The art and science of communications: From strategic to personal

Tag Archives: public affairs

The recent change in social media policy by US DoD is a sign of the times and in fact may represent a real paradigm shift in management culture surrounding the relationship between military personnel and the outside world.  Whilst CB3 welcomes this move, appreciating that it won’t come without its pitfalls and problems, the deeper societal, psychological, cultural, relational, management and organisational ramifications of this move are as yet unknown.  This may be only the start of the shifting of institutionally inert techtonic plates – watch this space.

In the meantime, below see David Meerman Scott interview Roxie Merritt, Director of New Media Operations at Office of  Assistant Secretary of Defence for Public Affairs, talking about this bold move.


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 http://www.uaces.org/events/conferences/cec/for 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!


Event date: 03 March 2010

Location: Defence Academy of the United Kingdom, Shrivenham

The ioia symposium is back for its third year providing a unique unclassified gathering held in the secure environment of The Defence Academy of the United Kingdom. This valuable networking context provides the main calendar event for the professional and educational exchanges between military and civilian proponents of Info Ops and Influence Activity in the UK and Europe. Last year we hosted over 150 practitioner and academic delegates from around the world. This year we will be seeking to build on this success to host a truly inclusive event that gathers diverse experts and their opinions from this growing and dynamic field of Military and Government activity. This year’s theme is Influence in Insurgency.

The ‘people as the prize’ puts influence at the heart of insurgency operations.  It demands that the application of violence be undertaken in such a way that the support of the public can be maintained. It necessitates that political, military and economic functions are closely coordinated for effect. It requires that every soldier acts in accordance with the values and aims of the most demanding of home audience and political leadership. This symposium will take stock of our thinking and practice in influence in insurgency.

In particular the symposium will consider:

  • The degree to which influence is a whole organisation activity rather than a discipline of specific branch
  • The extent to which planning processes and concepts are able to take account of the whole organisation approach to influence
  • The degree to which the comprehensive approach can be viewed as an influence activity
  • The extent to which intelligence is geared to planning influence activity
  • The degree to which the military needs to, or is trained and educated to deliver, influence effect other than through the bluntest use of punishment and reward.
  • The extent to which strategic and operational level influence should and can be delivered by the military
  • The development of tactical level doctrine and concepts in influence.
  • Operational and country updates

To register for this event please visit :
www.symposiaatshrivenham.com/ioia10


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.


Get one’s message across … keep on message … get our message through …

When it comes to media training, marketing, corporate communication, PR and the like, there remains an annoying and unhealthy preoccupation with the idea of  ‘the message’.  The very idea of crafting a message and then ‘getting it across’ is, in the information age, a little out of date.

Standard media training - only scratching the surface of achieving one's objective

One can have the finest message, distribute it widely, have it heard by millions, even understood by many of them but this merely scratches the surface of the human psychological condition.  It may, at best, stimulate the cognitive process – as in the audience may well become aware of the message.  However, mental activity is a little more nuanced than that.

The great philosophers of ancient times, including Plato and Aristotle, recognised various levels of mental processing, mostly founded around three levels.   These levels became philosophically clearer in the 18th Century – to be known as the three-faculty concept.  As Immanuel Kant observed “There are three absolutely irreducible faculties of the mind, namely, knowledge, feeling, and desire”.    Put another way, three levels of mental faculty can be explained as:

Cognitive – in which we possess thought, intellect or cognition

Affective – in which we feel pleasures, emotions, passion, affection, sentiment

Conative – in which we have the will to act as directed by our feelings

All clever stuff, which many, many clever men and women have researched, ruminated over and written about.  However, for the simple communicator there is also much food for thought.  The cognitive level allows for awareness of and thought about a message.  This is good as far as it goes.  But the mere message does not guarantee a specific affective condition, i.e. an attitude.  Nor does it necessarily encourage a conative response, i.e. an action.

There are a multitude of defintions of what communication is but, at heart, communication is defined by the response one gets from it.  By concentrating on the message,  you are aiming at a cognitive response.  But if you want the audience to do something – by a product, stop drink-driving, support a charity, lay down their weapons – then the communicator has to go way beyond thinking in terms of a message, and focusing much more on desired action.

Now, most good communicators are well aware of this – although they may use other terms, couch it differently, present an alternative framework.  But even in its simplest (but important) manifestation of media training, most are concerned heavily with the message and not the level of response.  Going on camera or on radio or in print, one can indeed be trained to get one’s message across loud and clear.  But 99.9% of the time it is a response, not just the knowledge or awareness, that an interviewee is after.  That is the objective.

Fred the Great - partial to potato pies with chips, followed by crisps

An example, cited by Ogilvy’s Rory Sutherland, is of Frederick the Great’s attempts to get the Prussian people to grow potatoes, in order to create a comprehensive economy less susceptible to famine – the response required being the extensive growth of potatoes by the population.  The practice was made compulsory via edicts, orders and legal procedures – the message being ‘grow potatoes’.  However, the average 18th century Prussian much preferred bread as a staple dietary requirement, growing wheat instead, and took little notice of the King’s demands.  A change of tack resulted in the King then proclaiming the potato to be a Royal vegetable, planted only for Royal consumption – the message being ‘potatoes are for Royalty only’.  Needless to say, within months there was a huge underground potato market which eventually became part of the mainstream economy – the response initially desired.  Now, this is fairly marketing-centric but the notion that the response is more important than the message is adequately highlighted.

CB3 is keen on taking this approach, especially in media training.  Speaking clearly, looking at the camera, not picking your nose, bridging to your message etc – the usual components of media training – is all very well but focusing on the objective (the response), via the three-faculty concept, and less on the message goes a long way to achieving one’s actual aims.

But if you merely want to get your ‘message’ across … well, that’s your business.


See below some wise words from Major Mehar Omar Khan (Pakistan Army) from his article “Afghanistan: Seven Fundamental Questions” found at Small Wars Journal (http://smallwarsjournal.com/blog/journal/docs-temp/319-khan.pdf)

Who should the coalition try to impress: Afghans or rest of the world?

While the pressure to present tangible results in terms that sound familiar to domestic and global audience is understandable, lives of young men should not be ‘wasted’ in pursuit of hollow ideals and empty slogans that mean woefully little to the people of Afghanistan. While there is essentially nothing bad about transparent ballot boxes, soap opera television, Afghan movies and a few dozen bold and beautiful women in the legislative assembly, the Afghan people look wearily at all these things. They are not impressed with these ‘achievements’, not just because they have an outdated mindset, but because it means so little to them in terms of alleviating some of their most basic concerns like hunger, malnutrition, disease, violence and fear. Coalition soldiers should not have to die for anything less noble than helping the people of Afghanistan forge a new future and a new destiny for themselves – a destiny that they will themselves determine in ways that they feel comfortable with.

Here are some ideas.

One, please understand the hearts and minds that you are trying to win. Most of these minds are illiterate, unschooled and locked in the last century. Most of these hearts are raw, romantic, sentimental and pure as a pearl. Help them start where they actually are and not where you want them to be. At their present level of socio-economic development, Afghans do not truly need a majestic parliament building, a palatial house for the president, five star hotels and nicely suited dummies as rulers in Kabul and Kandahar. They need small schools, clean drinking water, some pills for that headache which refuses to go away, some money to buy food for their kids and some assistance to kick-start their farming or that little shop in a mud-hut. People want their liberators to know that they need ‘electricity before they are asked to destroy their kerosene lantern’ and that they need to at least be able to read names before they are asked to choose one out of a long list of people vying to be their President.

Playing to this crowd ...

Playing to this crowd ...

Two, coalition must refuse to lock itself in a fight that tramples the people. This will involve some sacrifice in the short term but huge dividends in the long term.

Three, people need soldiers that respect their values and their traditions because, however outdated they may be, these are their values and their traditions. This land belongs to a ‘people’; it’s not the property of ‘a state’. In this context, is it not fair to ask how much of an effort, in terms of resources, has gone to ‘Afghanistan the state’ and how much to ‘Afghanistan the people’? How much of the money and resources and security has stayed and stagnated in Kabul guarding criminals and drug-lords; and how much of it has actually reached a far flung Helmand village caught in the center of the storm? How much of attention has gone to people most bitter about being ousted from power (Pashtuns) and how much of it has been lavished on communities that have generally always enjoyed a relative peace? Asking the right questions is the true test of honesty. Giving the right answers is a test of leadership. Questions carry their own correct answers as well as consequences for wrong answers.

global-crowd

... or this one?


The bloody summer in Afghanistan and elections in Iran have recently brought communications within the foreign policy arena back into the spotlight, showing public relations and strategic communication to be close,if sometimes misunderstood, relatives.

Establishing a radio station to persuade locals not to support pirates; justifying heavy combat operations while trying to convince homeless villagers to support your side; convincing an enemy that his cause is doomed; maintaining domestic public support for an unpopular and difficult foreign policy; encouraging populations to embrace ideas conflicting with their traditional culture; supporting repressed publics in their pursuit of freedom.

These are examples of a field of communications which rarely grace the pages of PR and communications magazines, but which feature heavily in the daily news intake of big and disparate publics, and have the potential to influence the very future of global geopolitics.

This field of foreign policy communication is known within the practising community as ‘strategic communication’.

Outside the field there are terms well recognised by PR practitioners, even laymen – propaganda, nation-branding, psychological operations – terms that give a taster, but rarely provide the full flavour, of a complex communication arena. Likewise, there are fragments which can cumulatively paint the environment of strategic communication – the child soldier laden with ammunition and an AK47; sparkling white United Nation aid convoys trailing through arid, burnt scrubland; a battered but prized radio spouting the scratchy tones of the BBC World Service. These images might evoke emotive responses but they do little to explain strategic communication.

The precise definition of strategic communication is debatable, but put simply, it is the use of communication, in all its guises, to support and achieve foreign policy objectives.

Due to the variety of subject areas, from climate change to assuaging warring factions’, the variety of factors – including Non Governmental Organisations, states, terrorist groups, diasporas and global institutions; and the variety of publics, from the hi-tech media savvy Iranian teenager to the illiterate Sudanese goatherd, the field, operating globally by definition, rightly deserves the label ‘strategic’. To unravel the concept, it’s worthwhile examining a simple but effective model, breaking it into four constituent pillars, some of which PR practitioners will be very familiar with.

From the media-savvy Iranian teenager ...

From the media-savvy Iranian teenager ...

First pillar: Public diplomacy

Firstly, public diplomacy seeks, through the exchange of people and ideas, to build lasting relationships and understanding of a nation’s culture, values and policies.

A term coined in the 1960s, public diplomacy gained recognition as a tool of foreign policy during the Cold War. After a hiatus during the 1990s, the aftermath of 9/11 has brought the practice back to the fore in many foreign policy establishments, making it a hot topic, including in United States diplomatic circles.

Second pillar: International broadcasting services

In close alignment with public diplomacy, the second pillar comprises international broadcasting services – BBC World, Voice of America, China’s CCTV-9 and France 24 to name a few. These governmentfunded services transmit news, information, public affairs programs and entertainment to global audiences in a variety of ways.

The influence of such services is often misjudged as being little more than of fleeting interest to bored businessmen in international hotels. But they can also be very powerful, especially if the significant penetration of BBC Pashto in Afghanistan is anything to go by.

Third pillar: Media relations

Media relations or operations are used by Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Defence to depict communication activities intended primarily to inform and influence domestic media and, therefore, home audiences.

... to the illiterate Sudanese goatherd.

... to the illiterate Sudanese goatherd.

In today’s information environment, this is a quaint idea, given that there is almost complete convergence between media available to domestic and foreign audiences.

Such convergence provides severe headaches for strategic communicators, often trying to provide one message to domestic publics but another to a foreign audience or even an adversary. As a result, the international, regional and local media feature more and more in the media relations strategy.

Fourth pillar: Influence activity

Increasingly touted as ‘influence activity’, the fourth pillar of military information operations focuses on influencing the will of an enemy, but more increasingly of a host nation’s population, capturing their ‘hearts and minds’.

It is categorised as an integrating strategy, as opposed to a capability, and the tools available for such come from a wide spectrum. Actions to influence the will traditionally make use of psychological operations (psyops), electronic warfare (EW), operational security (OPSEC), computer network operations (CNO), kinetic targeting and deception. However, ‘force presence, posture and profile’ along with media operations are also considered in the mix.

Of these information operations, Psyops probably has the highest profile, often linked to propaganda. The field stretches from ‘white’ psyops – placing stories, features, pamphlets, internet sites and the like where the source, be it the US marines or the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), is fully visible – through to ‘black’ psyops – in which the same channels may be used but the source is hidden. Notably, both black and white psyops are grounded in ‘credible truth’.

The former, much more commonly used, is not so different from traditional PR, while the latter can open a whole can of worms, as did the covert placing of stories, originating from the US military, in the Iraqi press in 2005.

Deception

Deception is much more straightforward. It is the military use of assets to ‘fool’ an adversary through outright lying, if necessary. Operating at the tactical level, through ‘spoofing’ on communication circuits, to the strategic, such as the coalition military preparing to liberate Kuwait in 1991 which made several signals, including through the conventional media, which indicating that the invasion would come from the sea in a massive amphibious landing.

It didn’t. But that example is illustrative of the fact that deception might be formulated through all the information operations channels and more. It is deception, seen as a legitimate strategy, which tarnishes much of military information operations, especially psyops, with the brush of propaganda, spin and lies. However, it must be said that modern militaries are waking up to the fact that the information age is increasingly demanding credibility, and therefore truth, of its participants.

Although still largely outside the dominant management coalition, strategic communication is increasingly seen as a vital component of achieving objectives, through ‘soft power’.

The US is adopting a more ‘diplomatic’ approach, within which communication has a major role, although funding for such an approach is yet to be forthcoming. The idea of communication forming a mainstay of foreign policy interventions has been especially supported by the latest generation of senior military officers, saying in regard to Iraq: “We can no longer kill ourselves out of here,” and the notion that the Afghan campaign should, first and foremost, be an ‘information’ campaign. The US military has looked closely at utilising lessons and practices gleaned from Madison Avenue.

Further, the growing realisation of the power of social media is also creating new, if still clumsy, approaches to strategic communication.

NATO has recently enhanced its online presence; many foreign policy agencies are now Twittering; military personnel are blogging. The phrase ‘digital diplomacy’ is increasingly heard in foreign ministries.

Examples include the Israeli government hiring numerous internet savvy students to blog and Twitter their way to dominance in the online Arab-Israeli debate. Even China’s People’s Liberation Armys is attempting to build its reputation via the internet. Yet, these ideas and actions have yet to be really brought together as a ‘strategic’ capability.

China's military - now online, in English

China's military - now online, in English

Foreign policy strategic communication is complex and challenging but it is no more propaganda than PR is ‘spin’. PR and foreign policy strategic communication are close relatives, almost twins, but they operate in very different contexts. A failure in one can see a hard earned corporate reputation in tatters, and billions wiped off share prices. A failure in the other might result in severe hardship, suffering and even death to many. One may face sophisticated and vocal activists with widespread support. The other may face insurgents with rocket-propelled grenades.

Yet this doesn’t detract from the fact that these relatives are so close, and even more importantly, could learn from each other.

This article appears in the Sept/Oct 2009 edition of Profile magazine