Friday, February 5, 2016

PSYOP and Commercial Influence: Another Perspective

I was attending a training session for the DOD Employer Support to Guard and Reserve (ESGR). During the session I was asked to give an impromptu introduction into “Marketing”. Since there is an on-going conversation as to the similarities and differences between commercial influence (marketing, sales & Public Relations) and PSYOP/MISO, I thought I would share the essence of that presentation in this posting.

I view the commercial influence world as three complementary functions: Public Relations (PR), marketing and sales. Unlike the military where the reporting structure is clear, this is sometimes not the case in the commercial sector. I have been in organizations where Marketing, Sales and PR each are headed by Vice Presidents and report to the CEO. In other places Marketing and PR are combined.

PR has a clear mission: communicate the organization’s messages.

Sales also has a clear mission: generate revenue.

Marketing’s job is primarily to support sales, but can also provide support to PR.

In the military world Public Affairs (PR) is the CDR’s voice to the media. They reach target audiences both foreign and domestic through the media.

PSYOP, for the sake of discussion, has the marketing and sales missions.

In this case I equate sales to “Face to Face” communications. PSYOP teams are in direct, personal contact with the population and take on the role of a sales force.

MISO forces create products that are used in the media and are used directly with the population. MISO can purchase or trade for print space or broadcast time. They can, as do commercial entities, hire contractors to write white papers, articles and OpEd materials in support of the CDR’s messages. (Note: this post is not meant to discuss issues of sourcing and attribution, but rather only the techniques.

MISO also creates leaflets (sort of like commercial brochures), posters, comic books, etc.

Commercial entities are making aggressive use of Social Media with an emphasis on FaceBook and Twitter. Strikes me that PA is the right military specialty to take the CDR’s messages through Social Media. I’m not quite sure that MISO doctrine has caught up with MISO’s role in Social Media and invite informed readers to chime in here.

The point of today’s entry is that there are valid comparisons between commercial influence and PSYOP/MISO. They may not be exactly right – but they certainly can explain MISO to CDR and other stakeholders.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Rules for Playing On the Islamic Home Field

With the 50th Super Bowl around the corner, sports metaphors abound this time of year. The PSYOP Community finds itself playing in ‘home fields’ around the world. Many of today’s AOs are in the Islamic world, an area of the world and a culture that are foreign to many of us.

I had the great pleasure of attending a lecture sponsored by the Safe Communites Institute, a part of the USC Price School of Public Policy. The speaker, Dr. Doron Pely is the Executive Director of the Sulha Research Institute (see: and a colleague of mine at TALGlobal (

While we are taught that it’s often dangerous to generalize, sometimes an educated, Kentucky windage leveraged analysis is a better place to start than one of ignorance.

Today’s posting is a synthesis of the hour and half lecture. The data upon which it is based comes from a few sources. The essence is a comparison of perceptions of Israeli’s by Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and vice versa – the perception of Arabs of the West Bank and Gaza Strip by Israelis. Arabs gathered Arab perception data while Israelis collected Israeli perception data.

The gross generalization is that these perceptions will closely align with perceptions of the “West” by Islamic populations in areas of conflict, especially those AOs with active military operations.

How does the target audience perceive you?

According to the research, the West is viewed with the following descriptors:
·      Bad, dishonest and uneducated.
·      Cowardly and cruel.
·      Violent with a lack of pity.

The research also indicated that the West is perceived as lacking understanding of Islamic culture and lacking in empathy. This last point is critical because empathy is a critical prerequisite for conflict resolution.

Research also showed that the Palestinians were split pretty evenly as to whether they felt it was beneficial to achieve a peaceful settlement. This point means that most Islamic conflict AOs will start with the West playing catch-up in gaining the trust and confidence of the population.

The New “Normal”

Those of use who have studied psychology in Western Universities learned the classic Maslow hierarchy of needs as shown below. (Diagrams courtesy of Sulha Research Center)

However, the Sulha Pyramid below shows a juxtaposition that is fundamental to understanding Islamic culture. Notice that the basic physiological needs are in the middle of the pyramid with Honor & Esteem needs as the base and Belonging as the second layer. 

Prior to wrapping up, let me offer the best practices provided in the lecture.

1.     Mind the rituals.
Short cuts won’t cut it. Building trust and respecting the process is a key to success.

2.     Watch the state of Honor.
Honor as fundamental in Islamic culture as fundamental as food and drink in the West.

3.     Mind Precedents
Just as you would with a court case, do some research to validate that what you want to do now has been done in the past.

4.     Remember your role.
A critical nuance is that those with power ‘pull’ while those who perceive themselves as victims will ‘push’. Pulling implies indirect pressure.

5.     Keep the constituencies in mind.
Consider each party’s perspective.

6.     Use creative reframing.
Constantly insure that you are in empathy with the process while framing your positions.

We in the PSYOP community need to be lifelong learners, sometimes this also means we need to search for new perspectives that help us optimize our efforts in diverse AOs.

Reader input encouraged!

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Narratives and Messages – Key to Influence & Counter-Influence

Focus is a key to influence success. Unless you know your messages and that of your opponent, you will not succeed. A narrative often forms the core of an enemy’s attraction. For example, Qulliam, a UK based think tank characterizes the ISIS narrative as: “Islam is under attack and we must defend it”  (see:; Countering Islamist Extremist Narratives: A Strategic Briefing, January 2016).

Quilliam also reports that “ISIS publishes more than 30 unique pieces of propaganda each day, and its broader narrative can be stratified into six sub-themes: Brutality; Mercy; War; Victimhood; Belonging; and Utopianism” and argues that “Only by countering the broad Islamist narrative, and how ISIS uses it in its propaganda to radicalise and recruit, will we be able to make progress in our foreign policy priorities for pursuing peace and stability in the region.”

Developing an effective counter narrative requires an in depth understanding of the basis for the target narrative as well as a keen grasp of the communications media and vehicles use to influence target audiences. Naturally language and credibility are key as well as the ability to raise issues with the enemy narrative while not denigrating the base documents upon which the enemy alleges that the narrative is based.

While Quilliam may argue that an attack on the broadest of narratives is the most logical starting point, an alternative approach might be to address sub-themes through a family of messages for each sub-theme and building up a case with the attack on the broader narratives.

The report noted above has some excellent references and examples and is worth your time to check out.

As always, reader input encouraged.

Photo Source:

Monday, January 4, 2016

Case Studies & PSYOP

The beginning of a New Year is always a time to think about new perspectives.

One of the staples of business education is the case study. Sometimes referred to (at least in the olden days when I went to school as the Harvard Case Method (see:

The students received a mini-booklet that described a company. By design it included financial statements, marketing information and panoply of other stuff. Your job as the student was to figure out what was wrong with the company and offer your recommendations on how to fix the company.

I had one entrepreneurial professor during my MBA program at Babson College who gave us an assignment on a case study with a different slant. Our job was not to solve the company’s problems, but to get the consulting contract wherein the company would pay us to solve their problems.

This assignment required a whole different set of skills and, in retrospect, formed some of the basis for my starting and running my own successful consulting business.

One of my sources directed me to a LinkedIn piece which in turn directed me to an article: “Russian Propaganda, Disinformation And Estonia’s Experience – Analysis (see:, which is also the photo source).

The content of the article is pretty good – but I am referencing it as a potential tool for PSYOP/MISO education. Given the range of current and potential adversaries and AOs, it is incumbent on us to develop the processing of thinking for PSYOPers.

I would point to regionally-oriented on-line sources as a way to do this. The site referenced above seems to be a good one and I’m sure that there are others as well. In particular I feel we should be leveraging this type of exercise to stimulate the student thought process and to learn about other parts of the world notably Asia, Africa and Latin America.

Reader input encourage and the best and brightest of New Year’s to all y’all!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Happy Holidays And A New Approach to Veteran's Unemployment


I don't generally promote causes of any type, but helping our fellow unemployed Veterans succeed in life is a cause we can all agree on. Most of us have been unemployed at one point or another and learned the hard way that there are no easy solutions.

A very trusted colleague of mine is one of the founders of V.E.T.S., a new approach to matching veterans with teams where they can thrive.

Here's their pitch:

We did it!
V.E.T.S. created its promised year-end, tax-deductible donation campaign to automate our culture measurement and employment process.
Yes, it’s an amazing capability you’ve never heard of. Please, take a look at You'll see our work's details on
Gifts should be about improving lives. Nothing's more important (after family) than helping people join teams where they fit in for rewarding work! Get that part right and the rest of life goes much better. We can make those matches with solid analysis rather than guessing or stereotypes. This is especially important for young veterans (our cause) but works for everybody.
Now, it's time for your help as you also help yourself. Please, please strongly consider including us among your holiday donations and also spread the word by using all of the options below to enlist your family and friends. — Our Reward Levels give you this job culture matching service, for life! You also have choices to bring family and friends with you. Please look for those choices on the GoFundMe page.
For those of us with nothing left to donate after staying afloat, we get it because we've been there. So here's what you do: go to your friends, parents and older relatives with the truth that the V.E.T.S. process will revolutionize the way people find rewarding jobs and student bodies. Look at the short GoFundMe video for details. Support now could lead to your dream job later, especially if you're just starting out. Really! So consider the messages below and mention us over the holidays.
You can also help by following us on Twitter (  and liking us on Facebook (  to stay current as we pursue this dream!
Thank you for taking time to support this very important mission. We look forward to helping our veterans across the country find places on great teams where they'll fit in after serving us so well.
Merry Christmas,
A-10 Warthog callsign, 'Jefe' 

And here's the link and the photo source:


Tuesday, December 22, 2015

That Old Time Religion – A Daesh Antidote?

The NY Times of 21 December 15 ran an OpEd piece entitled “A Medieval Antidote to ISIS” (see:, which is also the picture source.)

The article was written by Mustafa Akyol, who is a self-described lenient Muslim. While many of us are familiar with our own religions and many others, I suspect that not many of us are familiar with “Murjia” or irja. Adherents to this variety of the Islamic religion are simply called “postponers” because they believe in a pluralistic, tolerant form of Islam.

Many religions are not uniform. They run from the strict, conservative approach to the laws espoused by the religion to the more reform or lassiez faire who adopt more of a buffet approach where they take what they want in terms of religious guidelines.

Many in the PSYOP/MISO Community regard the war on Daesh as one of competing philosophies and ideals.

Is it reasonable to assume that an approach based on lesser-known aspects of a religion can be used to persuade zealots and jihadists to become more moderate?

While I don’t think either a historical or a logical argument will win over these extremists, I do believe that it may be possible to show existing moderates or undecided followers that there are historical and less violent ways to follow their religion.

Here, as with other campaigns, it would be necessary to employ credible spokes people to employ and inside out approach so that people within the community are trying to influence their co-religionists rather than outsiders promulgating this philosophy.

The last paragraph of the article sums up its perspective nicely:
Aware that irja is its theological antidote, the Islamic State presents it as a lack of religious piety. It is, however, true piety combined with humility — the humility that comes from honoring God as the only judge of men. On the other hand, the Islamic State’s zeal to dictate, which it presents as piety, seems to be driven by arrogance — the arrogance of judging all other men, and claiming power over them, in the name of God.”

Thursday, December 17, 2015

EPA: New Propaganda Machine?

On December 14, 2015 the NY Times claimed that the EPA engaged in “covert propaganda” in its social media efforts to support the President’s rule to better protect waterways. (See:,.)

The EPA was aggressively employing social media to support its mission. The agency mobilized efforts o Twitter, Facebook, and You Tube as a means of countering opposition (Republican of course) to its water rule. As the article notes, this campaign was one of many employed by the Obama administration as a way to go directly to the American public and bypassing traditional media.

Just as US military forces are legally barred from influencing US audiences, federal agencies are barred from using federal resources for lobbying – inducing citizens to contact Congress in support or opposition to pending legislation.

The nub of the issue seems to be whether or not an individual could easily determine if the message was written by a government entity. The classic argument put forward by the agency was that it was not hiding its role in the campaign.

A more recent piece appeared on December 17, 2015 (see:, which is also the photo source) Said “EPA ‘propaganda isn’t quite as dramatic as advertised”

MSNBC pointed out the ‘paid pundit ploy’ during Bush administration as a counter weight to the current imbroglio.

The lesson learned for PSYOPers is that if you’re going to engage in “Gray” propaganda (meaning it’s not quite obvious who the source is), you had better be prepared for your informational adversaries to jump on it and cry “Propaganda!”.

You may inadvertently trigger this reaction even unintentionally if it is not abundantly clear as to who the source really is. Perhaps the real lesson here is that it is not what you say, but whether someone can tell you said it!

Happy Holidays!