If America was a company, it would be hard to deny that the political turmoil of the last few weeks has taken its toll on the American brand.
The world watched anxiously for the first sixteen days of the month as the long standing stalemate between the two parties in Congress metastasized into a shutdown of the entire federal government. The climax of that fiasco was an eleventh hour deal raise the nation’s borrowing limit, not only preventing the U.S. from defaulting on its debt, but also heading off a global economic disaster.
Then last week, came the latest revelations from former National Security Agency defense contractor Edward Snowden. German magazine Der Spiegel reported the U.S. had monitored German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone, forcing President Obama to reportedly apologize. And just today, additional reports claim that during a single month, the U.S. monitored over 60 million phone calls in Spain.
Martin Sorrell, CEO of WPP, a vast multinational advertising, PR, and consumer data company, says the American brand is in trouble. Extreme politics in Washington and the ongoing spying scandal are hurting America’s image abroad, and that could have serious social, political, and economic consequences.
“I think it’s important for America’s reputation and brand to be strong,” Sorrell says. “I mean, most of the Americans I talk to are embarrassed by what’s been happening, particularly in Congress. From an economic point of view, it does weaken America because of the uncertainty — and uncertain people don’t invest, they don’t add to an economic recovery by creating jobs, they don’t take risk on.”
Sorrell points to President Obama’s much noted absence from this month’s conference of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation, which he missed due to the shutdown. Sorrell says the ripple effect from partisan gridlock in Washington mean that Russia was able to dominate at the conference.
“I think that’s a great pity for America and for America’s influence,” Sorrell says.
The continuing revelations about the U.S.’s surveillance and spying programs are also detrimental to the American brand, Sorrell says. And it goes beyond just diplomacy between nations.
“For consumers, it has already been an area of concern,” Sorrell says. “And this level of concern in legal departments inside companies has now been heightened by what’s been happening on the political front.”
But, Sorrell says, for all of the shellacking “Brand America” has taken recently, “it’s not broken, it’s got great character.”
Sorrell has a few ideas on what the U.S. could do to repair its image.
“Stress the positives,” he says. “Stress the entrepreneurial culture, its resources, its immigrant population — which is a source of great diversity. And then, obviously, deal with these situations, and not have another Congressional shutdown, but more agreement on the way forward and a long term agreement. And, of course, deal with this security issue, because if I had to ring up the head of a competitor and say, ‘We have been bugging your phone,’ that’s a pretty difficult position.”