The art and science of communications: From strategic to personal

Monthly Archives: April 2010

There is a conventional wisdom when in media interview that the interviewee always address the journalist – and rightly so.  At that moment, one is in a dialogical process with the journalist which is then transferred to the public.  Journalists as media trainers, as well as professional media trainers, teach this.

However, CB3 has always thought that occasionally a direct appeal to the audience, by addressing the camera, does have some utility.  Take for instance the recent prime ministerial debates in the UK.  It is widely considered that the leader of the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg, won the debate and much has be said and written on how he did it.  Now, none of the candidates are great orators, and Clegg may have had the advantage of being an unknown underdog, but some have reported that his use of the camera, specifically adrressing it directly, may have gone some way to him ‘connecting’ with the audience.

Nick Clegg - Used the camera to his advantage

Although this was in a debate, not a strict media interview, this is a lesson how addressing the camera directly may be beneficial.  In interview it is not a recommended tactic but if a heartfelt appeal is to be made to an audience it may be worthwhile considering this direct approach, only briefly, for certain phrases or messages.  Journalists may not like it but, from a public affairs or media relations perspective, there is a certain power of connection that can be derived by doing so.  It is unconventional and must not be overdone – the context must be right and it is risky – but as they say ‘ do what you’ve always done and you get what you always get’.  Think creatively in the conduct of an interview – live on the wild side!

And a little update after the second debate: Lo and behold, David Cameron is now doing it too – if a little more awkwardly!

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On 1 April, 2010, the UK military’s Defence Cultural Specialist Unit (DCSU), consisting of military specialists in Afghan culture and language, came into being, over eight years since military forces arrived in Afghanistan.

As part of ISAF, DCSU personnel will be a major part of General McChrystal’s renewed counter insurgency strategy – which places the people of Afghanistan at the centre of operations.

From an ISAF Press Release:

The DCSU – based at RAF Henlow in Bedfordshire – has been established in consultation with other government departments to ensure that its activities support the wider comprehensive approach and link into other government and Afghan initiatives.

Assistant Chief of the Defence Staff (Operations) Air Vice-Marshal Andy Pulford said that a focus on cultural issues is essential to success in the country.

He said: “Cultural awareness is at the heart of General McChrystals Counter Insurgancy Strategy. This unit will help improve the military understanding and appreciation of the region, its people and how to do business there.”

Commander John Garratt RN, the MoD team leader for implementing the unit explained:

“This has come about as a response to the operational demand to better understand the people we operate with so as to make smarter decisions and improve military effectiveness. The DCSU is the spearhead of a broader Defence Cultural Capability and will provide both the home for the specialists and the focus for wider capability development”.

The new unit’s Operational Commander, Colonel Nick Hubberstey, stressed the importance of having a dedicated unit.

“The DCSU represents a real opportunity to further improve our understanding of the current operational environment. By continuing to develop our understanding of the people we are working amongst, how they think, their culture, beliefs, hopes and fears, we can do much more to bring our mission in Afghanistan a speedy and satisfactory conclusion”.

The Brits are getting to 'know' these chaps ...

This is, withoubt doubt a welcome move and commendable.  As part of any Information Operations capability, a deep understanding of the host poulation’s culture is utterly crucial.  In pure PR terms this is critical to what specialists call two-way asymmetrical communication – acquiring knowledge of a target public in order to establish the best appraoches to persuade and influence audiences to behave as an organization desires and then conducting such. Notably it does encourage research to find out how it publics feel about the organization.

However, theoretically (through organizational systems theory approach) the holy grail of modern communications, especially in the contemporary information age with the ubiquitous nature of information, is two-way symmetrical communication, whereby relationships demand the understanding of all publics of each other. This approach uses communication to negotiate with publics, resolve conflict, and promote mutual understanding and respect between the organization and its publics.

... and they 'know' the Brits.

This begs the question – how far can NATO’s effective communication go when the military know a lot about the host population but makes little effort to allow them to fully understand the military and foreign entities in their countries?  What’s more, when it comes to their own culture, ideals, motivations, how coherent are they to those military and foreign entities?

In any communication process there are always at least two cultures to consider and understand – oneself and ‘the other’.  DCSU is a very welcome addition to understanding ‘the other’ – but in the wider communication ‘battle’ it’s only half way there.

And, as welcome as it is, with the public sector, including MoD soon due to be squeezed even hard for cash, will DCSU survive any cuts?  Or will Hard power requirements take priority?


The Inaugural Media Operations and Public Affairs Symposium
9-10 June 2010
Venue: Defence Academy of United Kingdom
“Winning the communications war: new thinking and new practice ”

The battle for ideas, hearts and minds is back in centre stage in twenty first century military operations. Experience in engaging the local populace in Iraq and Afghanistan has shown that well-executed public communications are critical to shaping operational and strategic outcomes. As a result, ad-hoc approaches to military PR are giving way to deliberate strategies developed using innovative planning approaches and supported by analysis and effects monitoring techniques. New cross-disciplinary thinking is emerging from both academia and government, focused on coordinating and maximising the power of messaging in counter- insurgency, anti-terrorism and global security. A revolution in military communications is underway, transforming the way governments and militaries communicate. Against this backdrop the Defence Academy is presenting the inaugural Media Operations and Public Affairs Symposium. A networking forum for stakeholders from across the communications spectrum, this new symposium is designed to showcase cutting edge thinking alongside innovative tools and techniques.

"Go on then, persuade me!"

"After I've watched 'Mother-in-law was also once the Daughter-in-law' and then voted for 'Afghan Star', you've possibly got a minute or two of my attention so, go on then, persuade me!"

Over two days, the tactical, operational and strategic aspects of communication will be explored: Identifying best practice in recent Media Operations; developing supporting theory for the emerging discipline of Strategic Communications; examining new approaches to both Media Operations and Strategic Communications and application to current conflicts. The current operational context in Afghanistan is of special interest and raises a number of questions which the symposium will explore, for example: How can strategic communication objectives be pursued whilst working in a media environment with shortened time horizons and intense tactical engagement? How can two way models of communication be adopted and accommodated within the new information environment? What are the relative strengths and weaknesses of competing media and information strategies in Afghanistan? What is the role of local media in Afghanistan?

For further details Contact Caroline Dawson on:
T: +44(0) 1793 785268
E: caroline@symposiaatshrivenham.com

or visit the website http://www.symposiaatshrivenham.com