He described the goal of the U.S. as "trying to build a level of understanding so that despite policy differences people aren't going to come and kill us."

There is a wider debate on what exactly the U.S. should be doing abroad.

When Secretary of State Colin Powell announced Ms. Beers' selection, he said it was an attempt "to change from just selling the U.S. ... to really branding foreign policy." That would be done, he added, by "branding the department, marketing the department, marketing American values to the world, and not just putting out pamphlets."

In the wake of Sept. 11, Ms. Beers and various studies and academics have suggested other goals. A report of the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy last week suggested that the department should quit trying to use the State Department to achieve quick public opinion changes and instead develop a coordinated effort to assure that all new U.S. foreign policies are better explained. It said the policies should be coordinated by the White House but implemented by the State Department with private sector support.

The Council on Foreign Relations suggested more coordination by the government through a "public diplomacy coordinating structure" but also a "corporation for public diplomacy" that would oversee private efforts to bolster U.S. policies.

Joshua Muravchik, a resident scholar at the Washington-based American Enterprise Institute, called Ms. Beers' original assignment of rebranding the U.S. "silly."

"What we are facing with the Islamic world is nothing you could fix with advertising," he said.

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