Strategic Communication: A Department of Defense Perspective. Robert Hastings


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Presentation by Robert Hastings, former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, at Leeds University for the European PR Education and Research Association annual congress.

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  • In March of this year, a 21 yr old Kosovo national residing in Germany watched a video on you tube. Twelve hours later, after a night of prayer, he shot and killed two American airmen at the Frankfurt Airport. When apprehended, he said he went there that day to kill as many Americans as possible to avenge the rape of Afghan women he had watched in the video. That video was a fake, the product of extremist propaganda, using clips from a popular American movie to produce the scenes the young Kosovo man believed he was witnessing. Some call this propaganda – I just did, but that is another word poorly defied. But this is an example of strategic communication. A single communication instrument so powerful that it touched the soul of an individual in such a way to cause him to do the unthinkable, to commit murder, against people he didn’t know and for whom he had no previous hatred. This man was not radicalized in the traditional sense, he was not an extremist, but he nonetheless committed an act of extremism.
  • Just last week, the Govt of Turkey severed diplomatic relationships with Israel, a country once called an ally, as a result of the raid by Israeli commandoes of the Turkish registered ship Mazi Marmara which was part of an aid flotilla on its way to Gaza. Not only did the Israeli military film the entire event, but a crew from Al Jezeera was also aboard the Mazi Marmara filming.Both the relief flotilla and the Israeli military announced their intentions in advance. This was more than a fatal encounter between protesters and soldiers, this was the collision of two strategic communication efforts, a classic battle in the war of ideas.
  • It’s no surprise to those of us in this room that the way the world develops, manages and consumes information is changing faster today than at any time in our history, and along with it so is the way we practice communications. With this speed of change, the need for effective strategic communication is more important than ever. Today’s dynamic communications environment requires a new brand of leader who is more than just the architect of a company’s words. Communication leaders must be more than counselors for what an organixation says; they must be architects, advocates and watchdogs for its actions as well. They must have not only a seat at the table, but a voice as well; one grounded in credibility among the C-suite leadership. Communication leaders must understand their environment well enough to participate in the decision-making process and exercise influence at the front end, not just develop the talking points, after decisions have been made.
  • The current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are very instructive to us in that they reveal that military success alone is not sufficient to achieve overall victory. Our brave men and women in uniform rarely lose an engagement on the field of battle. Yet, there is often ambiguity with respect to our accomplishments. The public’s perception of how we’re doing is closely tied to the images and reporting emanating from the theater of conflict. Therein lies a communications challenge, how do we effectively communicate to national and international audiences our progress in the face of a cunning adversary who is surprisingly sophisticated at utilizing communications to influence audiences – and operates with virtual impunity in terms of standards of accuracy and decency.So what is different about our world today compared to WWII or the cold war. We are not only in a battle of ideas but a battle for opinions.Strategic communication is bigger than media relations but the nature of modern media is the key difference.
  • The modern information environment is “real time”Media coverage is a fact of lifeImagery, powerful and emotionalThere is no longer a news cycle – reporting is instantaneousTraditional channels are less trusted than new mediaThru news reporting, tactical actions can have immediate strategic consequencesTransparency and openness are expected, a new standardOpinion can be formed and swayed rapidlyMedia channels are opnionized – editorial no longer enoughGovt bureaucracies struggle to communicate with speed and agiltyPublic relations replaced by public engagementWe are competing with many voicesTechnology equalizes big and small voicesNo longer capable of “controlling the message” – still hasn’t sunk inNew media and new journalism are here NOWInformation operations are continuous – there is no end for information engagements
  • Modern technology equalizes the battlefield of communication, giving small voices equal and sometimes even more powerful voices. The war of ideas can be between east and west, between capitalism and communism, or it can between corporations and individuals.
  • Wikipedia defines Strategic Communication as communicating a concept, a process, or data that satisfies a long term strategic goal of an organization by allowing facilitation of advanced planning, or communicating over long distances usually using international telecommunications or dedicated global network assets to coordinate actions and activities of operationally significant commercial, non-commercial and military business or combat and logistic subunits.Therein lies part of our problem, we don’t know what the heck strategic communication is.There’s a misunderstanding by many in the PR profession that strategic communication is “advanced PR” “modern PR” it’s what we do for really important communication.
  • The DoD has been working to understand and develop it’s theories of strategic communication for quite a while. Our recent efforts began with the Defense Science Board’s report back in 2004. That report was so comprehensive and complicated that it took a full two years to develop a response to it, the strategic communication roadmap. In hindsight, I believe DoD made a fatal error right here, when strategic communications became a thing unto its own, an effort of its own, rather then I have come to believe, a process.Strategic Communication took on a national focus with the publication of the National Strategy in 2007. Actually, I believe, a pretty good document.In 2008, during my tenure, we published the DoD principles of strat comm. I believe that’s where we first began to understand the process vs product, but the cat was out of the bag by then, and by 2008 DoD had offices of strategic communication established all over the world. In most major commands, stratcomm offices are better resourced than the public affairs offices. Better resources made them more effective, and reinforced the belief that stracom was better than PA.StratComm further evolved in 2009 with the publication of the joint integrating concept. I believe, taken together, the principles and the integrating concept, lay out a good foundation for the execution of the process of strat comm.
  • Strategic Communication: A Department of Defense Perspective. Robert Hastings

    1. 1. STRATEGIC COMMUNICATION A Department of Defense Perspective Robert T. Hastings Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs (acting) 2008-2009
    2. 2. Strategic Communication The Information Environment is Changing…… Every Day
    3. 3. Strategic Communication “To succeed, we must understand the United States is engaged in a generational and global struggle about ideas, not a war between the West and Islam. It is more than a war against the tactics of terrorism. We must think in terms of global networks, both government and non-government. If we continue to concentrate primarily on states ([i.e.,] 'getting it right' in Iraq, managing the next state conflict better), we will fail. Strategic communications require sophisticated methods that map perceptions and influence networks, identify priorities, formulate objectives, develop themes and messages, leverage new strategic and tactical dynamics and, ultimately, monitor success.” Dr. William Schneider Chairman, Defense Science Board
    4. 4.  Report of the Defense Science Board Task Force on Strategic Communication; 2004  QDR Strategic Communication Execution Roadmap; 2006  U.S. National Strategy for Public Diplomacy and Strategic Communication; 2007  DoD Principles of Strategic Communication; 2008  DoD Strategic Communication Joint Integrating Concept; 2009  DoD Report on Strategic Communication; 2009  USG National Framework for Strategic Communication; 2010 US Strategic Communication Roadmap
    5. 5. A key lesson from previous DoD efforts to conceptualize and organize for effective strategic communication is that processes intended to develop separate and distinct strategic communication priorities, plans, or organizations are ineffective when divorced from other planning processes. Some in DoD are increasingly using the term "strategic engagement and communication" instead of the term "strategic communication," as the latter term is often misinterpreted to imply a narrower concern with media, messaging, and traditional "communications" activities. Department of Defense Report on Strategic Communication December 2009 Strategic Communication
    6. 6. DoD Principles of Strategic Communication Principles of Strategic Communication
    7. 7. Strategic Communication…. The synchronization of actions, images, and words to achieve a desired effect. Principles of Strategic Communication
    8. 8.  Leadership-Driven. Leaders must decisively engage and drive the Strategic Communication process.  Credible. Perception of truthfulness and respect between all parties. Principles of Strategic Communication
    9. 9.  Understanding. Deep comprehension of attitudes, cultures, identities, behavior, history, perspectives and social systems.  Dialogue. Multi-faceted exchange of ideas to promote understanding and build relationships. Principles of Strategic Communication
    10. 10.  Pervasive. Every action, image, and word sends a message.  Unity of Effort. Integrated and coordinated, vertically and horizontally.  Results-Based. Actions to achieve specific outcomes in pursuit of a well- articulated endstate. Principles of Strategic Communication
    11. 11.  Responsive. Right audience, right message, right time, and right place.  Continuous. Diligent ongoing research, analysis, planning, execution, and assessment that feeds planning and action. Principles of Strategic Communication
    12. 12. The strategic communication process is designed to synchronize - and thus maximize the impact of - efforts to achieve one or more of the following:  Improve U.S. credibility and legitimacy;  Weaken an adversary's credibility and legitimacy;  Convince selected audiences to take specific actions that support U.S. or international objectives;  Cause a competitor or adversary to take (or refrain from taking) specific actions. Strategic Communication Joint Integrating Concept; 2009 Strategic Communication
    13. 13. Four instruments used to deliver Strategic Communication:  Public diplomacy; activities that seek through the exchange of people and ideas to build lasting relationships and receptivity to a nation’s culture, values, and policies.  Public affairs; communication activities intended primarily to inform and influence audiences through news media and public information.  International broadcasting services: funded government programs to transmit news, information, public affairs programs, and entertainment to global audiences via a variety of means.  Information operations; associated military activities which include computer network operations, electronic warfare, operational security, military deception, and PSYOP.5 Strategic Communication Joint Integrating Concept; 2009 Strategic Communication
    14. 14. Gentle/Indirect Forceful/Direct Inform Educate Influence/Advocate Induce/Coerce PSYOPS The Information Spectrum MIL DEC Info Operations PSYOPS Public Diplomacy Public Diplomacy Public Affairs
    15. 15. Strategic Communication “Strategic communication should be an enabling function that guides and informs our decisions and not an organization unto itself. Rather than trying to capture all communication activity underneath it, we should use it to describe the process by which we integrate and coordinate. To put it simply, we need to worry a lot less about how to communicate our actions and much more about what our actions communicate. I also hope we learn to be more humble, to listen more. Because what we are after in the end—or should be after— are actions that speak for themselves, that speak for us. What we need more than anything is credibility. And we can’t get that in a talking point.” Admiral Mike Mullen Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff
    16. 16. US Government Definition The synchronization of words and deeds with active consideration of how they will be perceived by selected audiences; Programs and activities deliberately aimed at communicating and engaging with intended audiences, including those implemented by public affairs, public diplomacy, and information operations professionals. National Framework for Strategic Communication March 2010 Strategic Communication
    17. 17. UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT INTEGRATED CIVILIAN-MILITARY CAMPAIGN PLAN FOR SUPPORT TO AFGHANISTAN “USG efforts must focus on the people of Afghanistan. Our every action must help secure, mobilize and support the Afghan people and their government to defeat the insurgency and establish effective governance.” Strategic Communication
    18. 18. The objectives of ISAF Strategic Communication plan are to:  Build and strengthen public confidence in Afghan institutions.  Maintain Afghan public support for ISAF.  Improve commitment and responsiveness of GIRoA to Afghan public.  Maintain and strengthen public support of contributing nations’ domestic audiences for the mission.  Undermine support for the insurgency (and other threats to stability).  Encourage acceptance and cooperation across the Afghan neighborhood for the mission. Strategic Communication
    19. 19. Lessons Learned……… • Credibility and legitimacy are paramount • Media isn't the only thing, but it’s everything • Imagery wins • Speed counts • Messages must be simple and memorable • Opinions are shaped by engagement • Listening is as important as talking • Use every channel • Research and measurement are essential • Communication strategy must be embedded in national strategy • Be prepared for “casualties” Strategic Communication
    20. 20. Principles of Strategic Communication Robert Hastings “The newest computer can merely compound, at speed, the oldest problem in the relations between human beings, and in the end the communicator will be confronted with the old problem, of what to say and how to say it.” Edward R. Murrow