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Archive for May, 2007

I’ll be speaking at Fort Meade on June 11 to a group of students at the Defense Information School (holding down the new media front on a panel with two MSMers). I’m excited to be joining Scott Wykoff of Baltimore-Washington radio fame and Gina Cavallaro, who has made quite a name for herself at Army Times.

Are you in the next Public Affairs Officer course for distance learners at DINFOS? If so, leave a comment or pop me an e-mail. I am curious to see who among the class is down with new media.

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Pronet Advertising Blog has a great pictorial showing the differences between marketing, public relations, advertising and branding:

marketing.jpg

Based on this, I would say that the military is good at marketing and advertising and lousy at public relations and branding.

Unfortunately, in an age where media consumers have the power, having a strong brand and good public relations seem much more important than being able to market and advertise.

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For Memorial Day

The following is a great commentary written by Maj. Mike Nachshen, USAF, currently participating in the Training with Industry program at USAA (disclosure: USAA is an Edelman client and I have worked with Mike):

Soon it will be Memorial Day, and I’ll remember.

I’ll remember Eric. I’ll remember how even though I only met him two or three times, his wife was my deputy and I knew him through her eyes. I’ll remember that every time she talked about the love of her life, her face would come alive and her sparkling eyes would light up the whole room. I’ll remember that even though my wife and I couldn’t make it to their wedding, we got the newlyweds a silver-serving spoon they had listed on their registry. I’ll remember when I last saw him, Eric and his wife were holding hands, and they looked the way people do when they’re madly in love with each other.

And because it will be Memorial Day, I’ll remember. I’ll remember hearing we lost a plane in Iraq. I’ll remember how I figured the odds were pretty slim that it was someone I knew. I’ll remember the sepia-toned West Texas landscape as we drove for what seemed like an eternity to the memorial service, 90 long miles away. And I’ll remember the way the eyes of Eric’s wife glistened with tears as she contemplated being a widow at 26 while walking down that long aisle dressed in black and all alone.

And because it will be Memorial Day, I’ll remember my friend Sarah. I’ll remember how Sarah would stop by my desk every time she had business in my building and how her smile and laughter would burst into every nook and cranny and drop kick your rotten mood into the trash can. I’ll remember how she would put funny pictures in my staff meeting slides when I stepped away from my desk for more than 30 seconds without locking my computer. And I’ll remember Friday evenings at the officer’s club, as we tried to solve world hunger and cure cancer while we washed down fried food with endless pitchers of frosty beverages.

And because it will be Memorial Day, I’ll remember. I’ll remember how excited Sarah was when she told me about her upcoming deployment … and how as I looked at her, I recalled what it felt like to be a high-speed, low-drag young lieutenant headed overseas for the first time on what promised to be a giant adventure. I’ll remember being deployed for Hurricane Katrina relief efforts, opening that e-mail from my boss back home, and reading the message which began “Mike, there is no easy way to tell you this …” And I’ll remember what the dirt felt like on my hands as I threw it on her coffin while her parents and brothers cried and tried to understand what strange law of physics could allow a small wooden box to contain Sarah’s irrepressible energy.

And because it will be Memorial Day, I’ll remember to make my way down to the local Veteran’s cemetery and remember the lives that were and the lives that should have been. I’ll remember Eric and Sarah had dreams and goals and aspirations. And while Eric and Sarah are surely heroes who died for their country, I’ll remember them not as towering figures to be worshipped, but as people who laughed, loved and brought others happiness while trying to make the world a better place. And perhaps most importantly, I’ll remember that they had people who loved them, and still miss them and think about them every day.

And I’ll remember I’m on sacred ground and that each marker represents the crushed dream of a wife, a parent, a brother. I’ll run my hand over the marble stone that marks some stranger’s final resting place and remember that below my feet lies someone’s Sarah, someone’s Eric.

And because it will be Memorial Day, I’ll remember my other brothers and sisters. I’ll remember the Irish soccer fanatic we nicknamed Pikey, and his beautiful baby girl who will grow up never knowing her father. I’ll remember Meagan, whose warmth and can-do attitude infected you from 6,000 miles away. I’ll remember Ben, who lived three houses down from me and was always working in his yard. They are all heroes now. But they are all real people to me. Now they’re gone. I’ll never forget them.

And, because it will be Memorial Day, I will forget some things. I’ll forget the killer deals on new cars, plasma-screen TVs and deluxe dining room sets. I’ll forget the crass commercialism. I’ll forget the things that don’t matter in life.

Because it will be Memorial Day, I’ll remember the important things instead. I’ll remember to kiss my wife and tell her I love her. I’ll remember the friends I lost and the friends I’ll never get a chance to meet. I’ll remember they had names and faces. I’ll remember … I’ll remember.

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Brilliant

Communication on the Iraq war seems to have been dominated by catch phrases. Consider: “Shock and Awe,” “Cut and Run,” “Stay the Course,” “We’ll stand down as they stand up,” etc.

So it is refreshing to find some very thoughtful discussion on the issue of Iraq in the blogosphere.

Check out my friend Jeff’s blog post, “The equilibrium of war” for a great parallel between the philosophical prisoners dilemma and the current situation in Iraq.

If you don’t have time to read this long post (though I suggest you make time) here is his conclusion:

So what do we do? We change the rules. We find a new strategy that breaks the stay-or-go dichotomy. We stop bickering among ourselves, for God’s sake, about whether stalemate or defeat is the better choice. We apply some of that same American ingenuity that invented the assembly line, got us to the moon and gave us professional football. Come on, people. Ours is the smartest, most innovative culture on the planet. If we can’t solve a damn word problem, we don’t deserve to win a war.

Of course, there’s always one more option. We don’t want to live with a stalemate, we can’t figure out a way to change the rules. We can always alter the terms of the outcome. Turn our priorities around and learn to see a negative outcome in Iraq as a positive outcome for the United States. It’s not an appealing solution, but if we can’t find another, better one, well, it might be the only one we have left.

Brilliant.

By the way, if you don’t read Shape of Days, you should. Jeff bills himself as an “unsuccessful writer,” but his blog proves otherwise.

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The Pentagon isn’t trying to destroy the connectivity that Soldiers have with their loved ones, but rather preserve the information network during a time of war, a senior military official suggested to a group of bloggers (including yours truly) on a conference call yesterday.

Rear Admiral Elizabeth Hight, a Pentagon flag officer in charge of global network operations, repeatedly referred to the blocked sites as “recreational” in nature, while only casually admitting that public affairs offices and recruiters routinely use these sites to achieve mission objectives.

The Admiral had some valid points: the ban only applied to official military computers and servicemembers are free to use these sites on personal computers (assuming they have access to them). The military also wants to ensure that the network can be maintained for operational requirements. Commanders were free to issue waivers to allow use of these sites for operational reasons (namely for use by PAOs and recruiters).

However, she admitted that the blocked sites had yet to cause a bandwidth problem on the global grid; this was merely a “proactive” measure to prevent such an event from occurring.

What the Admiral didn’t answer, in my mind, was the bigger strategic question of why the military prioritized a potential threat to the network over a guaranteed benefit to the DoD’s information battle. Beyond this connectivity providing a morale boost for troops, it also has significant benefit in helping to tell the military story.

Yes, PAOs will have access to these sites. And yes, servicemembers can use them (if they can get to a computer where they can access them.) But the value of these blocked sites — and all of Web 2.0 — is for grassroots users to come together organically and share their experience. By restricting access to YouTube and MySpace, the military is also restricting the ability of any servicemember to help engage in the “hearts and minds” war.

When I worked at OCPA, we always said that the Soldier is our best spokesman. With training to ensure that they did not reveal classified information, they could be left to their own to eloquently tell the story of sacrifice and service for our nation. Unfortunately, the new policy to block access to these video and information sharing sites also undercuts the ability of these great soldiers to speak directly to the American people about what it means to serve.

Also troubling, she admitted that other sites that could pose a threat to military bandwidth could be restricted in the future, meaning that if popular blogging platforms like blogger and WordPress take up too many resources, they also could be restricted.

In spite of my concerns, I must applaud the Admiral and OSD PA. The openness they have taken toward bloggers is an important step in embracing new media that I never could have imagined while I worked in Army Public Affairs. Admiral Hight was trying to be as helpful as possible in explaining the policy, and for that, I know that all the bloggers on the call were appreciative.

Bottom line — the military has chosen to exert control over a space that is moving more and more toward sharing and free expression. And I can’t help but wonder if, while preserving network bandwidth, the DoD does so at its own peril.

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From Mashable:

The Military ban of YouTube and twelve other sites including MySpace, Metacafe, MTV, Pandora, Photobucket, and Blackplanet has caused quite a stir in the press, in the military and with the banned social networks themselves. YouTube now wants to meet with Pentagon officials in order to convince them to reverse their decision to block its site for use from troops that use the Defense Department’s computer network.

The Military has insisted that for security purposes as well s the necessity to boost network efficiency, the heavy bandwidth sites must be blocked from use, though the ban bars no reflection on how the military regards such social networks as YouTube and MySpace. The biggest point of discussion regarding the ban was the ironic fact that the military is quick to leverage such networks for their own marketing purposes while insisting that their own troops cannot access these sites. Equally important is the fact that some sites on the banned list, especially Blackplanet, are small in comparison to YouTube, and do not take up nearly as many resources from the Defense Department’s network. Ben Sun, CEO of Community Connect, which operates Blackplanet, is seeking a reversal by the Pentagon for this reason.

Whether or not officials from the Pentagon have agreed to meet with YouTube or BlackPlanet is yet to be seen, but it does leave us all scratching our heads as to the real reasons for banning the sites in the first place.

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On the Army and new media:

“If they can’t blow it up or paint it green, they don’t get it.”

Funny. And, sadly, seems to be true.

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