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Friday, October 21, 2011

The Shalit family's PR campaign

Yes, of course, the Shalit family had a public relations campaign. Now that the terrorists for Gilad trade has been made, the campaign has been exposed.
About four years ago, after year and a half of silence in the media and the sense that Gilad Shalit was beginning to be forgotten, Shalit's father, Noam, enlisted the help of a public relations firm. Until that moment, the Shalit family had operated without the close help of media consulting. Noam was determined to change the public discourse and offered to pay Tammy Shinkman, of the public relations firm Rimon-Cohen-Shinkman, as much as it took. "At first, they [the Shalit family] offered to pay us, and we of course, without second thoughts, said 'no chance.' We insisted that we would do it voluntarily," says Benny Cohen, a partner of the firm who ran the operational strategy and work behind the scenes of the Shalit campaign.

Immediately after the firm began working for the Shalit family, the media was flooded with countless messages and news items calling for Shalit's release. Meetings were held with newspapers and broadcast media in attempts to convince them to cover the soldier's struggle on their front pages and in their top headlines; politicians were asked to join the campaign; and celebrities decided to lock themselves in a makeshift jail cell, believed to be similar to what Shalit was kept in under Hamas captivity, in solidarity with the soldier.

The country was filled with billboards, flags and stickers, and pictures of the kidnapped soldier printed in the nation's colors - blue and white - became an iconic symbol. The Shalit family's struggle made headlines and brought crowds of supporters out into the streets. The change marked an unprecedented and historic shift.

"It is connected to the empowerment of emotions. The strategy was to make everyone empathize with the terrible fear that his or her child could leave and never return," Shinkman once said in an interview with the Globes newspaper. "The codes of communication are clear: You get a response when you reveal a personal side. The Shalit family had a hard time exposing itself to the public. They were an introverted family, and Noam himself is a bereaved sibling. And yet it was important to facilitate emotional involvement, to highlight the fact that every parent would expect this kind of public solidarity if it happened to them, and this was done by massively amplifying the dose of the family's exposure to the public."

"You have to remember that mutual responsibility for one another is part of the Israeli ethos and this does not exist in other cultures," Cohen adds. "It means that when we speak of one child, we are talking about everyone's child, not just some distant soldier fighting in Afghanistan. As soon as we realized this would be our strategy, we did a lot of work to keep the Shalit story alive, for example, during Purim, releasing photos of Gilad dressed as a clown when he was a child.

"There were many periods of quiet, so every few months we had to find some other idea that would push the media to give us coverage. There were two other sources that played a big role - the advertising agency Shalmor Avnon Amichai voluntarily produced movies, designs and slogans for us, for example the ad showing the word "help" written in handwriting; and also Kobi Gamliel who was able to get 800,000 people to change their profile pictures on Facebook."

What they did worked.
But what if the Shalit family had not been in the position to say "we'll pay you whatever it takes"? What if the Shalit family (like the leaders of the tent city this past summer) had not been from a socio-economic group that Israel's mass media loves? What if, for example, he had been a religious Hesder soldier from Judea and Samaria or from a development town? I have my doubts whether the families of such soldiers would ever have attempted to do what the Shalits did in the first place, but Israeli society needs to do some soul-searching and ask itself those questions.

But read the whole thing. It's fascinating to see how we were professionally manipulated.

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