By Sharon Weinberger September 20, 2007 | 7:00:00 PMCategories: Mercs
As the saying goes, free advice and 50 cents will get you a cup of coffee (though it's probably more like three bucks these days). So, here are my top 10 ideas for "rebranding Blackwater" as a warm, fuzzier merc outfit Private Military Contractor. (By the way, this is PR advice, so I'm not going to touch any policy/operational issues; this is just good old-fashioned spin.)
Personally, I prefer the Blackwater of current incarnation -- the one that produces tons and tons of too-awful-to-be-true PR missteps, which in turn produces lots of good news stories and blog posts. But I'm just doing this is as sort of an intellectual exercise in Machiavellian thinking, like musing about how you would commit the perfect crime.
So, in no particular order.....
1) New name, preferably with indecipherable acronym.
It took decades before anyone run an "expose" about SAIC. And most people have already forgotten about it. When was the last time you saw a major article about CSC, or Computer Sciences Corporation (hmm, never). DynCorp and prostitutes? A distant memory.
Let's face it: Does your typical American know (or care) what ARINC stands for?
The point here is if you want to be a shadowy, low-profile sort of company, start acting like one.
It's a fine balance here, so no, no, nothing like "Executive Outcomes." That was too Bond-like. Nothin' but trouble. Personally, I'm fond of something snooze-worthy like SMS, for "Strategic Management Solutions." Words like "systems," "integration," and "analytics" all work well.
Or heck, just use the acronym.
2) New logo.
Yes, that bear paw is totally awesome cool, if you want teenage boys to love 'ya as much as they love Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The Press just loooooves that logo (photographers, too!), it just screams "page one." Choose something like the DARPA logo, that innocuous globe-shaped thingamajig also favored by companies of unknown acronyms. Remember how many problems DARPA had when they went with the masonic temple/eye thing for the Information Awareness Office?
Shadow companies should use forgettable logos. Anybody even know what Anteon's logo looks like? Does your average American even know what Anteon does?! Of course not.
3) Don't sell gear with your logo.
Just don't do it. Trust me on this one.
4) Change colors (this goes with the logo point, perhaps).
Black is just soooo Angelina Jolie from her knife-cutting days. And nothin' says "spicy mercenary story" like a man wearing wraparound shades and dressed in black. I think a darkish blue would work; still manly, but with a softer edge.
5) Don't offer to raise combat forces.
Must I explain why that's bad PR?
The whole "Private Security Contractor" (i.e. no Mercs here!) name hinges on portraying the industry as providing non-offensive combat services to the military. So, offering in public -- as Blackwater bigwig Cofer Black has done -- to raise a rapid response force to go to places like Sudan plays into the whole "shadow army" conspiracy.
Sadly, I suspect Blackwater actually thought that offering to send forces to Darfur -- a popular cause among humanitarians -- would garner brownie points with left-leaning types.
Not so much.
6) Support think tanks.
I shudder to offer this advice, as "think tanker for hire" is one of those dirty little DC secrets no one likes to talk about. But sadly, it works for other defense companies that have successfully mastered the "rent an expert" strategy.
Ugh, I feel evil having just written this.
7) When your execs get up at conferences, have them talk a lot about network centric warfare, performance-based logistics and systems engineering solutions.
This will put the press to sleep in no time.
No one will file a story.
8) Cultivate relationships with reporters (not just ones who work for Guns & Ammo).
If Blackwater has followed points one through seven, press coverage has probably dropped off to near nill, but still, never hurts to have some goodwill. Since we know all most journalists (other than those who work for Guns & Ammo) are sniveling, animal-lovin', pinko lefties, cultivating relationships won't get you good coverage, but it may mean you'll get the "Blackwater story" -- sorry, the "SMS story" -- across more effectively...
9) Hire a likable former Pentagon official/high-ranking military officer (remember likable is the key word here) as the "public face of Blackwater."
Works wonders. I won't name names, but there's no doubt a few on the market.
10) Try to cultivate a nonpolitical image.
Sucking up to Republicans exclusively is soooo 2003. These days, you want to suck in all directions, just like the other defense companies do (check out their lobbying activities; pretty evenly split among parties).
It's 2007, so those Bush/Cheney bumper stickers are as out-of-fashion as goatees. Trust me, wouldn't it be nice to still have contracts regardless of which party is in office?