U.S. Again Looks at Ad Execs for Image Help

State Dept. considers candidates to sell America to the Arab world

Despite Charlotte Beers’ failure to burnish the image of the U.S. abroad during the ongoing war on terror, Washington continues to believe in the marketing of America and is identifying other ad and marketing professionals who could offer advice, State Department and Congressional sources said.

Three agency executives and several marketing officials are under consideration to serve on a short-term public diplomacy commission that will advise Congress on how America can improve its image with Arabs and Muslims, sources said. Tim Love, vice chairman international of Saatchi & Saatchi; John McNeel, worldwide account director on Mars at TBWA\Chiat\Day; and Dick O’Brien, evp of the Washington office of the American Association of Advertising Agencies are on a list of candidates being circulated in the State Department, sources said.

Other names include Rob Malcolm, president of global marketing, sales and innovation at Diageo; Qaisar Shareef, a marketing director at Procter & Gamble; Hollywood producer Charlie Wick; and former White House counselor Karen Hughes.

Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., asked for the commission, which will have 10-12 members, in the appropriations bill, which passed in February.

“The [Appropriations] Committee expects the [State] Department to engage the creative talents of the private sector to the maximum extent possible to develop new public diplomacy approaches and initiatives,” the request in the bill declared.

A report is due to Congress Oct. 1.

On June 5, the State Department named Edward Djerejian, director of the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University and a former ambassador to Syria and Israel, chairman of the commission. Sources said he is contacting potential candidates. The State Department referred calls to Djerejian, who did not return calls. Love and McNeel said they had not been contacted; O’Brien referred calls to the State Department.

Before joining Saatchi, Love ran the P&G business for now-defunct D’Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, heading up expansion into the Middle East. He has been outspoken about how “unenlightened” Americans are about the world and said he sent a paper on the topic to Congress, the State Department and the White House. “Only 18 percent of Americans hold passports, and of that, 86 percent have only been to Canada and Mexico,” he told Adweek. “We don’t have an understanding of how America looks to our global neighbors.”

McNeel, who ran Saatchi’s Middle East division from 1995-2000, welcomed the government’s interest in having advertising experts serve on the panel. “Anti-American sentiment is such that it is beginning to affect a number of American brands,” he said. “The ability of marketers to develop campaigns that would interest people in that region would be of value to the government.”

Just how many ad and communications experts join the commission is a matter being closely watched by lawmakers who do not want it dominated by foreign policy officials. “The dynamic is needed in shaking up a moribund bureaucracy at the State Department that I am not sure knows how to do public outreach,” a House Republican source said.

Case in point: Beers’ 17-month tenure as undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs. The former ad executive came under constant fire within the State Department, sources said, for her desire to sell America as a brand—an approach largely admired by Congress but abhorred by some foreign policy experts, who saw it as superficial compared with the kind of relationship-building the State Department practices. Beers resigned in March.

Djerejian has met with Wolf and will meet with Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., chairman of the House Committee on International Relations. “We view [Djerejian’s] work as vital, consequential and needed,” said Sam Stratman, Hyde’s rep. “Everyone understands the United States is facing a serious public diplomacy problem in the world, but many fewer people know precisely what we should do about solving the problem.”