April 13, 2010
 

Keith: The Business for Diplomatic Action, Part Four.

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Tim: Let's talk about the Business for Diplomatic Action (BDA). What triggered the idea for you to create this organization?

Keith: The idea for BDA began within DDB and started with the notion of looking at America as a brand - as a brand in trouble. It was October 11th, 2001, when President Bush raised a rhetorical question in a press conference "Why would anybody not love us?" The next day I thought, let's take a little temperature check of how people feel about the United States around the world.

Tim: Great.

Keith: We created a non-scientific survey in 17 countries and an ad-hoc task force in each. We sent DDB account planners out into the streets into each country with cameras and recorders, asking "What do you like about America? What don't you like?" We were still fairly close to 9/11, so there was a great deal of sympathy, a lot of the positives you would expect, like our "can-do spirit", our youthful enthusiasm, and pop culture. Depending on the country each had their own position on their likes/dislikes of our entertainment product and issues such as technology, higher education, ethnic diversity and benevolence, among others.

Tim: How about on the negative side?

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Keith: The negatives were very strong and were consistent across the globe. By the beginning of 2002, I asked our researchers to "bucket" the negative perceptions. Because in marketing when the brand's in trouble you listen carefully to all the positives and you hope to amplify those. However, with the negatives you have to divide them into two parts. Negatives which are true which require that you change the products. And then negatives which are not true, where you have to change the communications.

Tim: Okay.

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Keith: They bucketed them in four categories by descending "offending" order. The first was the perception that Americans exploit. A man from Chile said that Americans are like a disease in a body. They infect the body, but they don't care about the body. They just take and move on. Second was that with the pervasiveness of the American pop culture and the entertainment product, we corrupt values and morals and even religions!

Tim: Heady stuff.

Keith: The third was what is called the "Ugly American." The most frequently used word was "arrogance". I followed up and asked a guy from New Zealand how Americans manifest that arrogance? He said, "Well, you honestly believe that inside every human on the planet there is an American trying to get out, and it is not true. We love so much of what you do, your lifestyle, and a lot of your culture. But we have a culture too and we cherish it, and maybe you ought to learn something about it.

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Tim: Okay.

Keith: The fourth was our hyper-consumerism and materialism. After reviewing this information, I said, "Wait a minute, those are things that could be tied directly or indirectly to global expansion led by US businesses. Why can't we mobilize US business to address some of these issues?"

Tim: Cool.

Keith: So I began making a few speeches based on "America as a brand" and how we should be treating it overseas. This caught the attention of some people who said, "You know what, this is kind of an interesting framework." And that led to the formation of BDA. So the similarities are there if you are looking at it as if it is the brand. It's based on what I know. That's my only experience. I have no experience in government or politics and don't aspire to any. However, I know about how consumers perceive brands and what brands in trouble need to do to change their negative perception.

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Tim: Brilliant.

Keith: It was fresh thinking to the communities outside of Madison Avenue, such as Washington and at Yale, Harvard and so forth. So they encouraged us to try to put something together, which we did. Since its formation, we have had great experience with several programs that are good enough now to scale.

Tim: Give me an example.

Keith: Well, for one, we are working with a group called Young Arab leaders from the Middle East. The program is based on bringing young executives, high-potential executives from Middle East companies to the United States and sending high-potential executives there.

Tim: Okay.

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Keith: Eventually, this program aims to be the "Fulbright Foundation of the Business Sector." We are just rolling this out. This year we've funded 23 individuals but the goal is to make it much larger. Ideally like 1,000 or 2,000 individuals. One idea we are considering is to partner with the US Chamber of Commerce and its affiliates around the world.

Tim: Okay.

Keith: Another is with a program titled, the "World's Citizen Guide." It's interesting. We asked people in a hundred countries for 10 suggestions for Americans traveling abroad. American make 64 million trips abroad a year. That's 64 million opportunities for a good impression. Multiply that by all the people you meet. It could also be 64 million bad impressions. The feedback was illuminating. We got "smart-ass" answers like "Stay home" and other things I won't repeat.

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Tim: I can understand why.

Keith: We used DDB offices for this. Then we turned over the content to six young students from SMU who had a passion for this. With our oversight, a generous grant from PepsiCo and a little help from The Richard's Group in Dallas, SMU's professors and some other resources, they put together a "World's Citizen Guide" for US students studying abroad.

Tim: What's the overall message?

Keith: It says, "You're not in Kansas anymore!"

Tim: LOL!

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Keith: It addresses that it would be a good idea if you don't compare everything overseas with the way it is at home. We have now distributed more than 300,000 copies to kids studying abroad, and now it's available online. We're about to begin selling it. We want every person who goes abroad to be armed with the need for basic cultural sensitivity. We joined with the Thunderbird School of Global Management and have compiled a variety of cultural data which we are going to start marketing to business executives. We just did the first one.

Tim: Interesting.

Keith: Omnicom was the first client with 28 people from 22 companies. We had very good reviews. We're now going to expand that. And we've also been appointed to a government sub-committee and through that appointment, we're pressing for visa reform and more funding for public diplomacy."

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Tim: Congratulations!

Keith: The United States is the only developed country with no Ministry of Tourism. One share point of the growing international tourism is $12.3 billion dollars which translates into 250,000 jobs. As a country we do everything possible to keep people out. We've also been working with the travel industry to help promote tourism to America, and some of those programs are getting traction.

Tim: I'm sure they welcome it.

Keith: They have. We connected them with Tribal DDB, and did their website. We got some funding from the Commerce Department. The site is now called www.DiscoverAmerica.com. We did a brand foundation for the travel association and got Rick Boyko's students at the VCU Brandcenter to give us some basic concepts which were turned over to Tribal DDB.

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Tim: Great site!

Keith: A separate, really cool idea was developed by Tribal DDB--we're trying to get funding for it--it's called "The United States of Mind: A Digital Peace Corps."

Tim: Great name.

Keith: The idea is to use existing social networks to aggregate individuals who have expressed an interest in a geographic location, or an issue, or both. Let's say you want to get involved with the water shortage problem in sub-Saharan Africa. Through this program it will put you in touch with other people with similar interests.

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Tim: Excellent.

Keith: It also provides users an array of options needed and resources for participating. More important, it's the ability to connect with Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) around the world and with companies on the ground to let them know your interest and how you can contribute.

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Stay tuned to tomorrow for Keith's views on the Bernbach's leadership and influence in the 1960's creative revolution and next week to a comprehensive analysis of how Madison Avenue can help support BDA in 2009 and beyond - The Editors

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