Two years ago I wrote about the State Department’s International Information Programs’ (IIP) initiative to develop short web-based videos to introduce American ambassadors and other principals to the countries in which they will serve. It was (and still is) a good idea, I wrote, but often lacked something in the execution — not least of which was the incomprehensible inability of otherwise capable officers to speak the local languages.
Mike Hankey, the new U.S. Consul General in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, more than compensates for those earlier efforts here and his deft pith shows with brevity how effective a vehicle these videos can be. Hankey, a friend, is a gifted linguist (he counts Yoruba among his many fluencies) with long experience in the region. His language ability is put to good use here as he addresses his audience in Arabic (recorded very recently during the month of Ramadan, he doesn’t forget this seasonal greeting at the top).
The video alternates between shots of him speaking and Mike with his wife Melissa and their two children. Melissa in her conservative dress subtly but unmistakably communicates respect for local cultural norms. With their children they communicate the importance of their family to a country and region that values family. All of this is done in under a minute — which strikes me as a perfect length for these videos — an extraordinarily efficient use of the time.
More importantly, Mike uses his brief script to good effect. In contrast to the previous videos I reviewed, he involves the viewer rather than issues bullet points on policy objectives. He suggests that those who watch to communicate with the consulate with ideas on how to improve trade and relations. This is a refreshing approach. It still gets the points across, but it gives the local public a stake in the discussion.
It’s gratifying to see that Mike has racked up 5,000 views in little more than a week (some ambassadors don’t get that many views in months!). As I’ve written, it’s difficult to determine who attracts the most amount of eyeballs and who don’t. Some countries are adversarial and block access to social media like Youtube. Others simply don’t have the Internet penetration. But it’s clear to me that a big part of the attraction is an American who can speak sincerely and directly to his or her audience in the local language. Mike can clearly do both. We’re lucky to have him.