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Jamie Shea on 'the Ultimate PR Challenge'
31 March 2000
Selling a Conflict - the Ultimate PR Challenge
BERN, Switzerland. Jamie Shea, NATO spokesman during the Kosovo war, recently gave a talk to business leaders, titled: 'Selling a Conflict - the Ultimate PR Challenge'. With unusual bluntness, Shea talked about the 78 days of his media success.
One has to win the public opinion, said Shea, and this isn't a simple task while violating the sovereignity of a state. The 'collateral damages' endangered the public opinion in favor of NATO, but the pictures of refugees on all TV channels restored the public opinion, according to Shea.
War as a Soap Opera
Shea said that the public loves daily soap operas with good characters, and that's what he gave to the public. How well he did this job, is shown by the fact that people still recognize him today wherever he goes. The media star Shea also boasted that he was recently nominated as one of the "10 sexiest men in the world" by a magazine.
The media had Jamie Shea, NATO had the media. On the other side was Milosevic, with no media briefings and ever-changing spokespersons - giving a bad image in the media.
The former NATO spokesman said his daily TV briefings were a big challenge. His task was to convey as many details as possible - from the cockpit video to the angle of missile impact - without committing any mistakes, in order not to lose credibility.
4:2 for NATO
What made his challenging task even more difficult was the fact that the briefings also happened while the bombings paused during bad weather. The Brit Shea compared this problem with a cricket match during rain - the sports reporter still has to keep reporting on the pursuit of the match, although nothing is happening on the playfield. Shea said that he used these 'breaks' to explain again who's the good guy and who's the bad guy.
According to Shea, an important principle is: "If you don't have a story, make a story." For instance, on a slack day, Shea organised the visit of the First Ladies Clinton and Blair in a refugee camp. These images were gladly reported by CNN, Shea mentioned. On the other hand, on an important day of war actions, Shea made sure that a meeting of ministers did not happen at the same time as the NATO media briefing, in order not to deflect media attention.
On day 78 - when the bombings ended - NATO won the war; not 5:0, according to Shea, but 4:2. "It's like with Rocky II: Only the result is what counts. In hindsight, mistakes are unimportant." In his speech, Shea didn't say anything about the victims of the war and the ongoing serious problems in Kosovo.
[Translation of an article by Charlotte Walser in Swiss newspapers]
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