Dennis Redmont (Head of Communications - Council for the US and Italy)

L'Italia è americana, ma ancora non lo sa

Apr 12, 2013 4353 ITA ENG

In the 1980s, a group of successful American and Italian professionals from different fields – all protagonists of important relations between the two countries – decided to set up a highly prestigious organization to encourage content exchange, development opportunities, and shared moments of reflection between the two countries. Great managers, successful entrepreneurs and internationally renowned thinkers came together in closed-door meetings to foster collaboration opportunities, founding the Council for the US and Italy. Amongst its many activities, its main event in Italy is the yearly Workshop in Venice, whilst the main American event is the biennial conference in New York or Washington.

The Council was originally founded in 1983 by David Rockefeller and Gianni Agnelli, to foster closer ties between the US and Italy and, in a broader perspective, between USA and Europe. Today, it also promotes growth opportunities for young leaders in both countries. The one go-to person is Sergio Marchionne, Chairman of the Council and Ceo of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. Professor, journalist and communication consultant Dennis Redmont, a historical figure of American journalism in Italy, is responsible for the Council’s communication.

Dennis – you have lived in Italy for many years, in which time you have seen our country change. Amongst the many things you have done, you were chief of buereau of Associated Press for Italy and the Mediterranean for an impressive 25 years. How do you think US-Italy relations have changed in your time here?

Relations between the two countries were always very good, despite the occasional highs and lows depending on the Prime Minister in charge at the time. There have been moments of crisis – for example Sigonella, the Cermis, the kidnapping of Abu Omar – however, these were quickly resolved, and good relations have remained constant, this must be emphasized. The criticisms of some USA ambassadors upset some people, but in the end, I think they worked as a stimulus for Italy.

Do you think you can say that, over the course of your stay, Italy has become more or less “American”? And have the US become more “Italian”, or the other way round?

It seems to me that Italy has become more American, but it is still not aware of this. In the past few years, Italian society has become more multi-ethnic without really noticing it, but it has not yet adopted American methods (such as schools, the job market, equal opportunities) to fully absorb this force into the social tissue. Now, something seems to be changing, bubbling beneath the surface.

What is the Council for the US and Italy and how does it work?

The US-Italy Council is a private and bilateral organization founded in 1983 by David Rockefeller and Gianni Agnelli. Its purpose is to foster and develop relations between the two countries, with a particular focus on business and finance. The starting idea was to strengthen official bonds – i.e. diplomatic and academic ties – and that blue chip companies, banks and the service sector should also play a role, whilst remaining entirely a-political. Amongst other things, the Council organizes conferences, meetings and workshops with the participation of important personalities – such as Joe Biden and Henry Kissinger in the past, as well as big Italian, European and American entrepreneurs. 

Like every four years, this year we have once again a demonstration of the US’s extraordinary capacity for democracy and innovation in the American elections campaign. What are the elements – in terms of communication, technology and promotion – that could be transplanted into our country, and which ones instead are so typically American that they could not be applied here?

As regards communication, I think Italy is slowly acquiring the skills, ability or more simply the will to fully exploit the social media. Let us be clear: these tools may have become decisive to win an election in the Usa and they have taken on fundamental importance in the technical and promotional management of a campaign. In this sense, the Obama team have done a great job (just think of the famous photo of him hugging Michelle, one of the most widely shared photo in the history of the social networks). As regards the typically American aspects, on the other hand, I think it is difficult to transplant the powerful exploitation by the politicians of the TV channels and the mainstream media, also for economical-legal matters. According to the findings of a few research institutions, the two candidates in 2012 produced a total of over a million promotional videos – a 50% increase compared with the previous elections, which were already pretty “charged” under this point of view. But it must be said also that this was a very aggressive campaign, with lots of cheap shots, controversies and mutual accusations of the competitors. Well, it seems to me that this aspect is applied to perfection by Italian politicians. 

For American citizens, Italy represents the cradle of their culture and civilization. It is almost like Great Britain, but there a greater emotional element to their relationship. Italian artists and historical figures are icons, and the entire Italian culture is loved – starting from the food and ending with the history and literature. Beyond their cultural creativity, however, Italians have never been able to convince the international public opinion of their industrial strength.

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