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Yair Lapid Photo: Yoni Hamenachem
Yair Lapid Photo: Yoni Hamenachem
 
 

Our PR amateurs

People in charge of Israel’s public relations are obviously clueless

Yair Lapid
Published: 06.04.10, 14:34 / Israel Opinion

On Monday this week, when the scope of the PR disaster that took place at sea became known, I tried – just like many other journalists – to get in touch with Israel’s Minister of Information Yuli Edelstein. At the time he was staying in Canada. Yet despite calling at a time when people in Canada are awake already, I got a voicemail demanding that I “key in the screening code, or press pound to leave a message.” The metallic voice spoke Hebrew, by the way, because Israel’s information minister apparently did not think of the possibility that foreign journalists may wish to talk to him.

 

While considering the fact that it’s a little odd that a minister whose only job that day was to be accessible to the media has a “screening code” (when it comes to most ministers, their spokesperson answers,) I pressed pound and waited patiently. A few seconds later I again heard the electronic voice, informing me that “this number does not have voicemail,” before the call was hung up.

 

And still, Yuli Edelstein is not at fault. He is not at fault, because he is an amateur. Actually, I’m not sure he is even entitled to boast that title. Amateurs usually know something about the issue at hand; on the other hand, Yuli Edelstein has no idea whatsoever. There is nothing in his training or in his biography that prepared him for that moment. He knows nothing about media, nothing about PR, and nothing about the way the global press works. He knows nothing about activating public opinion, television, blogs, Internet, fast response, or the dynamics of media events.

 

He knows nothing about that, and his Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, knows even less. Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, he of the stool incident, most certainly knows nothing about those issues.

 

You want an example? Had they knew something about it, the dozens of TV crews who arrived at the Ashdod beach Monday would have encountered, arranged right on the sand, the hundreds of missiles and other weapons we seized in the previous ships that attempted to reach Gaza. And do you know what the foreign TV crews would have done? They would have photographed that! And those would have been the only images aired during the first hours by all global television channels. Why? Because they had nothing else to air and TV stations usually prefer to air an image – any kind of image – than not to air anything.

 

The flotilla spokespersons would of course get upset and claim these arms did not come from their ships, but nobody would have listened to them. The millions of viewers would have automatically assumed that the Gaza-bound flotilla carried weapons. Why? Because this is television, you bunch of amateurs, and television is not a medium one listens to, but rather, something one watches.

 

Caught by surprise, again

At 10:30 that morning, one of our senior ministers called the “National PR Center” at the Prime Minister’s Office and said that he needs a message sheet because foreign networks keep asking him for interviews. He encountered a long silence on the other end of the line, and then he was embarrassingly told that there is no message sheet. None of the amateurs thought one had to be prepared, because amateurs don’t know this is the most basic tool of any media campaign.

 

When Tzipi Livni and Dalia Itzik called the Prime Minister’s Office and said that they wish to volunteer to assist the PR effort, nobody even bothered to get back to them. Why? Because amateurs don’t understand how important it is for the world to know that Israel’s opposition also backs the IDF operation.

 

And in that first press conference, we didn’t need Danny Ayalon. All we needed was a Navy commando who speaks good English, and whose vest is still stained with the blood of his comrades.

 

And when the Turks announced that they support the IHH, which organized the flotilla, we could have mentioned that in a 2007 raid by the Turkish police on the organization’s Istanbul offices, officials recovered weapons, explosives, and instructions on preparing explosive devices – all of these were proudly presented to the world by the Turks themselves! The images still exist. I found them after a three-minute online search. So why didn’t we use them? Because amateurs don’t even know how to properly utilize the archives.

 

And the phrase “lynching attempt” could have easily been inserted into the media lexicon right after the raid. However, amateurs don’t know that any media event is always dominated by two or three phrases, which will be posted throughout the broadcast on the top left corner of the screen. Dominating these slogans, as any professional would tell you, affects the viewers more than 10 Lieberman speeches (which, we must admit, isn’t overly difficult, because Lieberman’s speeches have a negative PR value.)

 

We missed out the opportunity to explain our side of the story because amateurs don’t understand that there’s nothing more important on television than the timing, and in the first six hours (six hours! Good heavens!) no official State of Israel representative appeared on screen.

 

I encountered my friend Alon Pinkas, the former consul general in New York and possibly Israel’s best English-language PR man, en route to Channel One’s news show that evening. What are you doing in Jerusalem? I asked him. You should have been at CNN’s studios as early as 8 this morning. I would do it happily, he replied, but nobody asked me to do it. I asked him which networks called him, and he could recall, while driving, only al-Arabiya, Sky News, and NBC, as well as German and Spanish television. So why didn’t you go? I asked. To say what? He responded. Nobody briefed me on Israel’s official response.

 

And why didn’t they brief him? Because amateurs don’t understand that on television, whoever is there first is the event, and everything that comes later is merely the response.

 

Because as always - just like after the Second Lebanon War, and after Operation Cast Lead, and after the Goldstone Report, and after the nuclear summit – we were caught by surprise again. Why? This is precisely the difference between professionals and amateurs. Professionals prepare in advance, while amateurs don’t understand how it happened to them.

 

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