The lack of resources and senior communication lines at NATO’s PR
headquarters revealed by Alastair Campbell following his visit to
Brussels last week, will be all too familiar to many PR Week readers.
The crucial difference here is that the resulting lack of a cohesive
communications strategy could cost lives rather than just profits.
Considering the spotlight that has been played on the propaganda battle
being waged, it is remarkable that NATO has not recognised earlier the
importance of moving its information on to a war footing. Senior
officials are believed to have felt for some time that the media
operation in the NATO headquarters was one of its weak spots - so why
wasn’t action taken internally, before, or as, the first shots were
Instead, the own goal scored by NATO this week, as a result of the
botched handling of the NATO bombing of Albanian refugees, could well
have serious implications in terms of shoring up support for Milosevic,
providing him with material to vindicate his claims of Western butchery
and rally Serbian support for continued aggression. That he has been
handed such an advantage is a disgrace.
Following Campbell’s expose of Jamie Shea’s lack of resources, NATO
countries are quickly seconding senior PR expertise to its headquarters.
But sheer numbers are unlikely to solve Shea’s fundamental dilemma - a
lack of access to the strategy decisions being taken by senior NATO
officials. It was this lack of senior level direction which resulted in
the lack of cohesive communications with regard to the bombing of the
Albanian convoy, and which enabled the recent drip feed of
misinformation and badly timed admissions of guilt to take place.
As Campbell has rightly pointed out, effective crisis management would
have involved issuing a holding statement, while an investigation was
undertaken, instead of slinging wild counter accusations at the
media-savvy enemy. But, as with all crises, effective management on an
international scale, can only come from the top.
What is crucial now is that NATO concentrates on improving the lines of
communication between Shea and the powers that be at the Supreme
Headquarters Allied Powers Europe.
With the temporary removal of media briefings from Brussels to
Washington there may be light at the end of the tunnel. As a recent
survey in PR Week’s US edition highlighted, direct access to senior
executives is more of a given in the public affairs driven US
environment than in bureaucracy bound Brussels. If this policy of access
can rub off on the NATO information machinery, it may prove to be one of
the US’s most significant contributions to the war effort to date.