The art and science of communications: From strategic to personal

Monthly Archives: April 2009

Interesting snippet caught on Newsnight last night (28/04/09) about energy and climate change issues in the US.  Ethical man Justin Rowlatt covered Powershift 09 as part of his series.  But the crucial communications aspect of Powershift seems to be that a green activist movement, normally shunned by mainstream governments, is being seen as a method of encouraging and persuading American voters of Obama’s climate change agenda, using activists (seen being trained in how to resist arrest) as ambassadors for a government policy.

Ambassadors of US energy policy?

Ambassadors of US energy policy?

Now this proximity of traditional enemies is not new – Shell and BP have taken considerable steps to be seen as green through apparent (and only occasional) connectivity with activist groups like Greenpeace, although emnity is deep and remains for obvious reasons.  And there are many political groups who will support political pitches, including that of the incumbent government.  But the use of strident activists to promote a government policy against a generally accepted stance i.e. the fossil fuel economy, seems to be a new leap.  This is not Astroturf but using genuine activism for policy endorsement.

The circumstances may be unique to the cap and trade issue in the US, but this approach does beg several questions – are there other circumstances where political policy can be matched with vocal activists against a form of accepted, conventional wisdom?  And further, are there circumstances in developing  and post-conflict countries which can be used in a similar way?

This is not necessarily countenancing covert support to student groups under totalitarian regimes, but where foreign agencies are already engaged (be they UN, NATO etc) do we make full use of grass roots activism (as limited as it may be) to achieve policy goals, or do we still tend to go down the route of mainsteam key leader engagement because it’s easier, more straightforward (relatively!) and more in line with our conventional
Western way of doing things?  Are developing embryonic government institutions, struggling with democracy, encouraged to look towards the power of activist groups or are they merely maintaining their traditional opposition towards them?  Are they, and therefore we, missing a trick?

Womens activist groups in Afghanistan - holding a vital key?

Womens activist groups in Afghanistan - holding a vital key?

After all, most governments have always had difficult relationships with autonomous grass roots organisations, unless, of course, they’re onside already.  As ever with trying to improve the performance of public diplomacy and foreign policy communications in a rapidly changing information environment, the above requires some serious unconventional and politically risky thinking.

But that thinking, at the very least, should be done.

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In a recent post, Mountainrunner poses the following question:

Which of the below completes this sentence: Public Diplomacy…

  • is the same as Public Relations. (PD=PR)
  • involves more than the practice of Public Relations. (PD>PR)
  • is contained within a larger practice of Public Relations. (PD<PR)

CB3 comments that it’s a question of perspective. As taught by the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) in the UK, where Grunig’s assessment of PR is an aspiration, PR (or more commonly termed ‘communications’) is defined roughly as using communication (one-way publicity, press agentry and public information and two way assymmetric amd symmetrical communication) to support an organization’s objectives, at the strategic to the tactical levels. It is, or aspires to be, much more than presenting and promoting a cause, but also understanding, persuading and influencing. In terms of ethos and objectives, this points to a high degree of similiarity between PR and PD, although the specific mechanics and publics may vary, and the underlying motives may differ – i.e. a foreign policy goal versus an economic one.

Academic work by Grunig, Signitzer & Coombs, Gilboa, Wang and Yun all indicate a convergence of the practices over the last two decades, although the academic study of the interconnections between international relations and PR leaves much to be desired.

However, it is noteworthy that placing some form of firewall or hierarchy between the two practices can be counterproductive – there are many lessons to be learned in both PD and PR which may enhance the performance of both. And although PR often gets a bad press (especially in the US*), there are many PR practitioners who would be able to serve the needs of PD very well, certainly in the operational and tactical areas.

So, in apiration and ethos at least, PD=PR.

For a more detailed response see CB3’s previous musings.

Many communications practitioners could serve PD well ... but not all.

Many communications practitioners could serve PD well ... but not all.

*  Note:  However, the nefarious activities of McBride and Draper in ‘smeargate’ are certainly helping to tar the communications practice here in the UK as well.  Indeed, CB3’s comments in no way suggests that the PR industry in the UK is in any way better, cleaner etc than in the US.


Renowned and prolific blogger Mountainrunner recently posted on ‘The False Hope of the President’s Public Diplomacy’ and it’s well worthwhile a perusal.

CB3 largely concurs with Mountainrunner’s sentiments.  The points are well made and for the most part entirely valid, although the comment ‘Public diplomacy must be re-framed as direct or indirect engagement of foreign audiences to further America’s national security’ seems to back up a DoD-centric view. This may be mere semantics but security can be a loaded word and PD operates across a policy spectrum – albeit all contributing to security.

US Public Diplomacy - still wearing combat boots?

US Public Diplomacy - still wearing combat boots?

The phenomena of ultimately leaving much foreign policy communicative effort to the military, who at least have the resources (but not necessarily the expertise), appears to be common, not only in the US but also, maybe to a slightly lesser degree, in the UK. NATO and the EU (within ESDP civ-mil operations) are also not immune to this.

Further, the narrowing of the word-deed gap is critical to the success of PD, which requires it to be deeply ingrained in policy-making (as Murrow appreciated). The corporate world has taken this on board but political institutions, even in the most developed nations on the planet, still don’t fully appreciate this fact, despite the recognition of the monumental societal changes being braought about by the information age. The Obama administration is good on the word but still has to follow upon the deed (good intentions lead the way to hell etc).

The US is now in a good position to make good on the Obama effect and take PD seriously, but I fear that political infighting is taking its toll. State needs to take a stand if the US is to capitalise on this window of opportunity.


Every year PRWeek produces the ‘Power Book’ – the definitive guide to the most influential people in Public Relations (CB3 has yet to grace the pages of said publication!).  It includes the likes and dislikes of 100 of the UK’s finest – and can be indicative of trends in communications  – i.e it’s what the big boys are thinking and saying.  Now, there are a lot of people in communications who may not often glance through a corporate PR magazine – especially those in public diplomacy, information operations and public affairs.  So, although this will be a little UK-centric, CB3 just thought it would be useful to provide a quick resume of what the PR powerbrokers are really into ….

Popular chap

Popular chap

Most popular politician – some chap called Obama won by a mile. (Nelson Mandela, Vince Cable (if you’re not a Brit you won’t have heard of him – top chap though) and Margaret Thatcher also featured highly.

Most respected journalist – Andrew Marr, followed by Jeff Randall and John Simpson

Top newspapers – FT and The Guardian (both way ahead of third place The Times)

Just pipped by the FT

Just pipped by the FT

Best online –  BBC by far, but Google, Facebook, Guardian Unlimited and Twitter feature in top five.

Best broadcast – Today (BBC Radio 4).  In fact, in the top six, various BBC programmes featured, with the only exception being SKY News.twitter_logo

Business or brand to watch – Obama and Apple fought for top space, with Twitter, Aldi (sign of the times) and Google, trailing after them.

Best PR campaign – easily Obama’s presidential campaign (oh, that Obama – not the Irish pub)

Okay, this may be from  a UK perspective but it may be  somewhat informative for others across the globe as well.  So, in a nutshell, if you want to be up with the best, be familiar with Obama, BBC, Guardian, Google and Twitter and you can’t go wrong!


Conflict Prevention in the Multimedia Age
3-5 June, Bonn/Germany
Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum

The conference secretariat is busily finalising content and organisational matters – as you can  see in the attached programme overview we have about 45 panels and workshops lined up so far. In terms of content the number of events has nearly tripled compared to last year. A topical overview is online available here

Javier Solana, High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, Secretary-General of the Council of the European Union will open the conference (tbc), Ramtane Lamamra, Commissioner for Peace and Security of the African Union has also agreed to join. Moreover we have lined up a number of German politicians and we are still waiting for a decision of the German Chancellor Angela Merkel. We also have asked the Jordanian queen and some other international political VIPs  who have not yet confirmed.

In terms of content experts and speakers it looks better and better nearly on a daily basis. Just two colleagues who have agreed to join recently are Howard Rheingold, the Internet visionary and Brian Storm, multimedia guru from New York . Ahmed Salim, CEO A24 Media has also agreed to come. We have started publishing all those names on our website.

An attractive evening programme will give you a chance to enjoy the scenery of the Rhine river and the hospitability typical for this German region.

Partners include (in no special order): German Armed Forces, Stanford University, Reuters, University of Saarbrücken, University of Melbourne, Eyes and Ears of Europe, Intermedia, FoeBud, Chaos Computer Club, Radio Nederland, Media21, Konrad Adenauer Foundation, Committee for the Protection of Journalists, InWEnt, Commonwealth Broadcasting Organisation, FiFF, Interdisc. Fora RWTH, GPACC, SIGNIS, Friedrich  Ebert Foundation , DART Centre, n-ost, Thomson Reuters, Oxford University, OECD, UNHCR, Nokia Siemens Networks, IPI, Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union, EBU, Zurich University of Applied Sciences

The conference is generously supported by the German Foreign Office, the Foundation for International Dialogue of the savings bank in Bonn , the State Government of North-Rhine Westphalia, the City of Bonn and DHL

Contact / Conference Secretariat:
DW – MEDIA SERVICES GmbH
Kurt-Schumacher-Str. 3
53113 Bonn , Germany
P +49.228.429-2142 (Press inquiries: +49.228.429-2148)

F +49.228.429-2140
mailto:gmf@dw-world.de


CALL FOR PAPERS

INTERNATIONAL WORKSHOP: Reframing the Nation: Media Publics and Strategic Narratives

DATE: 18-19 May 2009

VENUE: The Open University, Hawley Crescent, Camden Town, London.

Keynote speakers:

Sir Lawrence Freedman (King’s College, London)

Nick Cull (Annenberg School, University of Southern California)

Laura Roselle (Elon University)

Philip Seib (Annenberg School, University of Southern California)

Nation states have always used the media to project strategic national narratives on the world stage. But recent shifts in geopolitical and diplomatic imperatives, especially the ‘war on terror’, and the changing digital media ecology, have generated new kinds of public diplomacy initiatives. For example, the BBC World Service, funded by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, has recently cut radio services in Eastern Europe to make way for BBC Arabic and Persian TV channels, with accompanying tri-platform online services (text, audio and video). These initiatives place high value on interactive debate, citizen journalism, and user generated content. But does such interactivity really contribute to the BBC’s declared aim of fostering a ‘global conversation’, i.e. democratic debate in the Muslim world in particular? And is a coherent strategic narrative about British interests abroad projected by these channels?

Several English-language transnational television channels recently launched, including Al Jazeera English, Press TV (Iran), CCTV9 (China), France 24, and Russia Today. They pose further questions about strategic narratives and public diplomacy in the new media ecology. Diasporic groups, increasingly connected via digital media, are being recognised as exploitable for diplomacy purposes. States can mobilise citizens both at home and abroad in diplomatic media initiatives via internet chat rooms and news discussion sites. How are we to research and evaluate changing configurations of media ‘audiences’ or ‘publics’, and the uses of digital diasporas by states for diplomacy purposes? And what about the ways in which diaspora actors use digital media to challenge strategic national narratives?

The media are essentially storytelling machines. When political narratives represent future-oriented identity claims, they typically invoke the past in order to articulate distinctive national positions on events, issues, policy domains, or a country’s place in world political narratives. As social lives and political events become more open to being digitally recorded, narrated, stored and transported in unpredictable ways, the potential for citizens to disrupt such strategic narratives and public diplomacy efforts also grows. Can citizen journalism and digital storytelling constitute an effective form of resistance to strategic national narratives?

At a moment when emerging state powers such as China, India, and the EU pose a challenge to US pre-eminence globally, there is a need for comparative studies of how citizens as well as state, political, and military actors are using media to reframe and/or contest national narratives.

This exploratory workshop addresses these dynamics through discussion of studies of how the ‘strategic narratives’ of nation-states and also of transnational actors, like the EU, are projected and interpreted domestically and internationally. It brings together scholars from Sociology, Media Studies, Political Communications and International Relations to address these key questions:

* How can we identify, analyse and assess the impact of strategic narratives?

* How are configurations of audiences and publics changing as a result of migration and media technologies, and how do such changes affect the meanings and practices of (mediated) citizenship?

* How do strategic narratives translate (or not) across linguistic or cultural boundaries within and/or between nations?

* How do state actors work with the media, the military, NGOs, corporations, and other institutions to project strategic narratives?

* How do political leaders assimilate international events into established national narratives and/or change the narratives?

* How do media users respond to attempts to shift strategic national narratives?

* What difference do strategic narratives make to international alliances, military interventions, and the domestic legitimacy of leaders?

* What forms of knowledge and understandings of history are drawn upon in mobilising and/or challenging strategic narratives?

* What methodological tools (from the Arts and Humanities and the Social Sciences) can help us research and interpret the political, social and cultural significance of strategic national narratives?

Please send an abstract (150 words max) by 20th April to Karen Ho: k.d.ho@open.ac.uk.

For further information contact either Marie Gillespie (m.gillespie@open.ac.uk) or Ben O’Loughlin (Ben.OLoughlin@rhul.ac.uk) or call Ben on 01784 443153.

The exploratory workshop is funded by the Open University’s ESRC Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change (CRESC) and the New Political Communication Unit and the Centre for European Politics at Royal Holloway College. It is also supported by the Centre for Global Political Economy at the University of Sussex.


From MediaGuardian today:

Twitter switch for Guardian, after 188 years of print

The Guardian - It's all over for the print version (well, maybe not quite yet)

The Guardian - It's all over for the print version (well, maybe not quite yet)

Consolidating its position at the cutting edge of new media technology, the Guardian today announces that it will become the first newspaper in the world to be published exclusively via Twitter, the sensationally popular social networking service that has transformed online communication. The move, described as “epochal” by media commentators, will see all Guardian content tailored to fit the format of Twitter’s brief text messages, known as “tweets”, which are limited to 140 characters each. Boosted by the involvement of celebrity “twitterers”, such as Madonna, Britney Spears and Stephen Fry, Twitter’s profile has surged in recent months, attracting more than 5m users who send, read and reply to tweets via the web or their mobile phones. As a Twitter-only publication, the Guardian will be able to harness the unprecedented newsgathering power of the service …

Okay so it is 1 April, but it makes you think…..