How We Market Ourselves in Times of Crisis: Comparing Economic Downturn with Israel’s PR Image


Photo by Mohd Isyamuddin
Empty or Full?

If you’re anything like me, your inbox has been flooded with letters from organizations telling you how the economic downturn has affected their organization and how they plan to deal with it. Reading these letters got me thinking about Israel’s public relations image and the language we use to represent ourselves.

Let me present you with two examples of letters I recently received. Both were from schools of which I am an alumna and both are private institutions, one at the high school and one at the university level.


  • Both organizations stated that they were financially strong
  • Both organizations admitted that they had taken a hit from the economic crisis
  • Both organizations said that alumni were the backbone of their financial health and asked for support
  • Both organizations phrased their requests using positive language to describe the missions of their organizations

However, the letters differed when they started talking about how they would respond to the crisis.

Example A: Excerpt

“In order to accomplish [our mission], compete with peer schools, and meet the standards set by all alumni/ae like yourself, the School relies on its academic, art, athletic, and financial programs, as well as its faculty and facilities for its resources… The Annual Fund is the lifeblood of all of these resources. Almost 7% of the School’s operating budget comes from its the Annual Fund. Given the challenges imposed by recent economic conditions, it is with greater emphasis that we ask for your support.”

I hit upon the words: “accomplish,” “compete,” “lifeblood,” “recent economic challenges.”

Example B: Excerpt

“As we go forward, we will need to make difficult decisions about how we use our resources and set priorities. I am confident that we will have the cooperation and support of everyone in our community to weather this rough period. Indeed, I am gratified by the hundreds of alumnae and friends who have made generous commitments to the [Alumni/ae] Fund in recent weeks, even amid continued economic challenges.”

I hit upon the words: “difficult decisions,” “cooperation,” “weather this rough period,” “continued economic challenges.”

The (Desired) Effect

After reading both of these letters, I was convinced that School A may have suffered some insignificant losses, but would continue to thrive while School B was in real trouble. So who would be the obvious one to donate money to? No one wants to invest in a sinking ship.

— Read on to learn how this relates to Israel —

The Israel Parallel

So what does this have to do with Israel? Plenty. When you listen to or read descriptions of Israel as a country, what do you think of? What are the trigger words that present signs of positives and negatives? For many people I know, the word “Israel” brings on thoughts of war, desert, and discrimination.

For me it’s the exact opposite. Israel is a country that has served as a sanctuary for millions of refugees. It is a bastion of the worldwide hi-tech industry, a bustling marketplace of ideas. When I think of Israel, I think of warm food, family, passion, and creativity.

So which one of these realities will you buy into? Which one better represents Israel as a destination for investment, be it on the streets of Tel Aviv or in the laboratories of the Technion?

What We Learn From This Comparison

The point is that we are inspired by confidence and want to be part of it. Remember the “cool kids” in high school? It didn’t matter what they stood for, everyone wanted to be connected with them. They exuded confidence and superiority, which is what made them attractive.

Not much changed as we got older. In our quest for cool, Israel must prove its desirability through the language we use to present ourselves and the images that we portray to the world. Ingenuity, technology, passion, peace, and cooperation are all ways to do this.

Ghandi said: “Be the good that you want to see in the world.” Aspire to this, present ourselves as such, and we will not only attract others to us, but in fashioning ourselves in that image, we will become it.

What Are Your Thoughts?

Have you received letters from organizations that resemble the ones above? Or have you written similar letters for your own organization? What has the response been? What are your favorite things about Israel that you think others should know about? How can you (and we) be a part of presenting and promoting the Israel that we want to see?

I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts.

Recommended Reading

Read good news from Israel:

Learn more about Jewish philanthropy:



Like what are reading? Please subscribe by e-mail or feed reader by clicking the sidebar icons.

12 Responses to How We Market Ourselves in Times of Crisis: Comparing Economic Downturn with Israel’s PR Image

  1. Maya Norton says:

    A caveat: Does the size or composition of the organization make a difference to you? I mentioned two large private institutions, but today I received another from a much smaller nonprofit. How does it change your thinking from the ones listed above?

    Excerpt (on meeting with a financial adviser):

    “She sat down, showed us their financial statements, and just cried. ‘In a few months, we won’t be able to afford to keep our lights on. We’re getting more requests for help than ever before, but we can’t keep up. I never thought I’d have to worry about shutting down [the organization].’

    Right now, many of us are feeling anxiety and frustration. Rather than retreating into ourselves, we need to reach out to our communities and our supporters to let them know we’re all in this together… in ways that lead to fundraising success and program growth, to fundraise smarter, not harder, and to thrive even in the most unlikely times.”

    The organization mentioned above needs $40,000 by the end of January. They have successfully raised the first $20,000 already.

    ~ Maya

  2. Maya Norton says:

    Beverly, I am sorry to hear of your troubles, but your comments were not relevant to this blog or appropriate for public airing. They have been deleted. Please do not post them again.


    To my readers: given the exhausting problems I have had with inappropriate comments/commenters in the past, only comments that are relevant and in keeping with healthy dialogue will be allowed. I welcome vigorous discussion.

    ~ Maya

  3. Ian says:

    You have a very important point to make in how Israel should be presented to the world. The problem is the coverage given though. The New York Times report on the Chabad victims in Mumbai inaccurately and deliberately reported that the building had been fallen upon, not targeted.

    The audience being contacted is equally important to the message presented. A Smith College e-mail is directed to an alumni that is more well-off than maybe a high school alumni, so the implied message is that the college has a reputation to protect, the appeal is weighed on a different scale of distress.

    In the final analysis, Israel will be judged not by what it does, but the role it plays in the historical process, how ideas will promote and facilitate development of other people, not of ourselves. Your prescient comment about Gandhi, that we will become what we believe we are is true, but only if it reverberates in the meaning it has for others who may have no knowledge of Israel or its politics. Israel must lead the world in thought, not shape thought or mold it, but speak to the world’s soul, like Gandhi did.

    It isn’t just public relations, public relations operate on a subconscious level. The economic crisis we face and you so correctly address will be solved when we find unity and common purpose on a deeper level, one that only becomes obvious in the satisfaction it brings to others and in real change. Israel is home to half of the Chosen People. I know from my childhood growing up in Georgia that anti-semitism is a two sided coin, hate and love, hate for us not living up to our promise and love in recognizing the promise we contain. We can change the world because there is good in everyone, even if it is lost and oppressed. It is our job to liberate hope as our forefathers did in building our culture and in our record of faith.

  4. Ian says:

    Just to add. I return to the successful invention by Given Imaging of the colon tract ingestible camera that can prevent the most prevalent form of cancer of natural origin. I saw a report on a news channel in the US that mentioned the company name, and was exuberant in praise, but didn’t mention Israel.
    As I write this, Obama is making a statement on the economy. I wonder what others think about the nature of his description of the crisis. I have read criticism that he gives a distressing and hopeless picture of the situation. Most of his language is negative in describing the situation.

  5. Ian says:

    Threatening to over-exceed my comment limit, I must add this. How is it possible that Harvard University lost a third of its endowment in the sub-prime mortgage ruse, a University whose previous President Larry Summers, who berated women’s inherent inferiority in math and science and is now the head of the National Economic Council. My point is that to get to grips with the economic crisis, micro and macro, is to understand how economic systems operate. It is impossible to solve a problem without knowing what the problem is.
    Non-profits by definition are always in the search for funding so their message is always based on a live or die scenario.
    The final judge will be the value of what is being represented. A private high school may be more urgent in pushing a message of its value, being that we are in a transitional or uncertain economic period. Smith College’s value, in an environment of employment uncertainty, is in a less comfortable position in pressing its needs, though they may be great.
    It is interesting to me that in a time of economic crisis, movies prosper. In my estimation, movies are the closest modern variation of former faith resources. I believe that only in faith can hope be generated, in a time of man-made economic crisis. Faith is in the business of value estimation, hence its purpose. Faith explains why man fails.
    I will now yield the floor.

  6. Ahmed Darwish says:

    Although I don’t obviously agree with the rosy picture you painted of Israel, I really liked your sharp analysis about how to do PR. I think this is what politicians have been doing all day long, even if the country is on the verge of collapse, they usually paint a rosier picture for the reasons you outlined. Warm regards

  7. […] my post on How We Market Ourselves in Times of Crisis? You’re about to get an up front and personal look at one Jewish organization’s back […]

  8. Mike says:

    The recovery has begun. The president took a lot of criticism however I believe done a good job.

  9. Fairly good entry, genuinely beneficial stuff. Never believed I would obtain the info I need in this article. I’ve been looking all around the web for a while now and had been starting to get disappointed. Luckily, I came across your blog and got exactly what I had been searching for.

    • Maya Norton says:

      Thanks, Todd. Glad to help.

      ~ Maya

    • Maya Norton says:

      Dear Todd,

      Sorry for the late reply on this. I thought I’d already responded to you, but apparently it did not go through.

      Very glad to hear that you could find my content useful. These words are music to my ears: “Luckily, I came across your blog and got exactly what I had been searching for.” Interested to hear what you are/were working on. As I am no longer blogging, please do check out the archives as well. There are two year’s worth of material from daily blogging there.

      Take care,

      ~ Maya

  10. […] “How We Market Ourselves in Times of Crisis: Comparing Economic Downturn with Israel’s P… […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: