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Archive for the ‘Public Relations’ Category

Noah at Danger Room is smacking military PAOs around a little:

Forget the drone stuff. Here is your eye-popping statistic of the day: “This year, the Pentagon will employ 27,000 people just for recruitment, advertising and public relations — almost as many as the total 30,000-person work force in the State Department.”

That’s from an Associated Press investigation, “which found that over the past five years, the money the military spends on winning hearts and minds at home and abroad has grown by 63 percent, to at least $4.7 billion this year.”

Staff costs take up most of the money, more than $2 billion. Another $1.6 billion goes into recruiting. About a half-billion goes towards “psychological operations, which targets foreign audiences.” And, finally, “$547 million goes into public affairs, which reaches American audiences.”

That last one may be the most amazing figure of ’em all. Because getting a straightforward answer out of most military public affairs shops is still a root-canal-painful procedure. You’d think it’d be easier, with all those resources brought to bear.

Come on, Noah. You’re being a bit unfair. My response:

First, as already noted that the 27,000 includes recruiters — which mean staff in small towns peppered across the country. The actual communications apparatus is SIGNIFICANTLY smaller.

Even if you took the whole 27,000 though, which may seem like a lot, you need to consider that there are about 1 MILLION soldiers and nearly that many government civilians that are in or work for the Army. This means recruiting and communications make up a scant 1% of the organization.

And last, I understand the challenge getting answers from military PAOs. But you know as well as anyone that there are laws governing release of military information. Violating those laws can put Soldiers’ lives at risk — and, from their personal perspective, is punishable by fines and prison.

Given what is on the line with release of information, I don’t begrudge a PAO spending a little time fact checking, getting security review and legal take before putting information into the public domain.

No matter what you think, I’d definitely read the AP article that inspired Noah’s post.

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Nick Turse, a new correspondent at Wired’s Danger Room Blog, is reporting from the Army Science Conference in Orlando that TRADOC is building an island in Second Life. (UPDATE: Apparently the Air Force is in Second Life too… oh bother.)

From Turse:

The Army Second Life effort will actually consist of two virtual islands.  One of them, will serve as a “welcome center” with an information kiosk and the means to contact a recruiter, the other will offer, says [Gen. William S.] Wallace, “virtual experiences like jumping out of airplanes, and rappelling off of a towers and using a weapon, to see if we can get some kind of recruiting benefit out of this social networking.”

The Army will even offer virtual tchotchkes to woo recruits.  After the presentation, Wallace told me “if you perform well in the activities you get points and those points can be used to buy virtual tee-shirts and baseball caps.

Hate to break it to you general, but you came to the dance too late. You’re wasting your money.

(more…)

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Army of Four

My boss at Edelman (you know, the one who co-founded that little conservative political blog…) used to joke that I write in a niche of one. The world of military public affairs writers is so small that no one else would write about it, he reasoned.

Then I found this guy. And this one.

And today, we have another in our ranks.

Check out Beyond Blather, written by a 24-year military communications veteran and instructor at the Defense Information School.

Welcome to the blogosphere, Chad.

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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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Bob Burns, the esteemed Pentagon correspondent for the Associated Press, is reporting that the Pentagon is narrowing in on a strategy that will likely reduce the number of troops in Iraq.

He quotes “a senior military official.” Odds are 100-to-1 that that official is Dorrance Smith, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs

This appears to be a commonly used tactic in government media relations known as “softening the ground.” A senior spokesperson, generally the press secretary or communications director, will leak a story that has potential to be challenging or difficult for the administration on the condition that the person’s identity is kept secret. Why do this? So that the government can take the temperature of the public and see how they react to the news — and also to ease expectations.

The timing makes sense. September has been the month that the White House, the Pentagon and the media have identified as “zero hour” for the next steps in the Iraq experiment. It appears that they are bracing for, at worst, a negative report from General Petraeus or, at best, a report that is viewed skeptically by the Democratic congress.

Check out the article for yourself, and let the D-Ring know if you think this effort will be successful.

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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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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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