Communications: Key Weapon in Battling Terrorism

Tools and skills of their industry can and should be used in the ongoing battle against terrorism, a leading American communications specialist today told a large audience of professional communicators from around the world.

Public relations practitioners, whose clients have a stake in an orderly world, wield "one of the most powerful forces on earth" when they are in tune with the times, asserted Robert L. Dilenschneider, CEO and founder of the Dilenschneider Group, based in New York. Dilenschneider was the keynote speaker at the annual meeting of the Worldcom Public Relations Group here.

"Our clients, whether businesses, non-profits, governments, non-government organizations, labor unions or religious organizations, all have a huge stake in a peaceful, prosperous, orderly world," he said.

"Working with our clients, we can begin to marginalize and isolate terrorist organizations by seeing such groups in their true light – as the barbarians of the 21st century. We must confront them on the battlefield of ideas and ideals, where they are extraordinarily vulnerable."

Effectively using the power of public relations "would go a long way toward reducing the wave of fear that is spreading across the world, creating deep cross-cultural frictions and animosities among peoples and new tensions and suspicions among their governments," Dilenschneider added.

Noting the recent explosive growth of the public relations industry around the world – there are now an estimated three million practitioners – Dilenschneider argued that these professionals must not lose sight of four overriding challenges that affect their respective clients. He pointed first to the impact of globalization and its many ramifications, reflected today in an increasingly borderless society.

Equally challenging, he said, are the mounting threats posed by a world where exclusionary cultural, ethnic, national and religious differences have taken on new strength and significance with serious political, economic and social implications.

Dilenschneider also cited the pervasive "climate of fear" that has emerged in the wake of 9/11 and, perhaps most fundamentally, the very idea of human survival in a world haunted by the specter of environmental disaster or total annihilation from weapons of mass destruction.

To deal with these critical challenges along with the normal priorities of his clients, Dilenschneider outlined a number of basic tactics his listeners should implement. He urged them to:

  • Adopt a think-tank model, researching, investigating and developing their own relevant "insider" information, ideas, insights and provocative points of view for funneling to client decision-makers
  • Thoughtfully and sensitively "reach into other cultures while giving them access to yours." For example, when the United States "tried to explain America to Muslims, it not only did not work, it made us look naïve about communicating," said Dilenschneider.
  • Devise better self-regulation to maintain professional credibility and effectiveness.
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