Beers: State Dept. program misjudged

By Published on .

Most Popular
Though she leaves the State Department as the U.S. policy on Iraq draws ire around the world, Charlotte Beers said her 17-month tour of duty as undersecretary for public diplomacy and public affairs has been a success.

The State Department "has learned the message of message retention and recall," said Ms. Beers, noting she leaves a department far more media-savvy than the one she joined. "To use a Defense Department term, what we have done is embedded a testing message, and an intent to go to a large body of people" rather than simply civic leaders, in State Department outreach efforts.

curve ball

The departure of Ms. Beers, 67, comes just weeks after she learned of a serious health condition. The government post is "not something I would prefer to leave at this time, but I got thrown a curve and I think I need to put real attention on getting some diagnostic information," she said.

As undersecretary, Ms. Beers was in charge of State Department public relations in and outside the U.S. She also sat on the board that oversees the government's various broadcast activities abroad, including the Voice of America and the newer AM and FM channels running in a number of Arab countries.

In an interview, Ms. Beers acknowledged that the country's march toward war has hurt the U.S. image abroad. But she said significant strides in communication have been made. Success, she said, should not be judged on how well the U.S. is perceived abroad but how well the State Department does at reaching an audience to communicate its policies.

"If you and I were talking about an IBM campaign, success could be measured. But the way you look at this is whether you have been successful in introducing a different standard," she said. "We have introduced a different model where you can measure message reach, where you have the production facilities to do an 18-minute documentary. The questions have been asked, the training done, the inter-agency public-policy coordinating committee established and the major steps taken in integrating all this in the State Department."

narrow focus

She said the media has focused too heavily on the State Department's first advertising campaign, a Muslim effort at Ramadan, giving it an import out of proportion to its importance or emphasis at the department. She said the ad effort, from Interpublic Group of Cos.' McCann-Erickson Worldwide, New York, should be viewed as part of the department's wider push to reach Muslim audiences.

Ms. Beers said she came to a State Department that "was broken" and had "no resources" as a result of years of cutting back on public diplomacy efforts and staff. "We have begun the dialogue" of explaining U.S. policies, but the image of the U.S. isn't going to be revamped "in any one term, much less mine," she said.

Ms. Beers, former CEO of WPP Group's Ogilvy & Mather and of Young & Rubicam, had served with Secretary of State Colin Powell on a corporate board. Mr. Powell called on her when he joined the Bush administration with the original hope that Ms. Beers would help craft the State Department's message overseas and bring a branding theme to U.S. foreign policy. But after Sept. 11, 2001, things changed: Her plan to gradually reshape State Department programs was replaced by a need for instantaneous action.

At least temporarily Patricia Harrison, assistant secretary of state for education and cultural affairs, an author, founder and president of the National Women's Economic Alliance and a former co-chairman of the Republican Party, will take over Ms. Beers' duties.

On Capitol Hill last week there was praise for Ms. Beers, but not without some concern. An aide to U.S. Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., chairman of the House International Relations Committee, said that although she started with few resources Ms. Beers overhauled the public-outreach section and brought in new ideas and programs. He said, however, that the success of the department's advertising varied as some countries declined to run it.

`new ideas'

An aide to Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar, R-Ind., said the senator thought highly of Ms. Beers. "Sen. Lugar's view is that public diplomacy needs to be beefed up substantially and she brought a lot of new programs and ideas."

Mr. Powell, in a statement and an email to State Department employees, was effusive, pledging Ms. Beers' work would continue. She "and her team sharpened our policy advocacy and took our values and our ideas to mass audiences in countries which hadn't heard from us in a concerted way for years," he said. "She helped us find new ways of making our case to policy makers while expanding our outreach efforts to make connections with ordinary people, particularly in Moslem nations. Her goal of reaching younger, broader and deeper audiences will remain with us as she departs."

In this article: