If one had asked her to choose a picture that would predict her future, it is likely that Ayelet Frish would have chosen the one in which she is shown as an eight-year-old girl from Kibbutz Lehavot Haviva, browsing through a pile of newspapers. A closeup of the picture will show that it is Al Hamishmar, the newspaper of the kibbutz movement. A further zoom-in reveals that she is looking through stories about security issues or those dealing with foreign relations.
Some 40 years later, Frish has a full family life – married to Adi, director of business development at RedHill, a biotech company, and mother of Daniel (21), a soldier in an elite unit, Maayan (19), an intern in a mechina (pre-military academy), Itai (16) and Roni (10). She is also successful professionally as an expert in branding leaders and countries, and is a leading strategic consultant with an impressive list of achievements.
She has served as the spokeswoman for the kibbutz movement; the spokeswoman for Knesset Speaker Avraham Burg; and the communications and branding consultant for the late Shimon Peres, the ninth president of the State of Israel. She currently owns Frish Strategic Consulting Ltd., where she advises heads of state, senior politicians and businesspeople. Her work ranges from events such as media management of the Giro d’Italia bicycle race in Israel; the friendly soccer match between Argentina and Uruguay starring Lionel Messi; and Madonna’s participation in the Eurovision Song Contest in Tel Aviv – initiatives of philanthropist and businessman Sylvan Adams. She also was instrumental in the launch of “Margalit Startup City,” the global cyber-center developed by entrepreneur Erel Margalit in New York; branding and strategy of Zappa, the culture and music group; and much more.
Responding to the reality that it is unusual for a woman to be a leader in this profession, Frish says, “This job exacts a heavy price. It involves many hours of work, and to reach a high level, you have to go through a professional journey that does not follow the normal development route – and you also have to know to fail. It is very demanding work, and until the family unit changes and men realize that there should be equality at home and Dad is also allowed to come home at four, it will remain that way. Fortunately, in my case, my mother Ruthie moved in with us, and we received a lot of help.”
“TODAY’S GREAT leaders understand the benefit of women in management,” said Frish, quoting the late president Peres. “He said to me, ‘During my entire life, I was surrounded by generals. In recent years, I am surrounded by women managers. Women are far better managers than men because they can do many things at the same time. They put their egos aside and know how to work as a team. They are so intelligent that I enjoy every moment.’”
His bet on female power paid off; Israel’s ninth president reached record levels of popularity.
Frish met Peres during a political conference in Spain. Peres was then foreign minister. His bureau head, Efrat Duvdevani, caught sight of her out of the corner of her eye.
“She took me aside and said to me, ‘I have my eye on you. I’ll call you.’” Translated by Alan Rosenbaum.
In 2004, around the time of her maternity leave after the birth of her third son, shortly after Frish had opened a strategy and branding office, the phone rang. Duvdevani was on the line, and offered her the position of head of the strategy department for the deputy prime minister’s office and the minister of Development and the Galilee – Shimon Peres, of course. Frish hesitated. The independent firm she had opened had signed agreements with clients.
“Efrat said to me, ‘You don’t say no to Shimon Peres.’”
Frish recalls that conversation. “I replied, ‘You’re right. I’m closing the office and canceling the contracts. I have just one condition: I need to leave at four to nurse Itai.’”
IT WAS the beginning of a fascinating and challenging path that lasted 13 years, in which she hosted media events at the White House, the Elysée Palace and the Bundestag; a joint prayer for peace and reconciliation between religions in the Vatican, led by Pope Francis; presidential conferences and the opening of Peres’s Facebook account in Silicon Valley with Mark Zuckerberg. Shortly before Peres’s death, she was involved in the process of turning the Peres Center into the national innovation center of the State of Israel.
“I took it upon myself as my life’s mission to address the branding and strategy for Shimon Peres. Although he had already been prime minister and held other key positions, he was over 80, and it was commonly thought that this was his last job. The challenge was to take his character, with which I had fallen in love, and give it additional color.
“I realized that a large part of his work was unknown to the general public, such as the construction of the nuclear reactor during the “austerity period” in Israel when there was no money for eggs and butter. Somehow, by hook or by crook, he managed to raise huge sums and built the reactor in Dimona, which provided one of the greatest security and strategic assets of the State of Israel.
“In the Entebbe operation, he supported a military operation against the views of all the other government ministers, and refused to surrender to terrorism and exchange prisoners. He was also behind the development of Israeli Aircraft Industries.
“I realized that this was an unusual leader – not only whom the public did not know, but who himself was not prepared to speak of his accomplishments. He used to say: ‘These are sensitive issues.’ I started working on my most important mission. I was preoccupied with the question of how to instill his tremendous contribution to the State of Israel in the hearts of the people and in particular in the hearts of all those who had turned their backs on him. He was a tremendous leader. All he cared about was strengthening the State of Israel and the young generation and how to create a better tomorrow for the country.”
After his death, Frish watched the crowds pass by the coffin.
“I saw the kippah wearers alongside Israeli Arabs, alongside eight-year-old children, parents from Judea and Samaria holding babies, people from Baqa al Gharbiya, from Bedouin settlements, Bnei Brak and the entire world. The police announced that due to the huge turnout, they were extending the hours. It was then I closed a circle. But I must be modest: he had an amazing team that worked around the clock, and most importantly, it wasn’t me. It wasn’t even us. It was Shimon Peres. When you work with someone who is a man of action and vision, the sky is the limit. The title of the book he published two weeks before his death is No Room for Small Dreams. The title says it all. “
The late Peres was Frish’s greatest and most significant teacher.
“During these years, I learned alongside him to dream big, not to be afraid of doors slamming shut, to think creatively, to create international platforms, to maintain the uniqueness of each day, and to know how to tell a story. I learned to believe in myself and overcome the challenges, even if they are very complex. I know how to stop for a moment and consult with those I trust. I have an excellent team of confidants. Consulting with others is power.”
Let’s go back to the beginning, to the definition of “strategy and branding,” as Frish perceives them.
“The idea is to take a complex situation, a country with problems or a leader who wants to reach people’s hearts, and know how to tell his story through a short, clear message that touches the soul. The next thing is to use leverage through the various media,” she explains.
Is this also true today with the changing communication map?
“The media map has changed, but the consumption of exciting and personal stories does not change. Even if the personal story appears on TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, or YouTube and not in the New York Times, you can create effectiveness and motivation for action. It’s all in telling the story properly, building the right branding and knowing how to use advertising budgets differently than before. Do not cling to the old and traditional media. However, each vote is equal at the ballot box, and you need to remember that people over 50 still consume their media from the major news outlets. There is no need to fight change. It’s the mathematics of alchemists. Few people know how to brand countries or leaders and to get the results they want.”
Is it possible to brand anyone as a leader?
“The most dangerous thing for strategic advisers is that they fall in love with their power. The answer lies somewhere in the middle. You can only get to a certain point. If you don’t have a real leader who loves his people and country and works around the clock out of genuine passion, it’s ‘fake branding.’ In the end, the truth will come out.”
What about applying branding for leaders such as Prime Minister Netanyahu?
“When I analyze Benjamin Netanyahu professionally, there is no doubt that the State of Israel is important to him and that he has exceptional achievements in the political-security field, but I think a good professional could greatly promote his branding and his popularity among the public, reduce opposition, and with the proper amount of work, evoke feelings of sympathy and love and create situations that bring him closer to the people. One of the dramatic tools of a good high-level strategic adviser is the ability to build deep trust with the leader, one that is almost inseparable from day-to-day work. It also means intervening effectively and wisely in the daily agenda, content and decision-making. The most significant tool is to be part of the smallest decision-making team, and that’s where the biggest impact is.”
What is your dream?
“I like to reach my goals. I love tough challenges and I believe in being able to give of myself for great things. After Peres passed away, I was sure the next chapter of my life would be very boring, but the exact opposite happened. I realized that I had received a great deal of professional experience and tools from him. I understood that I have an objective – to continue to contribute with the experience that I have accumulated to projects, leaders and countries and help them realize a great vision.
What is the dream? Now that a window has opened to the Arab world: to advise their leaders.”