Archive for the ‘Outreach’ Category

Ken Silverstein from Harpers is at it again, accusing the DoD’s blogger outreach program of being a right-wing propaganda machine (even though there are liberals on the e-mail outreach list, including me).

This time, Ken set his sights on Michael Allen Leach (right), who is working for the DoD’s new media operation. Media reports from the 2000 election brought him 15 minutes of fame in 2000 when they reported that he, while a staffer for the Florida Republican party, spent days salvaging incorrectly filled out absentee ballots, the majority of which — but not all — were Republican ballots.

Never mind that there are roughly a dozen people working in that department of the Pentagon’s public affair’s shop, or that several of them are Democrats. It is important to single out this one guy!

Still, this story, and Silverstein for that matter, aren’t going away. So Roxie and Allison, the way I see it, you have two options:

  1. Actively recruit someone from Daily Kos, MyDD, The Huffington Post or another liberal blog to be a part of the blogger roundtables.
  2. Make a high-level liberal hire on your staff. Do it quickly, and parade him/her and his/her liberal credentials in front of a few journalists.

Hopefully that will be enough to kill this story. For good.

Update: I have modified the post from its original version after an e-mail conversation with Leach. I won’t get into all the details, but I will say that, after hearing from him, I think he was a great hire for the blog team. Even if he is a Republican partisan.

Update 2: Mountain Runner has a great post about Silverstein. Go check it out.

Update 3: Another great post from Jason at Armchair Generalist, the doyen of liberal milbloggers.

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Check out Castle Argghhh! for details.

Apparently, this is the first time a sitting president has had a sit-down with a group of bloggers at the White House.

Glad the White House press office decided to reach out to the milblogging community first!

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A while back, Matt at Mountain Runner wrote an amazing post about the failures of Karen Hughes as America’s ambassador to the world as the Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs at the State Department.

He said that we had no general in the war for the hearts and minds of the world.

After reading this post, I nominate Seth.

Update: Hello, readers from the State Department. Welcome to the D-Ring.

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House to House

Last night, I received a preview copy of the new Iraq war memoir House to House, written by war hero SSG David Bellavia. For full disclosure, it was sent to me (and a few other military bloggers) by publisher Simon & Schuster for review.

The book hits stores next week. In the mean time, the D-Ring will have a review, as well as a conversation with the folks at Simon & Schuster about their efforts to reach out to milbloggers to promote this book.

Guess I have my weekend reading assignment.

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Dear America Supports You,

Today, I noticed you have a new channel on YouTube. It looks like it was created sometime last week. Well done for putting good video online, like this one:

My praise for you, however, ends there.

Putting video online is not a communications strategy. It is a necessary step to get out your message; if it is not uploaded, it has no chance to be seen. However, it is not sufficient.

John Bell notes that this is one of the four myths of viral video:

Plopping a video on YouTube is a digital strategy. That’s the third part of the myth. It says that something that is worth talking about will find its own audience organically (i.e. with no marketing effort) and will gain viral velocity until it reaches millions. Duncan Watts would point out that most ‘viral’ things die off before reaching what anyone would claim is a tipping point of volume. If part of a digital strategy includes video(s) that will grab people’s attention then we need to support them with smart, authentic promotion. Viral videos go better with outreach and advertising. This seems couterintuitive if you as a marketer are using video to raise awareness of some engagement opportunity with your brand online. Now we want you to promote the promotion? If you are designing a truly engaging experience for your users than this will make sense. If you want to use video as your entire strategy, then it may not make sense.

Not surprisingly, in four days, the five videos uploaded to your page have accumulated fewer than 100 views. Combined.

Compare that to this one clip of Miss Teen South Carolina answering a question about education (with hilarity ensuing):

That clip, in just two days, has had over 2 million views on YouTube.

The trick to successful online video is (a) having compelling content, (b) making it sharable and (c) letting people know it is out there.

You have taken the first step. Time to get moving on the other two.


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This morning, I read Ken Silverstein’s latest contribution to Harpers Magazine criticizing the Pentagon’s blogger engagement program. He says that the program is designed to preach to conservatives and administration champions (even though I mentioned this week that I am on the list and by no means a conservative).

I was all set to critique his piece when Noah Shachtman (blogger/journalist and editor of Wired Magazine’s Danger Room blog) e-mailed me the response he posted to Silverstein:

What’s more, Silverstein calls critical pieces which come out of the blogger conference calls — here’s one David Axe recently wrote for DANGER ROOM — “an exception that proves the rule. By invoking the rare critic, the Pentagon is able to say, ‘We’re balanced. This is not just a PR exercise.'”

Could be. But how hard is it, really, to get other critical voices added to the conference call list?

Well, it took exactly 23 minutes to get Jason “Armchair Generalist” Sigger and Matt “Mountain Runner” Armstrong signed up. And neither is what you would call a fan of this administration.

And Noah proceeds to publish the time stamped correspondence between him and Jack Holt, one of the Pentagon’s primary liaisons with the blogosphere.

Now THAT’S what I call journalism, Mr. Silverstein.

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A journalist has tried to shine a spotlight on the Pentagon’s blogger relations program — and failed miserably.

Recent postings to Harpers.com (here and here) by Ken Silverstein suggest that the Pentagon is engaged in a propaganda campaign, managed by junior political appointees, to seed its message among conservative bloggers.

As someone who has participated in the “surrogate outreach” program, I can tell you first hand that Silverstein’s reporting is sensationalized drivel.

Who is running the show?

Mr. Silverstein makes much ado about a junior political appointee who supposedly runs the program named Erin Healy. She may have a toe dipped into the waters of online outreach, but I can tell you that if she does have anything to do with the program, it is cursory at best.

The real key player in the Pentagon’s online communications strategy is Roxie Merritt, a retired Navy Captain who was brought by Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Allison Barber on to manage the Pentagon’s new media operations. Merritt is a savvy and seasoned professional communicator who understands the importance of online outreach. It is she, and not Healy, who is responsible for executing this program.

Political Leanings?

Despite Mr. Silverstein’s claim that the blogger engagement strategy is limited to righties and an occasional moderate, I have never, never, been mistaken for a conservative. (Proof in point — I was reading Harpers).

In a personal conversation at this year’s milblogging conference with Jack Holt, who helps orchestrate the program’s operations, he noted that they have been trying, with limited success, to reach out to liberal bloggers as well.

Granted, my blog does not carry a political tune. I try and keep my observations neutral, as I think that military communications should be devoid of politics. However, having corresponded with numerous staff members from blogger outreach team, I know that several are aware of my political ideology and personal opinion on the Iraq war. In spite of this, I continue to receive invitations to blogger conference calls.

For example, I was on the blogger call with a Navy admiral after the Pentagon’s decision to ban MySpace, YouTube and other social networking sites. Almost everyone on the call was critical of the decision, and the blog coverage reflected it.

A chilling effect?

I hope that the Pentagon’s new media operation takes this hit piece with a grain of salt (which I am sure they will considering the major errors in reporting).

OSD(PA) has made great strides in reaching out to and engaging online influencers. These new online opinion leaders are a key audience to communicate with — and the Pentagon should be applauded for including them in their communication planning, not vilified. From my experience, articles like these do nothing but chill creative communications programs.

Granted, the Pentagon’s outreach is not perfect. Silverstein’s point about the transparency of the program is valid. While most bloggers do disclose that they are getting information directly from Pentagon sources, not all do, so the Pentagon should specifically request that they disclose that fact on every conference call.

And the new media program has other blemishes, such as the For the Record “blog.”

Still, the online outreach program is OSD’s greatest success in dealing with new media. And all that these inaccurate Harpers “exposes” do is discourage communication innovation.

Next time, dig a little bit deeper to find the facts before you go to press, Mr. Silverstein.

Update: Grim’s post about the Harper’s piece at Blackfive. He looks at the article for its implied assumption that bloggers aren’t worthy of talking to the administration, only journalists are. Which I think is funny, given the gross errors in fact in his “journalism.”

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You might have noticed a new RSS feed in the right-hand column. That is because today, United States Joint Forces Command is beginning to liveblog a homeland security exercise they are conducting: “Noble Resolve.”

From enterprising PAO Spc. Andrew Orillion:

We will be live blogging from the site of the first “Noble Resolve”, a
series of homeland defense experiments using the latest in modeling and
simulation technology. The objective is to examine ways to improve
defense support of civilian authorities before and during man-made and
natural disasters. You can more here

This is a huge event with officials from U.S. Northern, European,
Pacific, Strategic and Transformation commands, the Coast Guard,
Department of Homeland Security, and the Federal Emergency Management
Agency among the more than 100 participants attending the event.
Officials from the Canadian and German military will also be present.

Apparently, this isn’t the first time the command has used liveblogging — which is good, because this type of event is the perfect platform.

I’ll have the feed up for the duration of the exercise.

Great job JFCOM in taking an innovative approach to tell your story.

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A lot of military organizations have contacted me in the past few weeks for some tips on reaching out to the blogosphere.

I think this great post from Beltway Blogroll (a must read, IMHO) sums it up best:

Washington flacks should read it and ponder what will work best for them. Here it is:

Church Of The Customer: “Get to know bloggers before pitching them. Build a relationship before a pitch. Introduce yourself to a blogger with an email or phone call. Explain your work and your clients. Ask … if future news about your industry or clients is of interest to them. Seek permission.”

Emergence Media, which has compiled a guide on how to pitch bloggers: “It’s one thing to know the A-list bloggers; its another to know what mid-tier blogs they read. Just like in regular PR, you may need to hit the mid-tier bloggers (who are read by the A-list bloggers) before you get covered by the big leagues. Don’t be fooled by looking only at Alexa data or Technorati rankings; see who links to them, too.”

WebProNews: “I’ve been involved in several blogger outreach efforts recently. In each case, I carefully read several posts and comments, along with ‘About This Blog’ details, then crafted an individual message to that blogger. … [M]ost bloggers appreciate solid content they can write about that’s consistent with the focus of their blogs, assuming you approach them correctly.”

It’s all about relationships, folks. So play nice with bloggers.

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In a comment on my blog, Chris Vadnais wrote:

“Your audience shouldn’t be your fellow service members; it should be me.”

I disagree with you on this, as I think the commanders on the ground would.

Military broadcasters–on whom much of the responsibility for creating these new media products is going to fall–are expected to disseminate command messages to the troops in country. That’s what we’re trained to do. That’s why we run FM radio stations and produce local news shows. If our products happen to have broader appeal, or we can tool them that way without taking anything from the primary audience, that’s a bonus.

Public Outreach is not really in our vocabulary, and I don’t think it should be. Let the External PA people handle that. If they want to use our products, fantastic, but I don’t think we should be generating products for the sole purpose of convincing you or anyone else in America that the US military is doing good things.

As you know, MPADs work for a PAO, who tells the journalists what stories the commander wants covered, and who in many places ensures their products get on the local intranet or play in the FOB movie theater regularly.

In my opinion, GOOD commanders will task their PAO with finding stories that meet target objectives. For example:

Teach my Soldiers the dangers of “huffing,” prepare my Soldiers for the news of our tour extension, and get my Soldiers to call their spouses at least once a week.

That kind of stuff.

Still just my opinion: a GOOD commander isn’t going to be thinking about using his or her resources on the ground to convey messages to anyone except the rest of his or her people on the ground.

Big Army can handle the Outreach.


This is a great point about what is. However, it is not at all aligned with where the military should be in an age of digital communication.

The Deputy Chief of Army Public Affairs is a reserve general — Brig. Gen. Mari Kaye Eder. She is quite an impressive GO and has incredible public affairs insight. One of the things I remember her saying when I worked at OCPA is that the public affairs career field demands that everyone become a public affairs pentathlete.

I don’t remember exactly what the five competencies were, but the crux of her argument was that stovepipes don’t work. We can’t have only command information officers and only media guys and only outreach/community specialists.

Because lets face it. Today’s media environment encourages dispersion of message. A “command message” in the post newspaper could be left behind in a barber shop off post. A Soldier blogger may comment on something his 1SG said about readiness on his blog. Information is fluid, and good communicators must think how their messages ripple throughout (or how traditional communications can be re-purposed for further and/or alternate use).

Even the institutional Army is dispersing messages designed to educate the troops. Around the Services, Army Today, and other programs are fed across the country on the Pentagon Channel and on military Web sites.

Chris, I hate to pick on you, cause I think you are awesome. But a pentathlete you are not. You need to get out of the stovepipes and think about the big picture of military communications. Its not just about communicating to the troops (which is VERY important) but about communicating with the world.

Who’s up for the challenge?

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