6 thoughts on “What is Strategic Communication?

  1. Strategic Communication is the overarching discipline that encompasses public affairs, information operations (IO), and psychological operations (PSYOP). It is any form of communication that is designed to create a strategic effect, which shapes “the battlespace” (as the military calls it) in some way we desire.Corporations use strategic communications to shape markets, for example to try to segment them in order to capture some segment for themselves. (E.g., to bill your cola as the drink for young professionals who watch a given television series). The State Department, following the policy of the previous administration and this one as well, is trying to use it to segment the ‘market’ of Muslims, in order to define al Qaeda-type Islam as not being part of ‘true’ Islam. The idea is to capture the market of ‘true’ Muslims for peaceful engagement.
    Public diplomacy is one toolset for this, but it isn’t the only one.
    Strategic communications can include kinetic “communication” as well — my favorite example being the time we invited a number of tribal leaders in Iraq to tour a captured Al Qaeda torture house, and then witness its demolition over a picnic lunch. The demolition was carried out with four JDAMs, time on target, creating what I imagine was a strong strategic effect in the minds of the attendees.
    It can also include developmental aid, if that aid is targeted to create a strategic effect in the minds of observers. For example, in Iraq, often we targeted aid to those who were doing things we wanted them to do; then others who wanted aid might come and ask what they could do to get similar grants or projects for their village. This, then, is a form of shaping: they are receiving our communication that we will support our allies, and it is shaping the battlefield in such a way that it becomes easier to operate, and we find that we have more people willing to work with us.
    The problem of the ‘orchestra,’ as you say, is that the military is required to build a firewall that prevents the use of all the tools except public affairs when there is a reasonable chance of communicating to the American public. As you know, public affairs has a very restrictive set of rules designed to ensure that the military is only communicating accurate, factual information to the American people.
    However, the other tools continue to exist, and can be used in cases when the US audience isn’t targeted. They are part of STRATCOMM; they just have to be set aside when the American people are likely to come into the picture.

  2. Matt,Your question within the larger post point to a major flaw in the way the USG approaches information as power. The focus always seems to go to “ways” and “means” at the expense of “ends”. So, here goes. What we really need to consider are the cognitive information effects we want to achieve in support of policy or military objectives. Those are the “ends.” The “means” should be left only to the imagination of the practitioner and not limited to a menu that includes such things as public diplomacy and public affairs (among others). The process by which we coordinate, intergrate, synchronize those means in order to achieve the effects is strategic communication (the “ways”). I really like the very simplified approach that says that strategic communication is a process to integrate words, images and actions in order to achieve cognitive information effects. Given this latter interpretation, I believe strategic communication occurs at all levels, tactical through national strategic, regardless of the lexicon.

  3. The semantic issue is whether you’re asking what is strategic communication as conceived as a practice by a particular group, or what is strategic communication is in general. In general it is communication by an organization to serve some strategic goal or purpose.You are right on the former count, but Grim hits is on the head on the latter. IMHO the more general definition is the better one to use, because it provides a broader set of resources for thinking about the problem and gets away from peculiarities of organizational history (not that such peculiarities aren’t interesting to look at).
    Dennis makes good points too, though I wouldn’t restrict the effects desired to cognitive ones. Communication circulates in systems and has effects that transcend (and can change) individual cognition.

  4. We spend so long on definitions that sometimes it detracts from what we are trying to do – in this case communicate. I am for this reason somehat wary of getting too envoved in the tyranny of terminology. STRATCOM, influence, engagement and so it goes on. Is this one of the reasons we are actually losing the information war on military operations?I agree with the simple definition as suggested by Dennis but also do not think it should be limited to cognitive effects – surely we should include affective and conative effects as well – to bring about actions as well – or even change as well as just informing.

  5. Dennis is the clearest here. My experience shows that ‘Ends’ are rarely important to the average fed. ‘Ways’ and ‘Means’ are how most federals are graded and promoted. It is the rare senior–or mid-level–federal supervisor who cares a whit about what product his/her department turns out as long as the process is followed.This is not new for anyone reading this however…so the real trick is to use the profound talents of so many military and civilian employees to create honest, lasting change. I am not at all certain that that kind of change can happen in the military and civil service absent the kind of dynamic leadership that TR once used in the CSC. Nor will it occur unless and until un-elected bureaucrats who cannot be fired believe in the goals of a President, any President.
    I will continue to fight the good fight but realized long ago that I am fighting an uphill battle to tell the stories of American’s both in and out of uniform.

  6. Matt, from a personal perspective I think that Dennis has nailed it on the head. Certainly from a NATO or perhaps better European perspective this fits with what the perception of SC is shaping towards. The UK is as ever lolloping slowly behind the US with a view that is what some are describing as PA+ or even worse PA 2.0. Indeed there are some commercial entities that are marketing themselves to many of the IAs with exactly that model. Unfortunately to a Commander or a Decision Maker that is a simple solution that requires no thought and is thus readily accepted as the answer to all ills.Dennis defines it very clearly as with the ends/outcomes/effects being the important element and indeed where the Strategy needs to focus. There are many, indeed as the use of information as power grows so will the number of means/tools/ways in which information will be used as a line of power. By restricting our reach through a doctrine that will only really ever be read by academics, we limit the practitioners ability to achieve the desired outcome.
    Commerce is quick to adapt to new technologies and methodologies, as are our those who seek to destabilise global security. In order to regain the initiative we need to have a clear and measurable strategy, then let the practitioners get on with delivering it. It is as simple as that – whether that will be agreed at the London conference on Afghanistan and Yemen is very unlikely!

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