Reaching a wider audience (above: a cat listens to the live broadcast of the BBC Today Programme on Radio 4 at the British base in Basra Palace, 2006)

Monday, 23 June 2008

What is Strategic Communications? Spin?

Strategic Communications or “StratComm” (depending which circles you mix in) seems to have seeped across the pond into Britain. Academics are still trying to define the term which is being used in the States for everything from traditional PR, selling military action to presidential campaigns. Is this the new (polite) way we can use the word “spin”?

"The fact that there is no national security strategy for strategic communications—or even a government-wide definition of "strategic communications"—seven years into the War on Terror is nothing less than a travesty" - Tony Blankley and Oliver Horn, The Heritage Foundation

This week I ran a strategic communications course for the UN’s senior public information officials. I didn’t really attempt to define it – but I did attempt to DO IT. (No, NOT communicate strategically) – I mean strategise about communications (confused?) With interesting results, the more and more strategy (thinking ahead) is applied to all communications activities (and in this I include public diplomacy, public information, media engagement and all influence activity) – the more it becomes clear to me that a bottom up approach is more effective (like the one’s used by the Taliban and Al Q).

What do I mean by “bottom up approach”? (and I do hate myself for this consultant chatter). I mean, talking to the masses, the people, the young, the victims and those directly affected by an issue as a priority over engaging with senior leaders. This has always made sense but in the shift towards greater emphasis on the voice of the people (and iReport is a good example of that – even if it is just lazy journalism) it is even more the case.

As a former diplomat the idea that you speak to society rather than society’s leaders as a means to bring about change, goes against the grain. But I now firmly believe that quiet handshakes between world leaders and high level bilaterals are not the best way to communicate your message, or influence, or alter perception. And it is self-fulfilling prophecy – once a community recognises itself as an important target audience, its view of itself will change and society will become empowered. In the words of Derrick Ashong “No society can develop without an understanding of it’s own worth.”

So for me, StratComm is about a lot more than “spin” – it is as much about research – about listening, consulting, understanding and planning as it is about talking to journalists and those who inhabit the corridors of power.

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