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The challenges of public diplomacy for the global citizen and corporation

J. Gregory Payne
p. 123-133

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1I am very pleased to be in Lisbon which has a special relationship with my home country – the United States – and to be a guest of Professor Joao Duarte of the Escola Superior De Comunicação Social. I know that all of us have benefited by his generosity and dedication in making this conference possible. He has continued the warm European tradition of hospitality that Enrique and Iris have contributed at the stimulating and most enjoyable conferences in Barcelona, Italy and Mallorca. Kudos to Joao for his leadership in organizing this wonderful forum and for living in such a vibrant city as Lisbon!

2In today’s world – more than ever – it is so important for each of us to appreciate and understand that the answer to most of the challenges we will face – on the global as well as the local level – will come from within each of us. It is abundantly clear in looking around the globe that the success of governments in bridging the gap has been lacking. Often times, as global citizens – we seem worse off – due to ill conceived governmental policies – than if no action had been taken.

3And then there are instances of inspirational leadership – of people working synergistically from all walks of life and all corners of the planet – on a common cause that helps enhance the human condition and also is a testament to the goodness of the human spirit. Most often this type of insightful change – has as its beginning – the ideas and thoughts of one person who through the power of language and reason – combines charismatic and deliberative persuasive rhetorical appeals to engage others to join in the effort to meet a challenge on the local as well as world stage.

4Recently, in March of this year as a U. S. State Department fellow, I saw this in the faces of young people in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan – who through the excitement of one computer – their view to the outside world – are establishing health strategies and social marketing campaigns that can help educate their peers of the peril of AIDS – and how it can be avoided by taking some easy precautionary steps. As an American who faces many question about my country’s foreign policy when I travel outside the US, I can say that the State Department’s low keyed yet deliberative effort in providing information and leadership and communication training to young people like those in Ashgabat, make me proud to be an American.

5One recalls that over 60% of communication is non-verbal. When viewing the faces of those students, eager to hear every fact and idea about media strategies and insights in reaching the target markets – one could not help but believe that such information would be put into practice – at the local level – to make a difference. And in doing so, to imbue within this new country, still attempting to pull itself out of its authoritarian past – a new belief in the power of dialogue and open and honest communication in transforming a collective society to one that values the deliberative power of the individual in decision making and leadership – from the grass roots up.

6What this means is that all politics is local – this was a favorite phrase of one of my favorite politicians of my home town in Boston. Former U.S. Congressional House Leader Rep. Tip O’Neil believed that the challenges and the answers to problems on the domestic and the international arena – were rooted in the efforts and understanding of the people at the local level. He was an advocate of grass roots decision making and leadership from the ground up – rather than the top down. This is in direct contrast to the management style so prevalent in governments and organizations.

7What I want to talk about today is the power of effective grass roots communication – not only in governmental policy – but its integral role in business, health and corporate strategy making. I want to highlight how each of us should appreciate, value and practice the importance of effective communication – and strive to work together in mobilizing employees and citizens to be involved in decision making, in advocacy, in working to make a difference and realizing that one person can make that difference.

8The Global Communication Project is a good example of how different countries, different cultures, different religions, different political philosophies – can be put aside – in the pursuit of a common project and a common goal. And that by working together – we can establish the most important currency in our lives – relationships and friendships – that can help pave the way to more promising and less problematic tomorrow. When you speak to any successful leader – whether he be a CEO of a global corporation or the manager of local Lisbon restaurant – both realize and value the power and persuasive potential of relationships – especially those that help bridge the gap – whether it be political, religious, economic or geographic. In negotiation – resolving conflicts and ensuring that the communication continues among the parties – the relationship is the essence of the «Win/Win» scenario.

9I am a firm believer and advocate that change begins within each of us – at the grass roots level. That if we provide people with the opportunity – they will favor direct dialogue over slick mediated images. They will choose rational and meaningful arguments, based on verifiable evidence – rather than sensational claims based on fear and innuendo. They prefer a media that educates rather than alienates.

10Yet, in a world in which we are instantaneously connected –and with today’s technological toolchest – we know immediately what has happened anywhere in the world – our technological wizardry can’t confront a very daunting dilemma – that even with all the technology gadgets and media – we have a failure to communicate that is arguably unparalleled in human history.

11Today’s technological advances enhance as well as complicate the marketplace of ideas. In most of the world, no longer are we limited to one source of information. Our minds experience a daily cascade of information from hundreds if not thousands of sources. The question is how do we sift through this ubiquitous ocean of information and find what is relevant, what is verifiable and meaningful in meeting the challenges in our increasingly complex lives?

12A theme of this conference is «synergistic communication» – which requires that we all be on board in the communication process. With synergistic communication, our message must resonate not only within the organization and business, within academia and government, but it also must grow and strengthen in the various groups, entities and individuals that are a part of the on-going communication process.

13They say that in any crisis – which is a disruption of the status quo – there is also an opportunity for growth and change. 9/11 was a crisis in which I lost several friends forever. But it also turned out to be an opportunity for me that changed my approach to teaching, my view of the classroom and most importantly my appreciation of the power of communication.

14One of the themes of my speech today will focus on the importance of public diplomacy and synergistic communication – at all levels of society – as a human bridge between cultures, religions, and organizations.

15At the end of my speech, I will outline a Communication For Development Model – a result of strategic planning that engages individuals and organizations in utilizing three components – advocacy, social mobilization and behavior development communication. This model has application across the board, but I will specifically address its role with UNICEF – of which I have been a New England Board Member.

16But first thoughts on the most powerful force on earth – communication. As we know – communication is all about relationships. Communication’s goal is in accentuating what we all share in common – and in promoting understanding – which can nurture respect for our differences. Communication is an art that demands study and careful understanding. It can be used to clarify or stupefy. It is the medium for all human progress – as we seek to find symbols that communicate meanings to audiences. We depend on communication to make sense of all of our human existence – from friends and family, to our organizations and governments. It is the most fundamental part of the human existence. It is a fundamental requisite for effective leadership and critical thinking. Communication is the most powerful force in the world today. Its ethical use an benefits resides in the true purpose of the source and the ability of the audience to understand the message and adopt behavior that is beneficial and constructive to growth and development.

17From Aristotle’s writings – to the most recent research – it is abundantly

18clear that the most important element of the communication process is the credibility of the speaker. Aristotle’s concept of Ethos – which includes credibility, trustworthiness and expertise – capture the essence of this communication fundamental.

19Today, I want to dialogue with you about the power of communication within the global society. I want to talk about the power of ethical and effective communication - in the form of public diplomacy at the grass roots community level. And, I will highlight my own experience with public diplomacy.

20Despite the historical and present day proclivity of governments to resolve problems with military weapons – we can see from historical and present day examples in Iraq that such destructive means more often than not fail to win the hearts and minds of people – when the bombs stop falling. What is needed now more than ever are deliberative attempts by each and every one of us to help make a difference at all levels of society.

21This simple belief, as advocated by Robert Kennedy, 40 years ago, is that each of us can make a difference in helping shape the future. That each time we stand up for an ideal, we send forth a tiny ripple of hope that, together can join with other such acts to sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression.

22That was his message to blacks in South Africa living under apartheid. We can see that their collective efforts eventually did prevail. And, through our efforts – we, too, can make a difference.

23A couple of years ago, I witnessed this in some work I was doing in Azerbajian. Despite a government that frowned on open discussion and dialogue and free media, students interested in journalism initiated a project that demanded accountability from leaders in the government. The posted stories and insights on the internet resulted in modification of some troubling laws and rules regarding freedom of speech. One person at the local level ~even in the most autocratic and totalitarian systems, can help usher in transparency and change.

24We must remember that our most sacred asset is our credibility – our reputation for doing what we say we will do – a reputation for providing evidence that is honest, verifiable and objective in support of our claims and efforts. If we lose our credibility, we have lost our value as communicators. And when this happens, our publics – whether they be within our family – our organization – our country – or a global audience – lose trust in our leadership and in us. We have witnessed this in the workplace and in the political spectrum.

25In my own country, President Richard Nixon’s credibility was eroded by Watergate, President Clinton’s credibility was pillared in the press and by his opponents by the Monica Lewinsky affair, and currently, President Bush suffers from a credibility gap due to his waging a war in Iraq based on weapons of mass destruction which to this point – have not been found. These examples illustrate that regardless of your position – whether it be with friends, as CEO heading an organization or a country – one can never fully recover from a credibility crisis. As Aristotle advocated two thousand years ago – your most valued asset as a speaker, and as a leader is your ethos – which he described as composed of credibility, charisma and trustworthiness. Remember – with regard to credibility – your credibility is your most important asset – don’t abuse it or forever you will lose it!

26We also know from experience that some charismatic and globally popular people have used their ethos – their credibility in social marketing projects for very important causes. This year we mark the tenth anniversary of the death of a remarkable woman who transformed not the royal family in Britain, but opinions and attitudes of the global public. Princess Diana used her celebrity status to de-stigmatize AIDS by visiting AIDS patients, by touching and kissing them in hospitals when few people would. Through these images of the most photographed woman in the world, she was an immensely powerful force of good in communicating a message that benefited humankind. It was her image rather than her verbal rhetoric that captivated public attention on such issues. She subsequently highlighted the problem of landmines with crafted p.r. visits to mine fields.

27This cause is also highlighted by Queen Noor of Jordan in her quest to eliminate landmines worldwide. Today, her son, Prince Harry has continued this legacy with his documentary and work on AIDS in Lesoto. Singer Bono, Angelina Jolie, George Clooney, among others continue to highlight poverty, AIDS and other disease issues in Africa with concerts, social marketing approaches like the RED campaign. These efforts by celebrities are welcome acts of using celebrity as a positive force and means to focus on important issues – rather than as an end in and of itself.

289/11 was a wake up call to many people – especially those who live in what was up until 2001, fortress America. That event changed the perspective of Americans just as the bombings and terrorist activities that have occurred in Madrid, in the Middle East and around the world have forever changed those impacted. Today, citizens around the world have become more intrigued and committed to making an individual difference in helping bridge the growing gaps that we experience.

29Such great divides are deeply rooted in culture, religion, economies, and ideology, among others. Unfortunately, all too often much of this deep division is exaggerated and aggravated for ratings and commercial appeal by the so-called news media. Just yesterday, CNN reported that the number one topic of interest among media at a conference on terrorism in Istanbul this week was speculation on the media frenzy of Paris Hilton’s release rather than the topic of terrorism in the world.

30Too often, journalism in today’s news media is compromised, along with the ‘public interest, ’for celebrity and spectacle entertainment oriented stories and other forms of infotainment. Such stories capture wide audiences on soft topics rather than engage the publics on serious topics that threaten our very existence. Instead of stimulating us to «think out of the box’ to engage in creative thinking – today’s media like to keep us boxed in to stereotypes and images that leave decision making to others – many of whom have long abandoned any commitment to the public good. It is paradoxical that in an era where we have more technological breakthroughs in our ability to send and receive message instantaneously around the world, we still suffer from what Paul Newman noted in the Hollywood classic movie, «Cool Hand Luke’: «What we have here is – a failure to communicate.»

31A recent Ketchum global poll found the public to have more trust in corporations than in governments. This loss of trust and faith in government to address and resolve problems has invited careful deliberation by ordinary citizens to consider the grass roots efforts that many of us term public diplomacy. Such failures range from the Palestinian – Israeli conflict, with is ramifications among the world’s religions, to issues at the local community level concerning safety and security as well as economic opportunities and teaching young people conflict resolution techniques.

32When I speak of public diplomacy, I am not speaking of government sponsored public diplomacy programs. I am speaking of public diplomacy programs that begin and originate within the hearts and minds of the public. I applaud governmental public diplomacy programs that can separate the politics and foreign policy – and focus on enhancing the human conditions. I am proud to have been a part of such efforts.

33I vividly recall the excitement of a group of students in the former Soviet Republic of Uzbekistan – where I was part of the International Republican Institute’s scholar program – who were appreciating the freedom to make decisions and the art of negotiation. I had them involved in a case study where they were supposed to come up with a resolution on a problem. I provided them will all of the information and kept coming back to them to see if they had options and ideas on how to resolve the issue. Finally, after they continued to say they had no options, I asked what they needed to make a decision. One student said, «We are waiting for the Russians to come and tell us what to do!» After realizing that they had been a part of a top down system– absent any synergistic communication – I told them, «The Russians aren’t coming to tell you what to do.» You have to make the decision based on your own individual analysis. They seemed initially dumfounded, but within two days, they were debating and discussing alternatives. They were involved in a vital part of the synergistic model – the development of critical thinking skills and appreciation of divergent perspectives. As one learns in negotiation: separating the people from the problem.

34One such effort that I have been involved in is the Saudi American Exchange, the first grass roots effort after 9/11 that began immediately after the news of the attacks on America. In a phone conversation with a former student, Faisal F. Al Saud, from Saudi Arabia, about the loss of the mother of one of our mutual friends who was on the first plane that went into the World Trade Center, we both decided to turn off the media and turn on our own commitment «to further understanding through communication.»

35Since 9/11, we have involved over 1000 people in grass roots, people to people exchanges that have involved trips to Saudi Arabia by westerners, virtual conferences and forums, a global marketing project, documentaries and other exciting projects. Some of those activities are outlined on our website: In such turbulent times, it is important for all of us to be public relations professionals for humanity. They have included global marketing and public relations campaigns that have engaged students from 12 universities around the world in preparing strategic plan- ning and promotion plans for events like Formula One and other sports marketing events. I am proud that the Saudi American Exchange has was invited to the first Clinton Global Initiative in New York, a recognition of our leadership, and has received kudos from HH Prince Turki al Faisal of Saudi Arabia, Queen Noor of Jordan among others. The most important measure of our success is the differences we can make a the grass roots, local level, because as Tip O’Neil said– all politics is local.

36That is why the most recent student exchange trip I have been involved in – the Harvard Business School Trek to Saudi Arabia in January – with over 40 students and faculty from the West – is an example of how we can take stock in the power of open and honest communication to replace suspicion and fear with trust and understanding.

37It does not suggest that such trips or activities automatically result in agreement on all issues. But it does provide the opportunity to begin a dialogue, to be pro-active in asking provocative questions that can help further understanding and cultivate respect for our differences.

38It is a public relations effort – the creative, community based leadership that invites each of us to make a difference in this rapidly shrinking global village we all call home. The challenge for all of us is to teach our students and clients to think out of the box. It is about creative thinking and problem solving and a pledge for each of us to be committed to a leadership positionin bridging the gap. A daily examination of the news reveals an ever-growing and increasingly dangerous divide between cultures and peoples that governments and traditional diplomatic professionals have been unable to bridge.

39Within this failure of professional and elected leadership web, individuals have launched grass roots, people-to-people efforts designed to accentuate – not the negative and what divides us – but instead the commonalities that so many cultures and people share. This includes strong values regarding family, friendship, and a secure and positive future for our children, among others. Differences that characterize our cultures and religions and politics are not viewed as objectives to change or eliminate – but part of our unique identities to mutually accept and attempt to further understand as we continue our communication and dialogue.

40We should remember that grass roots public diplomacy efforts have much to offer the expert in corporate communications area, as well as the ability to add greater ethos to the corporate brand. With corporate sponsorship of such public diplomacy efforts, and employees buying into the concept of making a difference, public diplomacy can evolve into a comprehensive, grass roots lobbying effort that permeates the corporate workplace.

41A recent example of such corporate responsibility in public diplomacy was Chevron's sponsorship of Harvard Business School students 14 day trip to Saudi Arabia. It is clear that Chevron’s vice president of strategic planning, Edgar Habib, understood the significance of supporting such trips – not only in highlighting his company’s ethos, but also in furthering dialogue at a time when fewer and fewer people are talking to each other across cultures in such an unfiltered environment.

42Similar corporate efforts in public diplomacy were highlighted in Barcelona last fall that was in part due to the leadership of Enrique Ordeix. At that conference of business, education, finance and media, the appeals for a united front in confronting global warming and its impact on Catalunya, Spain and the world were spelled out. It was in part due to the open and direct dialogue that characterizes synergistic communication that resulted in the Barcelona initiative being featured at the Clinton Global Initiative’s special meeting on the environment this spring.

43The products of such public diplomacy efforts like those I have been involved in, as well as global events like this provocative conference – haveboth immediate and long term benefits for company, employees, students and future leaders, as well as citizens and culture.

44In closing, I want to share a story about a remarkably brave young woman and former student, Tita Puopolo, whose mother’s loss on 9/11 prompted my work in public diplomacy. In addition to the student exchanges and the virtual forums and projects of the Saudi American Exchange, we were able to organize a very special and historic trip. As the first 9/11 family member to visit Saudi Arabia, Tita, who looked radiant in an abaya told her audience that in every crisis – there is also an opportunity.

45Her lifelong pledge – to her mother – as well as to victims of terrorism worldwide – is to be a bridge of peace. She made an historic step in constructing this bridge.

46May all of us be a part of this bridge! Each of us here at the global comm. Forum can make a difference. You have demonstrated your leadership in this project. I ask you to continue your work in making the world a better place.

47Thank you.

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Para citar este artículo

Referencia en papel

J. Gregory Payne, «The challenges of public diplomacy for the global citizen and corporation»Comunicação Pública, vol.3 nº5 | 2007, 123-133.

Referencia electrónica

J. Gregory Payne, «The challenges of public diplomacy for the global citizen and corporation»Comunicação Pública [En línea], vol.3 nº5 | 2007, Publicado el 15 octubre 2020, consultado el 16 abril 2021. URL:; DOI:

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J. Gregory Payne

Organizational & Political Communication Emerson College

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Comunicação Pública Este trabalho está licenciado com uma Licença Creative Commons - Atribuição-NãoComercial 4.0 Internacional.

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