The terrorist attacks of September 11th highlighted that public diplomacy could no longer be thought of as a relic of the Cold War, and was in fact an essential matter of American national security in the 21st century. What was once thought of as a tool for manipulating citizens of the former Soviet states has since been reformulated to adapt to the needs of the revamped goals of the United States’ foreign policy.

The first step in reinvigorating the United States’ effort was to find a new leader who could rethink old methods and understand how globalization and new communications technologies could be incorporated into public diplomacy work. Charlotte Beers was a seasoned advertising executive when she was appointed to the daunting task of repairing America’s broken image to the Arab and Muslim world and selling its citizens on the value of American virtues. When she became the U.S. Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs in October of 2001, she embarked upon the most challenging campaign of her professional life.

Up to that point, Beers’ career had been an unadulterated success. Though she did not have significant experience in diplomacy, government or foreign affairs, the Bush administration appointed her based on her impressive corporate resume. Beers was well known in the business world for being a pioneer of the advertising industry and she efficiently and effectively directed numerous large-scale successes.

She began as the first female product manager for Uncle Ben’s Rice in Houston, Texas, and would eventually become the first female senior vice president of J. Walter Thompson. Moreover, Beers still holds the distinction of being the only advertising executive to chair two of the top-10 worldwide advertising agencies, J. Walter Thompson and Oglivy & Mather. Despite past accomplishments, critics questioned her ability to spearhead such a complex and sensitive campaign. “I’m not sure what an ad person brings to public diplomacy in a time of war. I just find the notion that you can sell Uncle Sam like Uncle Ben's highly problematic,�? said William J. Drake of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Ignoring the skeptics, Beers began her public diplomacy work with swift changes on how the Arab and Muslim world received information about the United States. She put U.S. spokespeople on the Al Jezeera network to better defend U.S policy and interests, and met with Muslim-American leaders about ways to reach some of America’s most hostile audiences. One of Beers’ major efforts as undersecretary was the $15 million “Shared Values�? campaign. The television advertisements featured real Muslim-Americans reaping the benefits of life in the United States. The campaign stalled when important Arab networks refused to run the ads and critics at home and abroad said that showing happy Muslim-Americans was a flawed and ineffective way to stem anti-Americanism.

Charlotte Beers resigned from the post in March 2003, citing health reasons. CNN reported that the Bush administration had been distancing itself from Beers in the months leading up to her departure, but the White House and Secretary of State officially stood by her efforts at improving American public diplomacy. In the end, Beers' short tenure as Undersecretary of State was perceived neither as a total success nor a complete failure. CPD Fellow and public diplomacy expert Nancy Snow expressed one of the problems with Beers’ approach in an article in Foreign Policy in Focus: “Rebranding America is one strategy to improve the U.S. image, but it may not be the best strategy.�? Despite the lack of public praise for her work, Beers was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal by Secretary of State Colin Powell when she stepped down.

Resources Used: BusinessWeek Online("Charlotte Beers Toughest Sell"),"Bush's Muslim Propaganda Chief Resigns"), Wall Street Journal Classroom Edition ("Shared Values A Bust"), Foreign Policy in Focus ("U.S. Public Diplomacy: A Tale of Two Who Jumped Ship at State"),, U.S. Department of State

Speeches and Statements on Public Diplomacy

  • Testimony at confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Washington, D.C. (February 27, 2003)
  • Public Diplomacy, statement at hearing before the House International Relations Committee, Washington, D.C. (October 10, 2001)
  • Funding for Public Diplomacy, statement before the Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, and State of the House Appropriations Committee, Washington, D.C. (April 24, 2002)

Other Readings

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