The art and science of communications: From strategic to personal

Tag Archives: dialogue

Strategic communication in the foreign policy, development and security arena – what’s that all about?

It’s about contributing to policy and guidance, providing strategic counsel, nurturing linkages and relationships between policy mechanisms, coordinating between national, international and non-governmental entities.

It’s about communicating in a highly charged, ethically challenging, fast moving, traditional and digital, multi-spectral, politically sensitive, conflict-ridden and culturally diverse environment.

It’s about employing media relations, advocacy, lobbying, grassroots activism, de-radicalisation, crisis management, new technologies and old.

It’s about the utility of forums, blogs, twitter, facebook, TV, radio, print, street chatter, posters, networks, crowdsourcing, mobile technology and academic discourse.

It’s about taking part in conversation, dialogue, consultation, education, monitoring, analysis, research, polling, cooperation and collective action.

It’s about understanding narrative, strategy, tactics, messages, identity, objectives, framing, behaviour, attitude, opinion and delivery.

It’s about appreciating sociology, anthropology, history, culture, group dynamics, behavioural ecomonics, organisational theory and psychology.

It’s about engaging with people, publics, stakeholders, governments, activists, opinion leaders, think tanks, NGOs and the military.

It’s about developing media industry, legal infrastructure, free press, media literacy, social activism, technology for development, institutional communications and public affairs.

It’s about managing media liaison, press releases, events, synchronisation, internal communications, spokespeople and social media.

But, simply put, what it’s really all about is bringing all of the above together.

That’s what it’s all about.

The International Symposium on Cultural Diplomacy 2010:

“Culture, Globalization, and International Relations over the next Two Decades” – Berlin, May 23rd – 30th, 2010

Symposium Agenda

The International Symposium 2010 will be split into three complementary parts. The program will begin by looking in greater detail at “culture” and identity” and how these terms are used and understood today. During this part of the program participants will have the opportunity to experience Berlin’s famous “Carnival of Cultures”.

The second part of the program will build on these components by considering the role that culture plays in contemporary international relations and the process of globalization. During these three days the concepts of cultural diplomacy” and “soft power” will also be explored in more detail.

The final part of the program will apply these discussions to one of the key issues that will determine global politics over the coming years: Afghanistan and stability in Central Asia.

The Symposium will be split into the following three parts:

“Defining and Understanding Culture in an International Context” : 23rd – 25th May)

A Three Piece Puzzle – “The Relationship between Culture, International Relations and Globalization” : 26th – 27th May

“Understanding Afghanistan and Central Asia: Supporting Democracy and Stability – The Path Ahead” : 28th – 30th May

This final part is being held in cooperation with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the German Marshal Fund (GMFUS), UNESCO, the European Commission, the US State Department and in partnership with leading international organizations.

Further details about the event can be found at the icd website:


Organised by the University Association for Contemporary European Studies (UACES), Monday 22 March 2010 sees the final event of Communicating European Citizenship project, with a conference hosted by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London, uniting academic experts in communication, citizenship and European integration from a range of disciplines (politics, law, sociology, communications). Programme highlights include:

1)  The FCO’s Role in Communicating the EU to Young People – Alison Rose, Head of the Europe Communications, Institutions, Treaty and Iberia Group

2)  Perceptions of the EU and the Challenge of Communicating with Young EU Citizens – Jenny Fairbrass, Co-convenor of project/UACES Treasurer and Stephen Fairbrass, Co-convenor of project/Senior Lecturer in Citizenship Education, with feedback from the Continuing Professional Development and Year 9/10 conferences held earlier in 2010.

3)   Round Table to Consider Perceptions of the EU and the Challenge of Communicating with Young EU Citizenschaired by Alex Warleigh-Lack, Brunel University

*         Albert Weale, University College London

*         Don Rowe, Citizenship Foundation

*         Jean Lambert MEP

*         Andy Thorpe, Bradford Academy

*         Anna Neale, Longdendale Community Language College

4)  Ten Research Panels, each comprising three papers, on the following themes:

*       National dimension and citizenship

*       Economic issues and citizenship

*       Participation and elections

*       Education and citizenship

*       The media and citizenship

*       Social and Environmental citizenship

*       Legal issues

*       Civil Society

*       Active citizenship and local/regional issues

*       Communication strategy and discourse

Please see details of the project (co-funded by the European Commission), the programme of research panels, and in order to register.

Communicating European Citizenship - quite a task!

Without doubt the information age has brought with the idea of ‘real’ dialogical communication, in which the global extent of networked society has blossomed.  A quick history lesson in from the classrooms of public relations adequately plots the transition from the hypodermic method of communication aimed at a centralised model of society, through to the two-step flow approach focussed on a decentralised society and finally into the contemporary networked communication process of a distributed system.

Hypodermic to networked models

Amongst the vast majority of communication practitioners, and beyond, this shift is explained and celebrated by new/now/digital/social media.  So far so good – nothing earthshattering and novel yet.  But does modern day ‘messaging’ cater for this environment?

The very idea of a message – something transmitted to an audience, the very fact one ‘sends’ messages infers indeed a one-way transaction.  But as we’re constantly informed by the social media gurus the new world is all about the ‘conversation’, dialogue, two-way communication, the community etc.  The notion of a message, purveyed hypodermically, is anathema to the new protocols and ethos of the information environment.   It grates against the sensitivities of the community involved.

Getting into a conversation not just getting a message out

One example is thst conducted by the Obama campaign forged around a slogan of ‘Yes, we can!’.  Throughout Obama’s campaign, in every media interview he gave, he embodied a sense that his ideas, his objectives, his desires, via the words and phrases he used were those of a larger community, not of a single man or entity, such as a future administration.  Less of the message, more of the idea.  His engagements with traditional media translated very well into the cyber domain, took place as part of a conversation and the techniques used, subtle as they were, allowed traditional media to converge with the needs of new, social media.

Does traditional media training cater for this change in the environment?

The output of a modern media interview is now one that is part of a wider conversation, one that is placed on the web immediately, directly or indirectly, inviting immediate comment and, if required, a response.  It’s not a one-off maneouvre.  But much media training relies on the interview being such a singularity – get your message out, full stop.

Much would be gained by interviewees being aware and being trained to treat their interviews as not just a transmission mechanism for their message but as part of a conversation.  This requires knowledge and understanding of that conversation, what it is centred around, how it is conducted, its tone and style.  Once again basic presentation is important – hands out of pockets, body language, dress code etc – but the timbre, wording, structure and emphasis are subtly altered, to align with the nature of contemporary information exchange and the format of the medium.

The media interviews of old for TV, radio or print are still relevant and require specific techniques.  But more frequently these interviews form part of a wider format of communication, relying less on the message and more on the conversation.

There’s a perception within many foreign policy establishments that public diplomacy is definately not public relations.   Last year’s publication by the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), entitled  Engagement: Public Diplomacy in a Globalised World, is definitive.  On page 10, Jim Murphy MP, then Minister for Europe, exhorts that:

“… foreign ministries must stop seeing public diplomacy as a form of public relations, shouting out core messages and top lines, louder and louder, in the false belief that they haven’t been heard clearly enough.  To succeed in today’s world, we need genuine engagement, not clumsy propoaganda.”

The US has a specific problem in this regard, but that appears to be borne of a more restricted view of PR than that of the Brits (however, CB3 does agree with the sentiment of Montainrunner’s blog), and several constitutional issues surrounding PD, such as the Smith-Mundt act.  Currently, the Obama Adminstration is raising the very issue of what PD should be, but many in the US tend to bunch PR in with advertising, marketing and branding, unlike in the UK, where a clearer delineation can be made.

Yes, with regard to PD and PR, there are differences, but only in context.  Even CB3 recognises that PD isn’t quite public relations, but only in the sensitivities, audiences and proximity to information operations.  The similarities? Engagement, dialogue, symmetry, vision, relationships – these are espoused by Public diplomats, and just happen to also be the cornerstone of PR ideology, as taught by the UK’s Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR).

Indeed, CB3 challenges any ethical PR practitioner (certainly those trained in the UK), to see massive differences in the ideals, practices and objectives between PR and PD.  Academic studies by Signitzer and Coombs, Yun, even Grunig himself, indicate a real convergence of PR and PD in an era of global information. The resistance of foreign ministries to accept synonymity seems borne of a lack of understanding of contemporary PR (as opposed to mere publicity) and fear of being tarred with the negative connotations of PR (often brought about by publicists).  It is moot that many reviews of PD indicate that it is also hampered by the regime of one-way, conveyor-belt traffic – an accusation often levelled at PR.

However, there is a shift, as evidenced by a recent workshop for diplomats in Rome.  During the Georgian war of 2008, it was claimed that ‘plucky, little Georgia’ won the PR battle with Russia.

Does it really matter?  It is just a question of semantics?  Well, to a degree.  But there is a danger of artificial firewalls being established between practitioners of public diplomacy and public relations.  The debate is good, and we must understand the nuances of each but, let’s face it, we’re all in communications, and have a lot to learn from each other.   To use a cliche, let’s not throw out the baby with the bath water.

When the miltary do their business, they regularly ‘engage targets’.  When a missile is thrown into a surface-to-air missile site, it is very much a one-way transaction, precisely designed to prevent two-way transaction of fires!  There’s absolutely nothing wrong with having the ability to put steel onto a target rapidly, precisely, decisively and overwhelmingly – hard power has its place.  But the very wording of this phrase causes problems for those in military public affairs, media operations and public diplomacy.

Engaging a target - Definately a one-way transaction!

Engaging a target - Definately a one-way transaction!

Engagement should be, and is in political and foreign policy circles, a two way process.  Further, when communicating in military interventions, peacekeeping, post-conflict reconstruction and development, all too often we refer to ‘target ‘audiences, normally referred to as ‘publics’ amongst public relations professionals.  However, a target is something to aim at, to attain, to achieve; it infers a one-way, omni-directional action.  Referring to an audience as a ‘target’ encourages, in the a parlance of PR Guru James Grunig, one-way communication.  Even if military or foreign policy communicators do conduct two-way asymmetric communications,i.e. conduct deep research and cultural analysis, before conducting comms campaigns, they often still end up aiming at a ‘target’.

The cornerstone of effective communications relies not only in knowing what those ‘publics’ are about – how they think, what makes them tick –  but also what they want and need (eg, marketing will fail utterly if the product is not what the publics/consumers want or need, no matter how good the product is).  This requires two-way symmetrical communications, or dialogue, with people, not targets.  Otherwise, one ends up communicating messages, ideas and products that simply will, at best, not resonate and, at worst, produce animosity.

Publics to engage with, not targets to transmit to.

Publics to engage with, not targets to transmit to.

Strategic communication itself is a multi-facted beast, which includes internal conversation in order to distil one’s raison d’etre.  Without that essence, strategic guidance and objectives will be ill-formed, creating inefficiency, even harbouring unseen but certain failure.  Without understanding what can be achieved – in other words finding those objectives which serve both one’s own and the concerned public’s (in this case a foreign population’s) needs – achieving policy aims will always be hampered.  Vague, unachievable objectives, as a result of a failure to broach coincident needs after neglecting to engage in a dialogical communications, are harbingers of policy disaster. The targeting mentality of communications can only encourage this.  As a practical example, such results are summed  up by a US Civil Affairs officer:

‘We have built so many schools that the Iraqis do not need. You
know what happens to them? They get blown up, because no
teachers show up, because no students come, no books are there,
the [mujahideen] walks in, they blow them up. It happens time
and time again, we give them something they do not ask for, they
do not need, because it’s something that we can do.’

They may not have asked for them but did anyone even hear what they did ask for?  A little bit of dialogue with people, not dictating to targets, would go a long way to prevent such policy failures.