Thursday, August 27, 2009

Branding Israel

Richard Branson, the business guru who has created Virgin records, and then the airline, and the cellphone company, is in Israel. Today, Haaretz published a fascinating interview (link) with him. This bit caught my eye:

"One thing in which Branson famously excels, aside from business, is public relations. He's a master. And in his expert opinion, on a PR basis, the endless Israeli-Palestinian feud has not been good - "zero out of 10," as he delicately puts it. He notes a story from last week, of Palestinian families evicted from their homes. He doesn't know the details of the story "at all," Branson says - but he does think he read that the families were in the middle of their dinner. "Can you think of a worse PR story for Israel?" he asks.

"The best way of sorting out getting good PR is by action. Virgin as a company, as a brand - we're only as strong as what we do. If we don't behave in an ethical way, if we don't behave in a way that we can sleep at night, then the brand will be damaged, and our PR will be damaged," he explains.

... Public relations is all about branding. What does brand Israel stand for, in the eyes of the world? That has changed over time, Branson explains. "I think it's something similar to what happened after 9/11. You know after 9/11 the world had enormous sympathy for America, and you know that sympathy was somehow lost. And obviously after the Second World War, the world had enormous sympathy for the Jewish people. Over a number of decades, that sympathy has been lost .... You've got a great country, but you've just got to hold the hands of your neighbors, and then you'll get back on top again."

Indeed, we need to find a way to re-brand Israel. I grew up in an age of recalling the glory of the Six Day War, the ethical edge of Tzahal, the heroism of Entebbe, the nostalgic return to Biblical places, the Peace Treaty with Egypt. Today's generation recall 25 years of lebanon war, intifada, suicide bombings, Gaza, seperation fences, and now in the Obama era, Settlements are obstacles, and Yehuda VeShomron is occupation.

We do need to re-brand.

But what should our new brand be? If good PR is action, then what actions may exemplify a moral and upstanding Israel? Is it only on the Palestinian issue , or could we improve by rebooting, re-educating Israeli society as a society of ethics and honesty, care and tolerance, non-agression, industrious and hard-working, environmental conscious, educationally aware and oriented, nationally motivated and Jewishly knowledgable and proud. If all that was what Israeli society stood for, then we would have fewer international and image problems.

Oh! and on that note... Branson calls to break the cartel of the cellphone companies and to start some real competition in the marketplace rather than the current price-fixing. I couldn't agree more.

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