Similar to many other supporters of Israel, I've spent a lot of time agonizing about the nation's public relations battles and perceived image. The difference between myself and other supporters is that I own one of the nation’s largest Public Relations agencies and make my living building brands and enhancing images. Having represented a number of foreign governments and concerns worldwide, I consult regularly with senior Israeli government officials, advocacy organizations and consulates; mainly on a pro-bono basis.
Recently, I spent an entire day escorting a client, a very senior foreign government official for another embattled area (outside of the Mid-East) from media outlet to media outlet. He met with a reporter from one of the largest weekly national news magazines, and after the 45 minute interview; he spoke heart to heart with the official. Verbatim, he said the key for your situation is that you must do interviews even when there’s nothing going on, speak the same language, and invite us (the media) to events. It’s harder to write negative about my friends, he laughed, irrespective of the issues. In other words, fostering relationships is a must.
After graduating from college I lived in Israel in the mid 1990’s, and I worked in PR & politics. I realized soon after that the Israelis don’t pay attention to the human side of journalism, nor are they flexible with the business of PR. Israeli government officials don’t, and in fact can’t spend time and money entertaining reporters. They don’t, due to the absurd fact that Israel government officials aren’t permitted to turn in regular expenses for meals or entertaining. And in nearly all instances pay their own cellular phone bills for calls to and from Reporters.
I believe Israel’s PR problem emanates from a very simple fact and it is one that many other countries suffer from too. They don’t view the practice of Public Relations as a necessity, but rather as a secondary thought. Similarities can be drawn to Israeli technology companies, which produce incredible products, but utilize poor marketing programs. Israelis are a tough people and believe that since their cause is just, they don’t need to spend time convincing the public. Working with oligarchs and business leaders of the former Soviet Union countries, I witness much of the same behavior. Similar to the Russian mentality of the boss says its ok, it’s ok, Israel has had to fight since day one of her existence, and continues to rely upon the military.
Is it anything short of absurd that Israel’s entire Public Relations budget for the U.S. is under $250K annually? The State of Israel does not use a Public Relations agency anywhere in the world and they haven’t for many years. How can they expect to win when their posted emissaries, as noble as they may be, come for a few years and then leave? While, undoubtedly, Israel’s professional Foreign Ministry diplomats work hard, English isn’t their first language, and Israel’s public relations campaign remains on the defensive as they stand alone on the global media front.
Primary Arab spokespersons are longtime residents of Western countries, often people who were educated in the West or lived here for a long time and communicate in fluent English. While Israel’s spokespeople may be coherent, they don’t pay for outside professional media training. What makes an army commander or police chief suitable for worldwide media appearances? Israel has the bullets, tanks and military might, but simply don’t pay enough attention to the media, nor enlist the proper troops for today's media war.
When something as simple as an American Jew - say Irving Moskowitz - buys a home in Jerusalem, why not be able to defend the rights of Jews to live anywhere in Jerusalem ?
While the Arabs brilliantly started Al Jazeera, which was created by a $150 million grant from the Emir of Qatar, Israel counters with a few very smart Foreign Military representatives who engage on Twitter and utilize creative YouTube campaigns, but this campaign remains a David vs. Goliath battle in the world press. I believe Israel’s lack of financial investment in PR is a major mistake and Israel needs to invest in the PR battle as much as she does on the ground for military battle.
I view PR in business terms, rather than as an ideologue and it allows me to be the rare Zionist who says that Israel’s foreign media problems aren’t strictly about anti-Semitism, inherent bias or hatred, in reality Israel doesn’t invest or money.
As Ze’ev Jabotinsky said in 1932: “The work of the publicist is a legacy from the Prophets of Israel…Our passion is to speak, to proclaim—“Shouting” is what the same audience calls it, ‘we have no need for words, give us actions.’ One thing that audience forgets is that speech is also an action – Perhaps the most authentic of all other actions. Cities have been destroyed, and more will fall, but what was shouted in the wilderness thousands of years ago is alive and still relevant. The world was created by the Word. The world will be mended by the Article.”
Israel – heed the words of the great Zionist Ze’ev Jabotinsky. Public Relations is a business not a hobby and funds must be invested to garner success. Its big business, Israel doesn’t take seriously.
Ronn Torossian is CEO of 5WPR, and author of PR Book "For Immediate Release."