ATHENS – If a country ever needed a public relations makeover, it’s Greece, but with the government unwilling to pay for it during a crushing economic crisis and a notoriously visitor-unfriendly tourism ministry, it has been Greeks from the Diaspora who have taken the lead in trying to present a better image of their homeland other than photos, videos and stories depicting their countrymen as lazy, protesting rioters who don’t want to work. It was, after all, Greek Americans who paid for billboards in Times Square in New York City and in Washington urging people to visit Greece.
And now, according to media reports in the U.S. News and World Report (USNW), an unidentified group of wealthy Greek Americans were pitched by the Washington, D.C. public relations company MacLeanClark to pay for the idea of a PR campaign that would make people think better of Greece.
But it never got off the ground, unlike MadMan George Lois’(the Golden Greek of Madison Avenue) 1986 definitive campaign in which he got 37 well-known celebrities and figures to talk about their predecessors and then tout, “And now I’m going home to Greece.” Lois’ campaign remains unmatched and a lot of people have tried since – mostly falling flat on their faces, driven, unlike him, for money – and the latest seems to be the MacLeanClark profit-driven debacle that never got off the ground, an attempt to gain from Greece’s crisis.
The USNW report said that Joe MacLean, a former advisor to U.S. President Barack Obama, tried to convince the affluent Greek Americans to pick up the tab for a PR campaign that would persuade people that Greece, despite the crisis, is still a great place to visit and to disregard two years of constant barrages of negative publicity. The idea to repair Greece’s image and stature to the American public included a presentation outlining how the company would plant op-eds commentaries in American newspapers, generate opposition research, mobilize grassroots organization, and provide “rapid response.”
The presentation by McLeanClark, discovered on Prezi by Whispers, implied that McLean’s PR firm sees the American media as easy to manipulate. In McLeanClark’s world, the media appears to be a place where op-eds written with help from the firm—though not necessarily with their byline—will simply be accepted and printed, USNW reported. While current coverage of Greece “has become ever more apocalyptic,” McLeanClark says in the presentation, the firm could change that, with a potent mix of targeting Washington D.C. insiders, increasing media pressure, and “distributing prepackaged explanatory collaterals” to journalists.
As evidence of its success, the partners at McLeanClark told the prospective investors about several of their past big-ticket clients, including Comcast and NBC, for which they “produced independent research” and “editorial templates” to soften critical media coverage after the controversial merger between the cable operator and network. In a dramatic finish to the presentation, the firm tells Greece it can do the same for them. The final slide is a picture of the Parthenon below the words: “The time has arrived to restore the legacy of a great nation.”
James Berger, a partner at McLeanClark, told Whispers,“Our firm was approached by a number of Greek-Americans who are concerned that Greece has recently been unfairly and inaccurately portrayed in the U.S. and European media. Although we are currently in discussions regarding a potential public affairs campaign aimed at correcting inaccuracies and highlighting the many positive attributes of Greece and the contributions of Greek-Americans, to date no such campaign has been launched. McLeanClark under no circumstances engaged in any astro-turfing nor would it ever do so. Our primary purpose is to assist individuals, politicians and corporations in telling the truth about themselves in the media.”
In March this year, HATTA, the Hellenic Association of Travel and Tourist Agencies, in cooperation with three UK tour operators and travel sent an open letter to Lucas Papademos, the former European Central Bank (ECB) Vice-President overseeing a six-month coalition government, as well as his top ministers and the international lenders providing Greece with rescue loans, urging them to “save” the image of Greece in the UK market. They also stressed that Greek officials should immediately place an ad campaign in conjunction with tour operators, as well as hire a public relations company to help overturn a prevailing view that Greece is not a safe destination. The UK operators noted that unless there is an immediate response, they will be forced to cancel bookings to Greece. The campaign, like McLeanClark’s, which was yanked after the negative publicity about what it pitched, never happened, and Greek tourism is set to take a record bashing this year, even as yet another new government has vowed to attract tourists, but has no campaign – or money – to do it.
(Sources: U.S. News & World Report, AMNA)