Last Wednesday, I had the opportunity to (finally) listen to David Saranga, former Consul for Media and Public Affairs of Israel’s NY Consulate. He came to Harvard to give a presentation on public diplomacy. After a heated discussion for around 45 minutes about the academic integrity of his focus group approach, the audience finally allowed him to talk about more substantive issues. I don’t want to undermine the importance of research methods here, but when the speaker is one of the most prominent experts on Public Diplomacy 2.0, you really don’t need to force him to talk about off-topic questions.
Israel started its rebranding campaign by doing focus group studies in the US, but they excluded East and West coasts in this study – which was a fatal mistake according to the many people in the audience. As the sample didn’t represent the population, the results couldn’t be academically sound. Though I support the logic beyond Israel’s purposive sampling. At the end of the day, the aim was to frame Israeli image for ‘average’ American. You really don’t need to interview people where your embassies/consulates are actively working, where you have an active diaspora, or where there are 15 universities per person.
After the focus groups, they realized that Israel was practically know for the Palestinian conflict and religious conservatism. I believe no one was shocked by this outcome. A more important result was that Israel wasn’t able to reach liberals and youngsters (- It was difficult not to laugh when David Saranga admitted this at Harvard KSG.).
There have been many discussions about the definition of PD, and how to use social media. Thus, I’ll try to do my best to summarize his ‘original’ ideas from my point of view. First of all, Saranga wasn’t only a social media expert, he knew how to analyze the audience and how to find the best medium to reach the public. One of the projects he presented was, Maxim’s special issue.
Israel was irrelevant to the young people. If your target audience doesn’t see you as relevant, as a subject to learn more about, you really cannot explain yourself. So, Saranga invited Maxim to Israel for a special photo shoot and made Israel more relevant (for a specific audience for a short period of time).
Social media should not be seen as a substitute for traditional media, rather it should be used to amplify your communication endeavors. We are all very excited about Web 2.0, and 3.0, but still, it is wise for especially foreign diplomats to keep in touch with traditional media.
During his presentation, Saranga gave a great PD definition. The scholars get lost in details: should PD be executed by government? is it grassroots? which media can be used? how can you measure its effectiveness? He defined the PD understanding as “bringing your narrative in a sophisticated way, not in a propagandist way”. All PD-related terms in fact, such as nation branding, place branding, cultural diplomacy etc., carry this main understanding. The fundamental aim is to present a narrative. You are not very likely to be asked your perspective on every issue, therefore it is up to you to go public and present your narrative, and subsequently to ensure that your narrative is more credible and persuasive than competing narratives.