Losing the International War of Ideas

KEITH REINHARD CRITIQUES U.S. DIPLOMATIC PR EFFORTS

Tells Congress the Government Is No Longer a 'Credible Messenger' Abroad

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WASHINGTON (AdAge.com) -- Citing the Islamic world's anger at U.S. foreign policy, DDB Worldwide's chairman, Keith Reinhard, on Monday told Congress that the federal government was no longer a
Keith Reinhard testified before a Congressional subcommittee reviewing the suggestions of the 9/11 Commission that the U.S. increase the effectiveness of its efforts to influence public opinion abroad.
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"credible messenger" in reforming public opinion about America in the Middle East.

He urged Washington to provide incentive to "other actors" outside the government to craft and deliver the country's diplomatic messages to hostile populations abroad.

Charlotte Beers
Mr. Reinhard's remarks before a subcommittee of the House Committee on Government Reform drew a quick retort from another witness, former advertising executive and an undersecretary of state for public diplomacy, Charlotte Beers.

The committee is holding hearings on the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission and has taken a particular interest in issue of public diplomacy. The 9/11 Commission's report suggested the U.S. needs to do more to effectively reach and influence mass populations -- rather than just top civic leaders -- in countries throughout the Islamic world. The subcommittee's chairman, Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., repeatedly asked witnesses what the U.S. message abroad should be.

Earlier this year, Mr. Reinhard organized a private, nonprofit group, called Business for Diplomatic Action, in response to studies that documented diminishing foreign regard for American culture and brands abroad. The group consists of and is supported by marketing and advertising corporations, which in May committed themselves to raising an initial $1 million to combat anti-Americanism overseas.

'Great urgency'
Mr. Reinhard told the congressional panel that the "task of positioning America in a post-9/11 world is one of great urgency but not a task that can be accomplished overnight. According to experts, anti-American sentiment has been building for the last two decades. Geopolitical events have ignited and exacerbated those negative feelings, but it has taken us a long time to get to this point and it will take a long time to restore our country's reputation and influence in the world."

"Even with careful planning such an effort is likely to meet with failure at this time. Based on everything we know, the U.S. government is simply not a credible messenger," he said. "In present circumstances in the Arab and Muslim world, the need to strengthen and elevate the voices of those within the Islamic faith and culture who oppose radical ideas is a task much more effectively performed by non-government actors than by the government."

Mr. Reinhard emphasized that the overseas image problem cited in the 9/11 report affect not only the government but also U.S. companies. He warned

Mr. Reinhard called for advertising messages focused on 'shared values.'
against suggestions that America export its values.

'A company in trouble'
Instead, he said, "We should concentrate on the shared values and use some of the strategies used by a company in trouble or one with a brand in trouble."

Ms. Beers, however, disagreed with Mr. Reinhard, saying the government should play a key role in marketing itself. She told the panel that the U.S. Information Agency's merger into the State Department several years ago hurt U.S. information efforts, making it more difficult to launch new initiatives while giving embassy staff abroad different bosses for different functions without clear instructions.

"We are not equipped to deliver on large-scale tasks, and there is a clear problem in not having a central leadership," she said.

'Losing the war of ideas'
Jamie S. Gorlick, a member of the 9/11 Commission, told the panel, "We are losing the war of ideas." She said public diplomacy won't replace military action to halt radical terrorists, but that it can play an important role in separating them from public support.

The 9/11 Commission's chairman, former New Jersey Gov. Thomas Kean, said the U.S. "must do a lot more to communicate its message. America does stand for values. If the United States doesn't stand up to define itself to a Muslim audience, the extremists are going to define us instead."

Patricia de Stacy Harrison, acting undersecretary for state for public diplomacy, said her department is aiming new programs at youth influencers but said more needs to be done.

She said the opinions of the U.S. abroad "are being shaped by messages that are distorted. We need to engage as citizen diplomats and we need to engage the private sector," she said.

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