Monday, October 24, 2005

"Let's Out-Recruit Osama bin Laden"


Keith Reinhard of Business for Diplomatic Action (and ad giant DDB Worldwide) was interviewed briefly in "Erasing the Image of the Ugly American" yesterday. He expands on his view that while the U.S. government isn't seen as a credible messenger of U.S. values, the U.S. business community not only is credible but has a duty to improve America's image abroad.

Reinhard et al. have a vested interest in seeing U.S. goods welcome abroad; as he notes in the interview,

We know that in Group of 8 countries, 18 percent of the population claim they are avoiding American brands, with the top brand being Marlboro in terms of avoidance. Barbie is another one. McDonald's is another.

When the U.S. looks bad, it also sells less at home, Reinhard says, noting that "inbound travel from other countries is off 1.5 percent, in terms of market share, from 2000 levels. One share point is 7.6 million visits and $12 billion in sales."

He continues to argue strongly for a return to more-liberal visa policies as a cure for both ignorance of the U.S. and international perceptions of arrogance:

Business leaders can say to the government, "This is really hurting us and we need to have a friendlier, more welcoming visa policy." We should encourage people to come. For example, we're working with a group called Young Arab Leaders that has identified 500 Arab and Muslim youth who we think should be brought into the United States and into U.S. companies. Think of it as the Fulbright for the private sector. Let's out-recruit Osama bin Laden.

Reinhard's not entirely consistent—he bemoans Voice of America funding cuts and then quotes a Palestinian who calls Al-Hurra "a joke"—but those interested in a practical, business-minded take on public diplomacy should see BDA's constantly improving site.

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