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.
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 J. Walter Thompson and Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, declined to be interviewed for this story.
Naysayers insist the
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 the chairman of the House International Relations Committee, Henry Hyde, R-Ill., said Ms. Beers walked into to 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. "Requiring people to think outside the box is hard. Her tenure is a successful one."
$10 million campaign
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.
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.
Ms. Beers has also had a hand in several state department changes. In April she brought embassy public relations officers from around the world together for the first time for training sessions and to discuss common problems.
A senior U.S. State Department official who works with her described her as "energizing" and said she has reinvigorated the division.
The goal: 'Not to kill us'
"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. There is agreement among academics that the growth of the Internet and satellite TV has broadened the target audience the U.S. needs to reach to include citizens as well as foreign ministers. But there is little agreement on how to accomplish that task.
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."
Explaining U.S. policy
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.