As I travel around promoting my new book, Rebuilding Brand America, one of the questions I get most often is "assuming anti-Americanism is as big as threat as you think, what can businesses do about it?" The obvious answer is to model their operations outside the U.S. after those of successful global marketers such as Procter and Gamble, Coca-Cola, McDonald's, General Electric and many others cited in my book. Those companies are succeeding in global markets because they make themselves part of the local community wherever they do business and they share their customers' cares and dreams.
But there are other specific steps that U.S. headquartered businesses should be taking -- they should:
- Educate their employees about anti-Americanism’s impact. Most Americans want the U.S. to be liked, but if it isn't, their attitude is "so what?" Ordinary citizens need to be shown how anti-Americanism affects the U.S.'s safety and economic well-being. For example, it's hard to win the cooperation of other countries in fighting global issues when they suspect our motives.
- Demand that government fix immigration and customs. The way we "welcome" visitors to our shores is scandalous -- long lines, probing interviews, endless waiting. And that assumes visitors have successfully run the gauntlet of securing a visa.
- Support budget increases for proven State Department programs. In recent years, more than 29 different groups of experts have recommended ways to improve America's outreach to the world. There are remarkable consistencies across their reports -- increase language training, recruit more public diplomacy officers, expand exchange programs, etc. The Bush administration has made an honest effort to adopt many of their recommendations, but it needs political support to get budget increases through a perhaps understandably skeptical Congress.
- Sponsor cultural exchanges, language training and the expansion of “American Corners.” Many of the State Department's most effective programs are available for corporate sponsorship. For example, when security concerns forced the closing of American libraries in most foreign countries, enterprising foreign service officers created "American Corners" in local university libraries. They stock them with American books and publications and even provide web access over dedicated computers, but they're chronically short of funds.
- Ask presidential candidates to outline their plans for more effective public diplomacy. Businesses support candidates of both parties through their Political Action Committees. It's time to find out where the candidates stand on the critical issue of anti-Americanism.
There's a lot that individuals can do as well:
- Learn more about other countries’ current events, histories and cultures. Americans are notoriously ignorant of other countries. Take time to read a novel by a foreign author or to see a foreign movie (even if it has subtitles). Pay more attention to the international news in your local newspaper or favorite TV news show. Once in a while, read an English-language publication such as the Economist or the Financial Times.
- Demand better K - 12 educational programs for your kids in geography, and foreign languages. When the National Geographic Society surveyed kids' knowledge of geography a few years ago, they were shocked that fewer than a third could find the Pacific Ocean on a map!
- Contribute to organizations that support international understanding and peaceful conflict resolution. For example, Rotary International sponsors a number of programs to build goodwill and understanding across borders -- for example, members from different countries can exchange homes, work on community projects together, partner in disaster relief efforts, etc.
- Participate in foreign exchange programs. Host a foreign student or encourage your own teenagers to study abroad, living with a foreign family. Organziations such as the American Field Service,, the Center for Cultural Interchange , and AYUSA sponsor thousands of student exchanges every year.
- Ask political candidates about their plans to improve America’s “brand.” If they think you're talking about an advertising campaign or better slogan, reconsider supporting them until they "get it."