Comms pros consult on US military report

ARLINGTON, VA: The RAND Corporation consulted with a number of top PR and marketing experts when creating a recently released report urging the US military to think of itself as a brand that must ensure its communications are met with appropriate actions.

ARLINGTON, VA: The RAND Corporation consulted with a number of top PR and marketing experts when creating a recently released report urging the US military to think of itself as a brand that must ensure its communications are met with appropriate actions.

The $400,000 report, "Enlisting Madison Avenue: The Marketing Approach to Earning Popular Support in Theaters of Operation," which was commissioned by the US Joint Forces Command (USJFCOM) and is available at www.rand.org, discussed how the military could effectively use corporate branding and communications strategies and techniques for operations in Iraq and elsewhere.

Executives from Burson-Marsteller, Weber Shandwick, J.D. Power, the Rendon Group, and the Lincoln Group, among others; marketing professors at NYU and Northwestern; and various military experts aided the report.

The key message of the report, said lead author Todd Helmus, who is a clinical psychologist by training, but has spent the past three years studying lessons learned by the US military in Iraq and Afghanistan, is that like any corporate brand, the US military must make sure its actions match its words. Otherwise, it won't receive the trust or support of the ever-critical civilian population on which military operations ultimately depend.

"Our point in the report is that actions speak louder than words," Helmus said. "You can't build positive relationships with people in war zones by just saying good things. You have to do good things."

The report coincides with Congressional discussions over the 2008 defense appropriations bill, including debate over continued funding for the controversial Guantanamo military prison.

In practice, that means being as up-front as possible about, for instance, accidental civilian casualties or other mistakes that can potentially be used for propaganda purposes by the adversary. With the prevalence and immediacy of the Internet, that means a focus on online communications, which the report, as well as a number of PR experts, says has not been utilized as effectively as possible by the US military.

WS chairman Jack Leslie, who was consulted for the report, said the US government is increasingly willing to study best practices from the corporate world.

"Especially now, given the radical changes going on in the marketing world, there are all sorts of innovations happening in corporate marketing that the government would like to access," he added. "This is a convenient way to do it, and it doesn't require a big contract with individual agencies."

DBD Worldwide chairman Keith Reinhard, also consulted for the report, agreed that government agencies are embracing corporate communications principles, but he said funding for their adoption remains generally too low.

While insurgent forces in Iraq and elsewhere have done a good job projecting or "shaping" their global image via the use of multimedia online, including videos of "jihadis," cell phone messages, and even video games, US policies such as the 1948 Smith-Mundt Act - which prohibits the government from directing propaganda at US audiences - prevent the US military from engaging as extensively and effectively as it could with an online audience, said the report.

Paige Craig, ex-president and now a board member of the Lincoln Group, which is conducting polls in Iraq to study the attitudes and perceptions of Iraqis on rule of law, support for violent groups, and other issues, said US military adversaries have great propaganda.

"It doesn't look as flashy as something you'd find on Madison Avenue, but it's very effective," he said. "It's almost embarrassing to sit here and realize we've got the talent and ability to counter what the adversary makes; it's simply a matter of policy."

Helmus said that the new report, like others commissioned by the USJFCOM, will enter a process of evaluation to determine its merits and how recommendations can be tested and put into action.

A spokesperson for USJFCOM, which is tasked by the US Defense Department with "transforming" the US military through new technologies and practices, said officials were not immediately available to comment on the report.

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