- The Washington Times - Monday, November 17, 2003

MOSCOW — Russia’s notorious police, the militsiya, have recruited Western image consultants in an attempt to dispel their reputation as cheats and ruffians.

Scorned by the public for extorting bribes, beating up suspects and bullying immigrants, the force is to begin a “guerrilla advertising campaign” that stresses its professional integrity.

Police chiefs have called in brand strategy specialists from the international advertising agencies McCann-Erickson and Batten, Barton, Durstine & Osborn.

McCann-Erickson is famous for the L’Oreal “Because you’re worth it” campaign. BBDO coined the Guinness slogan “Good things come to those who wait.”

The two agencies have a mountain to climb to alter the public perception of the militsiya. The armed force has a reputation for violence and elaborate protection rackets. Beatings in police cells are common, and off-duty policemen are known to hire themselves out to organized-crime groups.

Officers at subway stations and in the street often single out Russians from Caucasus regions like Chechnya for repeated questioning and document checks, leaving police open to accusations of racism. A survey this year by the Vtsioma agency found that 10 percent of Russians thought the militsiya deserved their trust.

“The militsiya’s image is one of bad behavior and corruption and all sorts of negative things,” said Alexander Mozhaev, managing director of McCann-Erickson Russia.

“If you think of them as a product, then the product needs to be seriously improved. Nothing will be changed overnight. But if we don’t try to shift the public’s perception from bad to at least neutral, then it will never accept any real change that is brought about in the police.”

A nationwide advertising campaign using billboards, fliers and stickers is planned for January. About 800 billboards are to be erected in Moscow and other Russian cities, focusing on themes that stress the militsiya’s caring role in society.

One poster will feature a young mother clutching an infant and an automatic rifle, fighting her way through devastated streets. The slogan reads: “This is what it would be like if we weren’t around.”

Other posters will be text only, with short, punchy messages intended to remind the reader of the militsiya’s dangerous and committed work. One reads: “We have arms. You have peace of mind.” Another says: “Everybody criticizes us. Except when they need us.”

The Ministry of the Interior refused to comment, but Boris Kagarlitsky, a newspaper critic and social commentator, was skeptical about the campaign.

“When people like the police start a propaganda campaign, it usually means they are not going to alter anything in reality,” he said.

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