Hearts and Minds: Ogilvy Gets It … White House Does Not

I wrote this yesterday. Wasn’t going to post it. However, today I see more and more discussion of the topic. I do not like writing about politics. However, in this case it is a PR lesson unlearned. The White House public response to this disaster has been poorly executed.

We are talking about ‘perception’ here … not fact. They do not always agree, but – as the name of this blog infOpinions? illustrates – perception can form powerful feelings which guide reaction. In the case of this disaster, they are emotional reactions. Opinions, whether based upon fact or fiction, are being formed based upon perceptions. It happens every day.

Missed Opportunity

The Ogilvy Group is active in helping clients deal with all manner of customer issues arising from the tsunami natural disaster. Businesses in Thailand are talking about how to best deal with customers in crisis.

They realize that the “whole world is watching” the response. Maybe Ogilvy should be advising the White House.

Ogilvy gets it. Why doesn’t our government? I’m not seeking to start bashing the administration.

I believe they were wrong to not have the President comment publicly earlier. Three days. It took three days of watching the suffering to finally see our President.

President Bush, meanwhile, continued to vacation, unseen and unheard through Tuesday, and the world may well have wondered what kind of catastrophe would be sufficient to interrupt the president’s agenda of clearing brush and riding bikes. Yesterday morning the president finally made a formal statement and wore a suit and tie to connote that he is on the job, if perhaps 72 hours too late. (Source)

A story like that could have been, should have been, avoided.

The affected areas have a high Muslim population. What of winning the hearts and minds of those that wish to kill us all? Opportunity knocked. The White House vacationed. I’m sorry. They did not answer the bell.

Winning hearts and minds a foundation for U.S. in Iraq
“The way to win (in Iraq),” said Conway, operations director in the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, “is to get at the root cause … of the terrorism emanating out of the region.”

Asked what that cause is, he replied: “I think there’s a perception in the region that the world has passed it by.” The answer that Islamic extremists offer, he said, is a return to the seventh or eighth century, but most Muslims “don’t want fundamentalist answers. There’s an enthusiasm, an excitement for the idea of democracy in Iraq” as the country approaches Jan. 30 elections, though he acknowledged, “you have terrorists who are coming to Iraq to participate in the jihad Super Bowl.”

Don’t think for a moment that this won’t be exploited by terrorists. In high Muslim populated areas affected by the disaster, those left orphaned and penniless are ripe recruits to be the next insurgent or suicide bomber.

This was a golden opportunity to be on the job – benevolent, caring, in charge. Southeast Asia may now feel that we’ve passed them by, too. And, you know, we don’t exactly have a good rep there either. One word: Vietnam.

On the business/PR side of the story, read this from the Bangkok Post Business section:

Be kind in face of calamity, PR gurus advise
Good or bad, the world is watching


Tourism operators who want to stay in business and maintain their brand equity in the long run need to communicate compassionately with customers and staff, while struggling to do their best to hand out assistance to all relevant parties in the aftermath of Sunday’s disaster, communications experts say.

Apart from Thais, many victims are international tourists from almost every corner of the world. Video footage of the disaster would be re-run and reprinted again and again in the future, said Danai Chanchaochai, chief executive officer of MDK Consultants (Thailand).

And once all the affected international tourists go back home, they will tell their stories among their acquaintances again and again, he added.

Therefore, the best way for Thais to communicate with the international community now is to do their best in taking care of dead victims, the injured and their surviving family members. And their efforts _ for better or worse _ will be transmitted everywhere through word of mouth, video footage and pictures, Mr Danai said.

However, although all parties concerned have done their best in the aftermath of Sunday’s disaster, one lesson learned from the tragedy is that the country is not well prepared for a crisis of this scale, Mr Danai said.

“We’re short of facilities and technology that could have helped us work quicker,” he said.

Business and PR get it. Why doesn’t the US government? Instead of being able to have the upperhand and appearing gracious and giving – the Administration is now defensive and having to prove themselves. They are in ‘fire-fighting’ mode when they should have (especially after 9/11) a powerful response plan in place ready to act on news of any crisis.

This is a wasted opportunity to do the right thing and win hearts and minds. Sad when you consider that the death toll alone will now total over 100,000 from the initial calamity and resulting injuries and illness.

Yes. The US will do the right thing. We will give more, do more than any other country. We always do (as we should). We are talking about perception!


2 thoughts on “Hearts and Minds: Ogilvy Gets It … White House Does Not

  1. Josef Blumenfeld

    Bravo to the New York Times for today’s editorial: Are We Stingy? Yes.

    Is it any wonder why much of the world dislikes the US so intensely? Pres. Bush’s pledge of $35 million – an amount equal to what the US spends in Iraq every few hours, and less than the cost of the inauguration of a man who is already president – is, as the New York Times put it, a drop in the bucket. We can afford to wage war, but we can’t afford to wage peace. Business publications and organizations have issued warnings that anti-US sentiment could portend a backlash against US businesses in global markets. If the US continues to signal that it is concerned only about itself, then we will only have ourselves to blame when consumers in the global marketplace reject US brands and products – and our economic supremacy suffers as a result. The Adminstration’s communications team should be dismissed…and we all should be ashamed of ourselves

  2. Robert

    Thank you for writing, Joe. I added a link to the NYTimes editorial for reference.

    Re: your comments, more missed opportunities by the Administration. It is sad to see. And, I’m not just referring to the PR aspect, either. But, a perfect chance to win more ‘hearts and minds’ goes by – unused.

    All the best.

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