As rival political parties in Greece work to create a power-sharing deal in order to secure a $179 billion rescue package – and as the country prepares for a new prime minister, which may happen by the end of this day – a little context and history about the country are in order.
Greece, the birthplace of democracy, has been a democracy for only 37 years. In 1974, Prime Minister Constantinos Karamanlis took office as the first democratically elected leader of the modern Greek state and, in that role, sought to assuage the anger and mistrust of a population beleaguered by war.
Unfortunately, what Karamanlis and his successors, including George Papandreou, never delivered, and what the Greek people cynically never thought to demand, was a government that was transparent domestically and capable of communicating with a unified voice on the international stage.
Instead, these leaders – past and present – have engaged in closed-door policymaking. Government arrogance during the 1996 Olympics negotiations led to Greece's failure to land the event when Greek leaders were unable to create a communications plan and strategic time line to satisfy the Olympic Committee; instead, the games went to Atlanta, Georgia.
Similar missteps have hurt business growth: Outside of shipping, tourism is the major source of income for the country. Yet Greece does not and has never had a strategic tourism plan. Greece’s overall strategy is inadequate and inefficient.
In an example of how clueless the Greek leadership is, PM Papandreou shocked Europe’s leaders by announcing a referendum on the rescue package secured by French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The two leaders learned of the vote only after it was announced publicly, creating distrust, notably from Nicolas Sarkozy, a staunch supporter of Greece in geopolitical as well as in financial issues.
When faced with a crisis, controlling the narrative through a centralized, focused and responsive communications strategy should be top priority. The pillars of such a strategy are transparency and consistency. In order to regain the trust of its European partners and, more significantly, Greece’s own population, which feels betrayed by its government, Greece’s leadership must be take ownership of its mistakes. It must gather and present the facts of the country's fiscal situation and set forth a comprehensive strategy as to how it will address the problem.
Since Greece has almost reached the bottom of the barrel, there is only one way to go, which is up. One hopes the political establishment will lead a renaissance of the country and its people.
Nick Danielides is a crisis communications expert and CEO of Danielides Communications, Inc.