Job opening: Strategic Communications Officer

Many use “strategic communication” (the singular form is most common) and “public diplomacy” as synonyms. While I have done the same, they are actually different. In the enduring debate over the definitions of “strategic communication” and “public diplomacy”, one thing is certain: strategic communication is global and public diplomacy is non-US (or external the geographic territory of the 50 United States but possibly not the territories and possessions).

It is then ironic and mildly amusing to find a job opening for a “Strategic Communications Officer” at State in USAJobs:

This position is located in the Office of Policy, Programs, and Resources supporting the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs and serves as Senior Advisor for Strategic Communications. The incumbent plays an important leadership role in proposing and developing programmatic public diplomacy initiatives within the Department and throughout the federal government.

The irony is that the Under Secretary does not to global engagement, specifically the Under Secretary does not do US engagement. That is the job of Public Affairs which she “owns” in title only. US (public affairs) and non-US (public diplomacy) engagement operations by the Under Secretary’s office is so bifurcated that the Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs is operationally equal to rather than a subordinate under the Under Secretary. Unless the “Senior Advisor for Strategic Communications” is going to bridge the PA/PD gap in State, specifically within “R”, the title serves little purpose but to dilute and confuse the definition of “public diplomacy.” Is OPPR a step behind and adopting “strategic communication” at a time when the chief user of the title – DOD – backing away? Why is this position not the “Senior Advisor for Public Diplomacy”? 

3 Replies to “Job opening: Strategic Communications Officer”

  1. The title of this position may be awkward, as you note, and risks some confusion, but your post misses something rather important. The major duties of this position involve advising Under Secretary McHale on congressional issues, US international broadcasting, inter-actions with GAO and OIG and other organizations. The incumbent will serve as the Under Secretary’s liaison to the Hill, to BBG and other “key influencers” in the foreign policy establishment. The good news is that by strengthening her link to BBG, U/S McHale is trying to remedy the harm caused by the Administration’s failure to provide leadership at the BBG — which you have repeatedly remarked here and elsewhere — and to improve relations between State and US international broadcasting, which are currently in tatters. The right person in this job could also help improve public diplomacy’s profile in the Congress, which could lead to additional resources. Glass half full, in my view!

  2. This is perhaps an example of the difference between an academic’s definition and that of a practitioner.I would define public diplomacy as a governmental activity. Beyond that the definition is somewhat tautological: if we do public diplomacy, then public diplomacy is what we do. Communications (Information programming) is part of that, but so is long term relationship building (exchanges) which focus more on general mutual understanding than targeted communications. To describe a senior advisor to the U/S for PD as a Senior Advisor for PD wouldn’t really add any information to the title senior advisor. But by describing the position as senior advisor for strategic communications suggests that the position will focus on information and messaging – in addition to the outreach to other parts of government.
    BTW Strategic communications strikes me as an activity that is not intrinsically governmental. I can imagine private organizations also focusing on strategic communications.

  3. Bud, fair enough. The name is awkward, made more so by the rise of ‘strategic communication’ as ‘owned’ (in many eyes) by DOD. I am reminded of a conversation I had with a State Dir of Strategic Communication (not in R) on the subject of outreach within the US. This person could not authorize the activity because this person, in their own words, did not “do public diplomacy and would have to clear it through public affairs.”Anon, I disagree this is the definition of a ‘practitioner’ and would argue it’s the use by a bureaucrat (no slight intended). All activities are communication. IIP is not ICP – International Communication Programs – for a reason. IIP is the “fast” communicator and ECA is the “slow” communicator, regardless of Fulbright’s disdain for the “manipulation” of the minds of men (and women). From your argument, I see no value to load the title with ‘strategic’, especially when the phrase “strategic communication” is itself loaded. “Director of/for Communication” would be fitting, as would “Interagency Liason” or similar. However, that the position exists w/ the title it has is reason enough to not to change, energies are better spent elsewhere.
    If I accept Anon’s clarification (accepting Bud’s, which I do, makes the following moot as the distinction is more clear), then what is the difference between the (empty) Assistant Secretary for IIP and this senior advisor, excepting the managerial duties?

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