Editorial: NATO needs to fire its PR from the top

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.

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

fired?



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.



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