Friday, May 30, 2008


My Dad used to say “Anything is easy – if you know what you’re doing.” In today’s world the comparable expression would be “You can find anything you want on the Internet – if you know where to look.”

One of my sources sent me a link to a site offering free military movies. Who can resist free AND military movies? I immediately searched under PSYOP and found “The 6th PSYOP Bn in Viet Nam”. Check it out at:

And have a great weekend.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

PSYOP and Personification

If pictures are more powerful than words, then aren’t people more powerful than mere messages? Channeling messages through identifiable and credible individuals is a proven formula for success. Employing people to express ideas is a powerful way to crystallize messages into an appealing and convincing approach. In classical marketing theory this is called personification which is embodying or exemplifying an idea by using a personality to get your point across.

The May 28 NY Times article: “Al Qaeda Warrior Uses Internet to Rally Women” ( is a great case in point.

First of all it labels a woman in Belgium whose weapon is virtual words as a warrior. That in and of itself is worthy of note – not too many publications recognize that the electron is at least as mighty as the pen is. Whether or not the increase in female suicide bombers is due in part to Ms El Aroud’s efforts is not the point.

The point is -- she is a recognizable figure and apparently an IO force to be reckoned with. It appears that she has carved out a place in the IO battlefield. In my opinion she is also very likely to be perceived as a champion of sorts. Perhaps a better way to express my thought is to see her in the same way a mother might see a Roller Derby Star. Mothers don’t want their daughters to grow up and skate in the Roller Derby, but they might hold out the Roller Derby Star as a positive role model because she is succeeding in a man’s world on her own terms.

The takeaway for PSYOP message crafters is to personify whenever you can. People want to identify with other people more than anything else. They want to cheer for those they support and help those they feel have been wronged.

For our part, I am hopeful that we are in the process of crafting messages by credible spokes people deploring the training of child suicide bombers and to the extent possible putting a face on this tragedy by telling the stories of the boys who were recently rescued from such training in Iraq.

Over the years I have learned that the simplest messages from the most believable, beloved, respected, or otherwise positively regarded spokes people works the best.

Judging from the high esteem that the NY Times seems to have Ms. El Aroud, it appears that our enemies have learned this lesson very well.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

PSYOP Fatigue Factor

I spent Memorial Day weekend in my ancestral home, New York City. The only tangible evidence that I could find that it was indeed Memorial Day weekend was the occasional small group of sailors or marines (always in like groups) that roamed mid-town.

I used our time in “The City” to catch up on my New York Times reading and came across an article indicating that the coverage of Iraq and Afghanistan had gone down dramatically because of the perception that things were actually getting better. The other message transmitted by the article was that the American public had become tired of hearing war related stories.

(see “Wars We Chose To Ignore” @

This made me think about the audiences in Iraq and Afghanistan and wonder if they were just as tired of their media environment. And, if they were, what changes in PSYOP would be appropriate. I felt that another key ingredient in the mix was the recent set of interviews with Iraqi’s in Baghdad who seemed delighted that the Iraqi Army was back. The interviewees were totally upbeat about that ‘their’ Army was back – there was a great deal of pride in the fact that the Army was theirs. It seemed like an acceptance of a new level of security, one that was thankfully centered on Iraqi’s rather than Americans.

While I’m clearly not aware of the messaging being transmitted in theater, I suspect that the notion of aggressively promoting the Iraqi success or presence has not been pursued in part because of the dynamic nature of the environment and the fact that the messages developed previously have been overcome by events.

I am of the opinion that the local forces ought to control messages within the bounds of acceptable and previously vetted campaigns and themes. This would allow the leverage of events to reinforce the effectiveness of the messages and ensure a more positive reception.

In my view the key challenges are credibility and sourcing. Messages have to be transmitted from sources that the audience intuitively accepts. Otherwise the message would be discarded merely on the basis of the untrustworthiness of the actual or perceived source.

In my old Brooklyn neighborhood a successful campaign would have meant working through the leadership of the various buildings and blocks. Word of mouth would have spread through formal and informal leaders at gathering places such as the local ‘stoop’, the market, the cafĂ© (or delicatessen in our case), places of worship, schools, athletic fields – all had a place in the news chain.

While the types of places may have changed, the principles remain the same. My message today is that perhaps the time is ripe in some areas to alter the messages to reinforce success and to give the local audiences reasons to celebrate their new security and hope for the future.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Al Jazeera English: Good Business or Real Strategic Communications

The New York Times Financial Section ran a 19 May story “Al Jazeera English Tries to Extend Its Reach to the US” (

Tony Burman the new Managing Director did his best to paint a picture of a media start up seeking to serve the US market by providing credible journalism and a BBC like perspective on the news.

Al Jazeera English (AJE) has found breaking into the potentially lucrative US TV market difficult. Limiting factors on their success have been the taint of their “Arabic sibling” and the crowded and competitive nature of cable systems according to the article. Interestingly no mention was made of satellite TV networks at all.

You can watch AJE in the USA on: GlobeCast World TV; Buckeye Cable, Ohio; Washington Cable (Washington, DC); Islamicity (Broadband); and JumpTV (Broadband). (source:

AJE announced distribution agreements in Portugal, Ukraine, and Vietnam – not exactly your mainstream TV markets. Most TV stations that I’m familiar with are after one thing: advertising dollars. Their goal is to broadcast shows that attract desirable demographics to attract the most lucrative advertisers. The only exception to this is the Public Broadcasting System (PBS).

So what is AJE after? What are its strategic goals? I’m inclined to accept the premise that they are trying to attract an English speaking audience or perhaps an Arabic one that is trying to learn how to speak English. Say what they will, their center of gravity remains their Arabic Big Brother and their Qatar based ownership’s strategic interests are most likely to be served by broadening their exposure to audiences that are or should be influenced by the editorial strain that has marked AJ since its inception.

Critics of AJE have indicated that their home office in Doha, Qatar was becoming more directive in terms of coverage rather than news hubs in Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia), London or DC. Departures of Western Journalists to include law suits by some, are characterized as normal growing pains or indicative of the climate the “Home Office” establishes depending on your point of view.

My feeling is that AJE is an extension of the corporate family and their ultimate, buy perhaps not their immediate mission, is to expand the reach of the core messaging and perspectives advocated by AJ ownership. The small distribution agreements combined with what appears to be a well funded, yet long term, patient approach to expansion shows a well thought out strategic communications direction in my opinion. But as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.

The cartoons above came from the AJE website ( today, I’ll leave it to you to decided if this is good, BBC like credible journalism, or intelligence indicators of the true nature of their strategic direction.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Silver Bullet Messages – Where Are They?

DHS Under Secretary for Intelligence and Analysis Charles E. Allen recently addressed the Washington Institute for Near East Policy saying “I find it particularly alarming that al Qa'ida is improving its ability to translate its messages to target Europeans and North Americans.”

He went on to describe their overall efforts - - “At the top of this sophisticated marketing machine, al Qa'ida leaders have carefully crafted and controlled their words. Al Sahab produces the audio or videotapes; the al-Fajr online media network plays the messages on numerous electronic platforms to include messages that download onto "I-PODs" and similar electronic devices. The Global Islamic Media Front then translates, re-packages, and re-disseminates these messages onto numerous - sometimes redundant - websites with the capacity to regenerate any website if a government or private entity attempts to bring it down.” (full text at:

At the heart of the al Qa’ida effort is their messaging which the Secretary described: “Al Qa'ida media themes throughout 2007 were consistent with previous messages of building unity in the Muslim community while instilling a sense of duty to support violence in defense of Islam.”
Simple and powerful messages are the hallmarks of successful marketing and public relations. Marketing materials and spokes people must reinforce each other’s efforts employing the common messages.

In the interest of full disclosure, be advised that I am writing this entry relying on my over 35 years marketing experience, but without the benefit of first hand experience in either Iraq or Afghanistan.

It strikes me that local commanders probably know what their key messages ought to be because their objectives are close at hand. This means that tactical PSYOP teams should have their messages pre-planned and reinforce them employing whatever media is at hand. Each team member should be keenly aware of these messages.

PR trainers go so far as to teach their students to employ several ‘safe messages’ that can be relied on when the spokes people are being forced off track. This would be a useful technique for tactical teams to employ as well.

Messaging should theoretically come on three levels: Corporate (Global), Regional and Local. The senior PSYOP Officer in theater should function as the Regional lead and take the appropriate steps to insure deconfliction and reinforcement of messages across the AO. The Regional leads should also be the touchstone for “Corporate” messaging and work with global and national partners such as the JMISC for the same purposes.

It is important to point out that there is a key difference between corporate messaging and government messing. Corporations promote different business units or product lines, Government messaging should be consistent across all levels. This consistency should be managed employing a corporate like management capability across cabinet departments.

Given the hierarchical nature of the military it could be argued that DoD information should be able to invoke this kind of coordination. When it comes to the US government overall, this does not appear to be the case.

There is no single Chief “Marketing” Officer at the Cabinet level, nor does the President employ a functional approach to information operations. Perhaps a Special Advisor to the President (and an ex officio member of the National Security Council) would an effective means to insure this homogeneity throughout the Executive Branch. This Advisor could function as the President’s lead for information in the same way that Chief Marketing Officers work with their counterparts on the CEO’s staff to accomplish the information goals of the corporation.

We must learn from our enemies if we are to defeat them.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

SecDef at West Point Had PSYOP in Mind

Good Morning From Atlanta,

One of my colleagues passed along a copy of the speech that SecDef Gates gave at West Point on 21 April. While I had very strong negative feelings about Secretary Gates’ predecessor I had a positive, but fuzzy picture of the current SecDef. After reading the speech, it’s clear to me that he ‘gets it’. (You can find the full speech at:

While that speech was targeted to future officers, there are some key points for all of us in PSYOP past, present and future. We need to understand that healthy informed dialogue is an important way to insure freshness and candor in our organizations. We also need to recognize that, in general, the Press and the Congress offer a proper balance to the Executive Branch and in the words of the SecDef a critical eye on the way we do business.

Secretary Gates cited a little known officer, MG Fox Conner. While Conner died before the start of WWII his mentorship of its leaders notably General Eisenhower and General Marshall was likely more of a contribution to the successful conclusion of WWII then any of us will ever know. It’s worth a bit of your time to review the references to Conner’s rules of war noted during the speech.

The battlefield of the twenty first century will be riddled by dilemmas according to the secretary: “dilemmas posed by a non-linear environment made up of civilian detainees, contractors, embedded media and an adversary that does not wear uniforms or obey the laws of war; an adversary that could be your enemy on one day or, as we've seen in Iraq's Anbar province, your partner the next.”

PSYOP is one of the forces to straighten the curves of this non-linear environment. Consistent and effective PSYOP is the way to inform and influence adversaries and sometimes our allies in a way as to hasten the achievement of the Commander’s goals. In the case of Iraq and Afghanistan the Commander is perhaps more the Captain dealing with the front line than General Petreaus.

As the secretary notes “our Army will require leaders of uncommon agility, resourcefulness and imagination; leaders willing and able to think and act creatively and decisively in a different kind of world, in a different kind of conflict than we have prepared for the last six decades”.

In the PSYOP world this means understanding your audience and creating the most effective path to influencing them. Creativity has advantages, but creativity in the Western Mind will not necessarily have the desired effect on other cultures. PSYOP down range requires more than a cursory knowledge of language and culture. PSYOP works best when you are in tune with your audience, where you understand the nuances of messaging in the context of the social and psychological environment.

In carrying out tactical AO the PSYOP leader on the ground has to make critical decisions and report observations and recommendations up the chain of command. While PSYOP personnel are generally not shy, a few will consider the impact on their efficiency report and career as a part of the decision making process. It’s my feeling and experience that your career path is not part of the equation. But perhaps the Secretary said it better when he described the duties of an officer – which are the duties of all us in the PSYOP community:

1. To provide blunt and candid advice always;
2. To keep disagreements private;
3. And to implement faithfully decisions that go against you.

Adhering to these duties won’t win popularity contests, but you will know that you are being honest with yourself and making a genuine contribution.