Lou Capozzi: Why the World Thinks America Sucks
As a devotee of Shel Holtz and Neville Hobson’s “For Immediate Release” podcasts, I listened to a recent episode in which their soon-to-be correspondent, Eric Schwartzman, was interviewed. He mentioned the name of his podcast and blog, so I subscribed in iTunes.
And that’s where it went south.
I want to be clear about this post: it is in no way intended to denigrate Eric’s body of work (impressive) or even the podcast. But I could barely believe what I was hearing from Eric guest, Lou Capozzi, Chairman Emeritus of Publicis Public Relations and Corporate Communications Group.
Eric interviewed Lou on about his luncheon keynote at the PRSA International Conference on restoring America’s connections with the world. This took place in Detroit at the end of October. So, caveat #1: I was not there to hear the speech and #2) Mr. Capozzi was presumably limited in the amount of time that he had on Eric’s show.
The premise of the podcast was the issue of America’s declining reputation throughout the world, one week away from the presidential elections (hmm…). But I have to tell you, as I was listening to the podcast while driving to work and I had several of those moments in which I stared at my stereo in the car thinking, “did he really just say that?”
Here’s what I thought was bat-shit crazy:
Immigration People Suck
- Mr. Capozzi first stated reason why people don’t like America/ns anyway is “our visa and immigration policy. We make it very difficult for people to get into this country.” Mr. Capozzi cites long lines at immigration and even the “..tone, very threatening and foreboding” of the workers who process people.Mr. Capozzi: with all due respect, you might remember the incidents of September 11, 2001. You sound like someone who must travel a lot and lines in immigration counters and surly immigration workers are, in my mind, a given. But I would much rather wait in long immigration lines than let someone in who is going to fly a plane into my building in Washington. It’s the cost of doing business, literally.He also says “if you are in McDonalds and you are trying to get your guy in from Dubai, you’ve got your hands full.” (stare at stereo moment). So if I get it right, getting an executive from one international city to another constitutes and company “having [its] hands full?” One would think that more pressing matters like the state of the global economy would constitute having one’s hands full. Getting Bob from Accounting from Dubai to New York? THAT is having your hands full? Second, presuming that people don’t like America because we don’t have shiny, happy people at America’s Front Desk, I can’t imagine that a) the percentage of people who travel to this country is so significant that they go back to their home countries, trash us and spread the word so that entire countries hate us. What I heard was a Chairman who is tired of waiting in immigration lines projecting this sentiment to one of the reasons why people hate America.
There Has Been a Broad Cooling Towards American Culture
- The above are Mr. Capozzi’s words, not mine. “Music and art used to be a beacon, and American culture is not as widely embraced as it once was.” I will caveat this statement by mentioning that I was not able to attend the PRSA conference at which Mr. Capozzi spoke, but upon what is this premise based? Music sales? Box office numbers in foreign countries? Where’ the Beef?
The “Ugly American”
- (Stare at the stereo moment). “The third thing is the ‘ugly American.’ Picture the guy in Bermuda shorts with a camera and his hat turned to the side walkin’ down the Champs Elysee. We just aren’t as sensitive as we need to be to the way that we conduct ourselves.” Ok. So the world hates America because of our Bermuda shorts and the way that we wear a baseball cap? Come on. Come up with a better reason than this. Say that we should learn a few phrases in French. Say that we could or should study some French culture before traveling to Paris. But to state – and I quote – “Picture the guy in Bermuda shorts with a camera and his hat turned to the side walkin’ down the Champs Elysee” is beyond oversimplification. It’s just downright stupid. Maybe Mr. Capozzi could offer American tourists some sartorial advice, but one must think that the Chairman Emeritus of Publicis Public Relations and Corporate Communications Group likely has more spare cash to spend on clothing that is, presumably, less offensive to our French brethren out for a stroll on the Champs Elysee.
“There is a broad perception out there that globalization has been fueled by America…Our reputation is really in trouble.”
- (stare at stereo moment). Mr. Capozzi states that companies like Coca Cola, McDonalds and Kentucky Fried Chicken have led the charge that American is fueling globalization, a concept that “is not accepted universally.” Mr. Capozzi, I would assume that a veteran of 40 years in the PR business and now the Chairman Emeritus of Publicis Public Relations and Corporate Communications Group, would understand that law of supply and demand. If we build a KFC in Moscow and they reject it, the basic tenets of capitalism will kick in, no one will go there and the store will close. To state that the “Kentucky Fried Chicken effect” is why people hate America is, a best, naïve, and at worst, stupid. If people do not want American products and services, they won’t buy them. Period. And one more note: for your employees’ sake, I sincerely hope that none of the agencies in the Publicis Group have as clients Coke, KFC, American Airlines, Nike or any other of the global brands that you malign as the cause of why people hate America. If they are, you just shot yourself in the loafers.
WAIT- Globalization Doesn’t Suck – When I Benefit From It
What I found amazing about this is that Mr. Capozzi then talks about the importance of diversifying his international portfolio of agencies: “We weather downturns in an economy with upturns in another.” Through globalization of your business.
Eric, I mean no disrespect to you whatsoever in this post and understand completely that it is your job to ask questions in a podcast – and no necessarily unscripted follow-up questions. I further caveat what I am about to say by stating that I sincerely hope that Mr. Capozzi offered some statistics to back up his assertations. But here is why what his guys said makes zero sense to me:
- He denigrates American culture and states that it is in decline. How about iTunes sales? How about box office numbers? How about Web site hits? Without hearing hard statistics to back this up, it is pure supposition. And Mr. Capozzi also waxes poetic about the “cultural goodwill tours, like when Louis Armstrong when to France.” In under two minutes, I Googled Louis Armstrong, found You Tube videos and also grabbed “What a Wonderful World” on iTunes. We have this thing called the “Internet” now which I think comes on computers.
- When I looked up contact information for the Publicis Groupe, I’ll give you three guesses where they are headquarted…ok.. time’s up. The Champs Elysee in Paris!! By denigrating the “ugly American…in Bermuda shorts walking down the Champs Elysee” this reeks to me of pandering to the corporate masters. I guess you need to stop going out for lunch, Lou.
- The Publicis Group has, according to their Web site, “44,000 employees in 196 cities in 104 countries,” and you are criticizing globalization? Globalization is paying your salary, Mr. Capozzi, and you just bit the hand that feeds you. And as I mentioned above, you should pray to God that none of your employees represents any of the global brands which you denigrated in your interview.
- At the end of your interview, you mentioned depending upon the digital portions of your agency portfolio. The Publicis Web site is a mixture of French and English – not in separate parts, but together. Fox example, the English search game me “resultats” including “28 Octobre 2008” of “Third Quarter Revenue.” How do you expect clients – or any client – to think that you take social media or even basic Web site development seriously if you cannot even separate French and English on your own site?
- Finally, and the point that scares the hell out of me, is that Mr. Capozzi is on the Board of Directors for Business for Diplomatic Action, “…a private-sector a-political non-profit directed by “preeminent” [quotations added for sarcasm] communications, marketing, political science, global development and media professionals. BDA’s mission is to enlist the U.S. business community in actions to improve the standing and reputation of America in the world. The organization is leading the private sector effort to provide constructive business solutions for public diplomacy programs and initiatives.”
So to review, BDA: your Board member suggested that:
- If we change the way we look and act, lose the Bermuda shorts and baseball caps turned sideways, people will like us better.
- Immigration people suck and are surly. If they were nicer, people will like us better.
- Globalization sucks, yet you have made your fortune out of climbing to the top of – umm..a GLOBAL agency.”
- Many of your members, including representatives from Microsoft, Cola-Cola, McDonalds and Pepsi, all sit on BDA’s Board, elbow-to-elbow with the guy who just threw your companies under the bus. The next get-together should really be interesting if they heard this podcast.
Dear BDA: you need better than this. I have a few ideas beyond sartorially challenged “ugly Americans.”
My contact form is here.