From Zion Cometh Headlines

Every Jewish organization spends time every year in Israel, from permanent programs to occasional conventions. Make those intersections count!

by Charley J. Levine

What oil is to Saudi Arabia, global journalism is to Israel. A mixed and tendentious analogy to be sure, but true at its core. There are more international correspondents combing the byways of Jerusalem than virtually any other locale, including London and Paris.

In Jerusalem alone as many as 330 foreign journalists are living, working and filling a budget line somewhere for salaries and the expenses of a home, car, office, travel and support staff. They need to justify this investment, all the more so in an environment of shrinking media postings worldwide.

Only two cities in the world, incredulously, claim heavier media presence than Jerusalem: Washington, DC, and Moscow. My heavy-handed point: Reporters need a constant stream of good, different subjects. As much as they and hundreds of additional temps troop into Israel for the occasional war or election to focus on politics and bloodshed, violence and strife… what about their off days? Precisely!

Jerusalem may be lush in pettifoggery and religious institutions, not in mass industry or natural resources, but I have built a successful career and three serious PR agencies these past 30 years in leveraging the media’s fascination with Israel into untold positive coverage for my diverse array of clients – ultimately reaching mind-boggling multitudes of people around the world.

It’s a somewhat complex process but can be reduced to a foundation of five core principles. Here they are:

  • Relationships. No, it’s not taking a reporter for coffee and it’s not being a “people person.” Successful media relations are practiced in an effective, business-styled way. As an attorney represents his client in court, the communicator must build a portfolio of informative, helpful, substantiated information, all melded into a mediagenic blend of facts, visuals and key messages … not to mention angles and occasional bonuses like creating exclusivity or “first breaks” where necessary to secure top coverage. It’s nice having smart, cool friends (like Tom Friedman since he served in Israel in the 80s) but I’d much rather be known as the reliable “credibility guy” than someone’s buddy.
  • Branding. For me this is the sweet spot between a company’s, organization’s or program’s name (and accompanying look and feel) and the well defined sector one owns in the audience’s mind. Each body must decide what aspect it can and must own in people’s heads, and gear its media work to support that objective.There are a half dozen NGO’s befriending lone IDF soldiers, but only one, The Great Synagogue, has created a monthly Friday night dinner for hundreds which has become a real calendar event and in turn earned it a credible space on which to distinguish it from the pack.
  • Timing. “News,” unsurprisingly, has something to do with “new.” Timing is of the essence. On the micro level, that means knowing that Thursdays don’t work when circulating material to Diaspora Jewish newspapers, since they are already closed for that week’s edition and not yet ready to begin building the next week’s. On the macro side, plan ahead to “own” holidays or special anniversary milestones.Jesus-driven archeological discoveries in Jerusalem that would typically draw but tepid attention in August, resulted two years in a row in standing room only attendance at the press conferences we strategically staged before Christmas or Easter.
  • Angles. Find one or create your own. In the former category, conduct an inventory of the compelling human stories you might have at hand, identify the passion and commitment throbbing inside your organization or some of the unique personalities involved – and introduce them to the media. If such diamonds in the rough are difficult to locate, develop your own ammo. These are all proven techniques for securing real, often significant media coverage.Sponsor a public opinion poll (which so many editors love) to highlight the causes closest to your heart. Generate an iconoclastic “white paper” and have a scholar or think tank support your social call to action. Hold a half day session for experts and other interested parties to examine one of your key issues.
  • Synergies. Going it alone has real benefits, specifically ensuring the media spotlight shines singly on you and your agenda. Yet bringing in suitable partners can also work effectively. A non-competing partner can bring operational expenses to your under- funded idea. A well known professor or legal expert can add invaluable credibility to your bold but somewhat edgy theory.We recently matched up a visiting US Governor with a local philanthropist who created a very nice award for him. The politician was showcased for his support of Israel in Jerusalem, and the businessman made a new friend. Media coverage was plentiful both in Israel and in the Governor’s home state.

For better or worse, the world is slightly Zion-crazy as witnessed by its media fixation on miniscule Israel. Hi-tech, security industries, medical innovations, TV and film production are already under intense media scrutiny in our Start-Up Nation.

Yet no less so can be pioneering ‘tikun olam’ or social enhancement programs when leveraged by smart NGO’s. Every Jewish organization spends time every year in Israel, from permanent programs to occasional conventions. Make those intersections count.

The difference between doing good works inside a closed hall and providing a global microphone from that room to tens of millions of people everywhere … is nothing more than effective public relations services working in tandem with the mass media that are already in place and waiting to cover your story in Israel.

Charley J. Levine is CEO of Lone Star Communications, one of Israel’s leading agencies for media relations and public affairs.