“Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some hire public relations officers.”
– Daniel J. Boorstin, American historian
Israel is a tiny democratic country surrounded by murderous despots, and a poor public relations policy harms the nation immensely. Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said it so clearly on May 24, 2011, in his address to the joint session of Congress:
Of 300 million Arabs in the Middle East, the only ones who are truly free and live in a democratic country are the Arabs who live in Israel. Israel is not what is wrong about the Middle East, Israel is what is right about the Middle East.”
It doesn’t really matter what you personally think about Israel. My point is that the state of Israel should be forcefully communicating sympathetic messages to the world but isn’t. Case in point: Many people don’t understand the difference in size between all of the Arab states and the Jewish state. The total area of the state of Israel is 7,951.6 square miles and it is surrounded by Arab nations — Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan — and the Mediterranean Sea. Egypt alone covers an area of 386,659 square miles. Israel has a population of about 7.5 million people, and the Arab nations surrounding her total 300-plus million people.
Everyone can relate to concepts about distance and size, such as the fact that Israel is the size of New Jersey and is completely surrounded by much larger countries with huge swaths of land and bigger populations that would like to see the tiny country destroyed. Still, the media worldwide writes of the “Jewish settlements” and “West Bank” as key conflicts between the Arabs and Israel. Leaving aside the perspective of just how tiny these areas actually are, or that Israel won them in a defensive war, is like blaming a flea for a pit bull’s aggressive behavior. The state of Israel is in real danger, partially because of its flawed public relations and communications work.
Israel also needs to make its own case, because that case is not being made widely, often enough or clearly enough by anyone else. Promptness and responsiveness are crucial. The advice I have for Israel stands for any organization or group with an “underdog” status or that is suffering the consequences of being misunderstood.
The following five points are useful for any brand or business that wants to control its own narrative:
1. Make your own case
Be proactive and passionate in education PR efforts. In Israel’s case, for instance, there should be a concerted PR effort to continually refute “moral equivalency” myths that are perpetuated in many corners of the press and taught in college classrooms around the world: myths that equate Palestinian suicide bombings with Israeli efforts to arrest or kill bombers before they act. Killings aren’t always the same. Refuting the myths can be done through op-eds, reports, videos, blogs, outreach programs, and so on. But it can’t be saved for a crisis pr situation; it has to be ongoing.
2. Argue on strengths — not weaknesses
Harmful framing by the media or others can be handled effectively only with counter-framing, and not by debating the negative frame or trying to justify yourself against it. In doing so, you give credence to and reinforce a point of view you’re actually trying to dismiss. In this case, Israel needs to start a conversation on its own terms, and hit the media with multiple stories that discuss its innovations in technology, security, and other advances. Israel needs to talk about how in 1948 the country was 65 percent desert and started from zero, and how in 1967 Israel fought several of the strongest countries in the Middle East, and won a defensive war, and in an act of security, to ensure there wouldn’t again be a surprise attack, took control of the “West Bank.” And today it has a thriving high-tech industry. Intel, Microsoft, and IBM have all developed robust, profitable, and innovative businesses in the country. Israeli doctors have won important prizes in the medical development field.
3. Consistent and united PR
There is nothing more counter-productive and irritating to a PR spokesperson than having to compete with a colleague who is operating with a different message. This is the case with Israel – spokespeople for the state often speak at cross-purposes with the press and contradict one another. The same goes for a company. Can you imagine what would happen if the media had to compare two or three different sources within the same organization to discover the firm’s stance on an issue? Always make sure that all those who speak to the press are on the same page and understand and communicate a unified message.
Israel is agile and dynamic. It can use this to its advantage. Imagine a boat the size of the Titanic, which takes a while to change course and redirect. In comparison, imagine Israel as a small lifeboat that maneuvers quickly and easily within the waters of world affairs. In PR terms, Israel can change key messages quickly and deftly when necessary. The ability to respond swiftly and individually to any event, positive or negative, means a greater chance of being first with a preferred message.
Social media shouldn’t be used only as an emergency channel or to impart pearls of wisdom a few times a year. Social media should be used on a daily basis, and in a positive way. In the long run, it is the daily actions of a brand that determine its overall image. A daily blog post helps build a reputation, as do regular speaking engagements and consistent outreach and public events. Social media, in cases like this, at least allow you to go directly to your supporters and customers.