PARIS --- Thanks to the Wikileaks website, the following cable from the US Embassy in Norway, detailing its efforts to persuae Norway to buy the Joint Strike Fighter rather than the Saab Gripen, has entered the public domain.
The cable’s author also drafted a very interesting list of “what to do” tips for selling combat aircraft to foreign allies, and which can also be adapted to sell any defense item. The list offers a fascinating inside look at US marketing tactics, and should be of particular interest to US industry’s less marketing-minded competitors.
The Lessons Learned
Summary. After an extensive, coordinated USG effort, the Norwegian Government decided to buy F-35s in the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program, instead of the Saab Gripen. This first foreign JSF sale is an important step for the program as it will likely have a domino effect on other potential purchasers. The sale was not an easy one, however, and we outline a number of lessons learned that may prove helpful as other countries make their choice. End Summary.
While many of the issues in this effort were unique to Norway, some lessons learned may be applicable elsewhere. The main ones include:
--Get the whole country team involved. The active involvement of the Ambassador and DCM, ODC, DAO, Pol/Econ, FCS, and Public Affairs offices ensured that the fighter plane decision was an Embassy priority. This was necessary to convince Lockheed Martin and Washington officials that it was important to devote time and resources on Norway,s decision.
--Working with Lockheed Martin to determine which aspects of the purchase to highlight. In Norway the capabilities of the JSF vs. the Gripen were the strongest suit, and Embassy and Lockheed Martin efforts focused on discussions of why the JSF’s capabilities were the best match for Norway’s needs, especially in the High North. This focus played to the JSF’s strengths and eventually proved to be the decisive factor, despite perceived weaknesses in other areas such as the industrial package.
--Jointly develop a press strategy with Lockheed Martin and collectively determine the role the Embassy will play in this strategy.
--Use the Ambassador to give numerous on-the-record interviews but also to have off-the-record in-depth discussions with editorial boards on the purchase.
--Be constantly available to the media to discuss the technical merits of the aircraft, and be assertive in refuting disinformation. In Norway, there were many self-proclaimed experts talking about the F-35 and making wildly inaccurate statements on everything from its lack of ability to its exorbitant price. It was important to counter these assertions and our ODC chief gave more than 20 separate interviews.
--Create opportunities to talk about the aircraft. The Ambassador hosted a luncheon for retired senior military and think-tankers during which an extensive presentation on the capability of the F-35 was given. This enabled our host nation advocates to actively contribute to the public dialogue from their respective positions of authority. Embassy also coordinated with Lockheed Martin for attendance at all relevant airshows and roundtable discussions. The fighter competition was consistently a part of our informal discussions with MFA, MOD and influential think tanks.
--Talk about the impact on the relationship carefully. Deciding our line on this was critical, given Norwegian sensitivities. We needed to avoid any appearance of undue pressuring (which was construed as “threatening” Norway in its sovereign decision-making process), but we couldn’t let stand the view that the choice didn’t matter for the relationship. We opted for “choosing the JSF will maximize the relationship” as our main public line. In private, we were much more forceful.
--Reach out to other USG agencies and experts to encourage their participation in the process and leverage their tools to support the effort. In this process also ensure the same messages are delivered in DC to the partner Embassy as are delivered overseas to the Host Nation government. WHITNEY
Click here for the full cable, on the Wikileaks website.