Monday, July 20, 2009

McHale talks about PD


"As President Obama visited Ghana last weekend, U.S. ambassadors and State Department Public Diplomacy personnel created unprecedented engagement with people in Africa and around the world. We worked under the leadership of the White House and built on our initial experiments in new media global outreach at the time of the President's Cairo and Moscow speeches. We interacted directly with hundreds of thousands of people, helped the President to engage tens of millions, and showed the world that America listens and wants to engage.

This was a model of creative public diplomacy for the 21st century. I believe that it is embodied in what Secretary Clinton calls "smart power." We broke new ground in using technology to engage nontraditional audiences. The centerpiece was a creative White House initiative that bridged new media and old. Macon Phillips, Katie Stanton, and others at the White House Office of New Media should take a bow, as should the entire State Department team.

Before the speech, we set up an SMS, or texting service, throughout Africa and invited people to text the President in either English or French. Nearly 16,000 did so, from 87 countries in Africa and beyond. Our embassy in South Africa partnered with a mobile-based social networking site and garnered an additional 200,000 questions and comments from throughout the continent.

And as the President spoke on Saturday, we sent simultaneous SMS highlights of the speech to over 12,000 people in some 80 countries in French and English, and solicited their feedback via text message. We posted hundreds of those messages on, the State Department's Public Diplomacy Web site, and on

In return, the President answered questions selected from this massive influx by three African journalists in a podcast that we dubbed into French, Swahili, Portuguese and Arabic, in addition to the original English. On the screens here behind me, I believe, you can see a visual representation of the words the President used in his speech and of the words used by those who texted him. We'll also show you what the questions looked like on the White House Web site.

So you can see this came out of the President's feed, and then the responses -- and you can see by the sort of prominence of the words, those which resonated with the community, obviously "Obama" being a huge one, but all the things -- and you can see -- if you focused on it, you see some of the concepts that came throughout his speech.

Next slide. Then what we did, because we wanted to continue this community, was a map of the world with comments popping up where they came so others could check in and could see how they were doing.

What made all this work were ambassadors and a corps of professional foreign service officers and locally engaged staff at embassies and consulates overseas. They provided the ideas and advice we needed to bridge our electronic efforts here with real live people overseas. And they carried out the face-to-face personal engagement that will always be the heart of successful public diplomacy.

Our overseas teams worked with local media to enable them to broadcast the President's speech and report on his trip to Ghana. They invited audiences to ambassadorial residences, cultural centers and movie theaters to view and discuss the speech. Ambassadors and public affairs officers led panel discussions and spoke to local and regional media to amplify the President's themes.

Here are just a few examples. Our embassy in Freetown gave micro-grants to dozens of cinema centers throughout Sierra Leone that showed the speech live, free of charge, to all comers, reaching thousands in even far-flung corners of the country.

Our Mission to the African Union in Addis Ababa invited 200 representatives of 53 African countries to a speech screening and discussion. In this hemisphere, in the Dominican Republic, our embassy hosted a screening of the speech with Spanish subtitles for university students and conducted a discussion afterwards. In Canada, our embassy and consulates actively reached out to the Afro-Canadian groups throughout the country.

Audience response, both in person and online, was overwhelmingly positive. Embassy anecdotes and SMS messages alike show that the President's speech and our efforts to help him engage with people struck a chord.

In Niger, which is currently going through a constitutional crisis, audience members at the embassy screening stood up during the speech and cried out, "He speaks for us." A young South African texted, "President Obama, I'm 20 years old, can't believe that we've actually been given this opportunity. Thank you." A Zimbabwean who had fled that country to Mozambique texted, "Thank you, sir, for that uplifting speech." He went on to say, "I will stay and contribute to the democratic reforms in my country of Zimbabwe."

I think that the enthusiasm of Africans, especially young people, to use technology to engage with us shows the very potential and promise of the continent that the President stressed in his speech. Africans are as technologically capable and eager for connections with the world as any people on Earth.

I'm proud that the State Department could partner with the White House to help the President build a conversation with citizens in Africa and beyond, creating and sustaining the kind of global dialogue that, as Secretary Clinton said today in her speech, makes America a smarter and stronger nation.

Q Can you tell us anything about the State Department's efforts to disseminate his speech in Moscow, since that was --


Q -- not broadcast widely live?

UNDER SECRETARY McHALE: That's correct. One of the things that we're looking at, and I think it's an important point, is that each of these events that we want to do we want to tailor it specifically for the event. In the case of Moscow, we did have public diplomacy outreach, but it was more regional. Given the nature of the speech, we felt it was more appropriate to be a regional outreach, and so we did a variety of things.

We had a texting initiative that we did around the Moscow speech. We also have developed a Facebook community and following, which is really interesting, because we launched it following up on Cairo, and we found the group migrated with us to Moscow and is continuing to grow. It grew about 25 percent with the Africa initiative. So Facebook became a key component -- but also understanding what were the tools that the individuals in that region were using, which was somewhat different. And so we had a presence on the applicable tools there. And we're going to continue to do that.

Q Just a quick question. How do you guard against only reaching the elites if you're using these new media methods?

UNDER SECRETARY McHALE: Well, we're not just using new media. One of the points that I wanted to make in the Africa situation is that new media will work in certain places, but it's a tool, not a strategy. And I believe that quite passionately. And so we're going to use it where appropriate to reach certain targeted demographics. But, frankly, in the case of Africa, we had free cinemas, we had radio outreach. We understand -- we know very well that throughout Africa, radio is the predominant media.

And so we were very careful to be sure that the speech was accessible to the largest population by understanding what is the media infrastructure in each country. And it's one of the strengths of the embassies, is that they understand that and they report it to us, and we tailor each of these initiatives to the available infrastructure.

So it's designed to reach sort of less-affluent populations. It is designed to reach deep into these countries. And I think if you got to read some of the questions, you would be pretty amazed at the reactions that we got and the feedback that we got from our embassies. It reached very, very deep into these areas.
Q In Afghanistan and Pakistan, how do you plan to use public diplomacy to win over the people?

UNDER SECRETARY McHALE: Well, in every country in the world, we have a pretty active public diplomacy program and plan. And in both of those countries, which I've been sort of looking at quite intensely recently, we have a number of public diplomacy initiatives in each of those countries, appropriate to the country. So, for example, in Pakistan, we have, as you probably know, a very robust exchange program. We have more Fulbright students coming from Pakistan than anywhere else in the world. We have high school students coming over from Pakistan. So there are a number of initiatives that we will continue to do that.

Same thing in Afghanistan, where a lot of our efforts are focused on building Afghan capacity to sort of deal in a lot of different areas. So we have very aggressive plans and programs in both of those countries, and we have public diplomacy initiatives in every country in the world."

No comments: