BOB GARFIELD: We're back with OTM. I'm Bob Garfield.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And I'm Brooke Gladstone. The country of Saudi Arabia faced the mother of all public relations problems after September 11th. The country's leaders cringed every time a reporter referred to "Saudi dissident" Osama bin Laden or mentioned that 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis. So the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia did what any media-savvy monarchy would do. [MUSIC]
ANNOUNCER: We've been allies for more than 60 years, working together to solve the world's toughest problems.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:It hired Washington, DC-based PR firm Qorvis Communications to give the country a media makeover in the U.S., complete with an ad campaign. It's proved a tough sell so far. When Qorvis tried to place the ads, every national network declined to air them but one -- Fox Sports Net. As Kathy Lane of the Weather Channel explained to us: "It doesn't fit our brand image." Michael Petruzzello is in charge of the Saudi account for Qorvis, and he joins us on the phone. Michael, welcome to On the Media.
MICHAEL PETRUZZELLO: Thank you very much.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So first of all let's talk about what's gotten Saudi Arabia the best press since September 11th. You didn't happen to suggest to Crown Prince Abdullah that he propose an Israeli-Palestinian peace plan?
MICHAEL PETRUZZELLO: No, we, we didn't suggest that.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: But the proposal did seem to give the Crown Prince new status, and were you able to take advantage of that windfall?
MICHAEL PETRUZZELLO: Well, you know I think the peace plan and the attention that it has, has done a couple of things - is - one is has affirmed Saudi Arabia's role as the leading advocate for peace in the Middle East, and second it also affirmed that the United States and Saudi Arabia are very much on the same side of peace and justice here, and, and that the crown prince and the president are now working very closely together to try and bring about a peaceful resolution.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Okay. Mr. Petruzzello, you know that we're not actually doing an ad right now. We're talking about the ad campaign.
MICHAEL PETRUZZELLO: Right. [LAUGHS] Right.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: [LAUGHS] So what's the premise behind it? What's the principal message you're trying to convey?
MICHAEL PETRUZZELLO:Three things -- one is that U.S. and Saudi Arabia are friends and allies; second that Saudi Arabia is contributing greatly to the War on Terrorism; and third that Saudi Arabia is working with America to [MUSIC SLOWLY UP AND UNDER] try and find peace in the Middle East.
ANNOUNCER: Read the editorials. Tune in to Sunday morning news shows. [PIANO] Or listen to talk radio. If you want opinions. [VIOLINS] Listen to America's leaders if you want the facts.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:And one of the ads quotes President Bush saying: "As far as the Saudi Arabians go, they have been nothing less than cooperative." But as any of us knows who looks at that remark in context, it was in response to reports in very reputable papers that there had been quite a bit of resistance from Saudi Arabia -- at least in connection with the U.S. government's anti-terrorist operations. Don't you think you were taking President Bush's words a little bit out of context, especially when the subscript to the ad says: "Don't believe what you read in the papers?"
MICHAEL PETRUZZELLO: Not at all, [...?...] because that's exactly the point. These reports that the Saudis weren't cooperating were not true. The president, the secretary of state, the secretary of treasury and other U.S. leaders have all affirmed that Saudi Arabia has done everything it's been asked to do and, and more!
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Why do you think the networks have declined to run your ad?
MICHAEL PETRUZZELLO:That story has created yet another myth and misconception about Saudi Arabia. We had no problem getting our ads on the air; those ads from day one ran in every market that we wanted them to run.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:We called A&E, AMC, Bravo, The History Channel, Lifetime, the USA Network and the Weather Channel. They were all approached by you, and they all turned down the ad.
MICHAEL PETRUZZELLO: Well see that's the part that I get confused about, because our plan was to run opposite public affairs programming and news. While I like to watch The Weather Channel, we did--never thought that that was an appropriate place for those ads, and we never really asked the Weather Channel to be part of our media strategy.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So you're basically saying you were never turned down by any media outlet you went to?
MICHAEL PETRUZZELLO:Well I'm s-- I'm - I don't do the actual media buying so I'm not quite sure, you know, what happened, and I know in issue advertising it's always a little bit difficult in getting things aired.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: People told us directly that they rejected your pitch! Are you saying they're, they're making it up?
MICHAEL PETRUZZELLO:I don't kno-- you know, I did-- these people weren't [quoted ?], and I never talked to them, but I will tell you that we had no problems getting them on the air.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:How does it work -- providing a media boost for an entire country? Saudi Arabia's favorable rating in the United States hung around 35 percent and they were looking to you to push it up to greater than 60 percent. Newsweek reports that about 6 months into the campaign Saudi Arabia's favorability rating hangs around 43 percent?
MICHAEL PETRUZZELLO: That's consistent with our own polling and other polling I've seen.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So that's a gain of about 8 points.
MICHAEL PETRUZZELLO: Yes.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Is the Saudi government happy with that?
MICHAEL PETRUZZELLO: They're hap-- very happy with the overall campaign, and they feel like they're getting a clear and consistent message out against all odds because there is still a lot of confusion out there.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Thank you very much.
MICHAEL PETRUZZELLO: Okay!
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Michael Petruzzello heads the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia's account for Qorvis Communication.