Friday, July 18, 2008

Tipping Point PSYOP or Does It Pay To Throw Good Money After Bad?

I arrived in Sarajevo in July 1997 to serve as the DCO of the NATO Combined Joint Information Campaign Task Force (CJICTF). By that time Radovan Karadic was already a wanted man. Rumors had him moving frequently at night in a caravan of cars. During the time I was in Bosnia there were several ‘sightings’ and much speculation about where he was and if he would ever get caught.

“Ever” came this week with a raid in Belgrade. Mr. Karadic was found to be leading a new life with a new physical and mental persona. The fact that he eluded his pursuers for so long is likely to be a testimonial to his personal intellect and discipline and to some level of acquiescence by the Serbian government.

What caused the tipping point? Was it PSYOP? Not in this case. I’ve sometimes split target audiences (TA) into Green, Yellow and Red. Green are people that already support your point view, Red are those who will never come around to your perspective and Yellow are the folks in the middle.

Mr. Karadic and his supporters over the last decade likely fall into the Red Group. A TA that has little regard for the Coalition point of view. Frankly I didn’t think that PSYOP efforts to erode his support would be successful. My feeling was that his supporters whether loyalists from the glory days in Pale or his new neighbors in Belgrade would not be persuaded to withdraw their support and turn him in.

If my hypothesis is correct, then why all of a sudden is there a hot tip that leads to an arrest? As Mr. Clinton might have said, “It’s the economy stupid!” The fact is that today’s Serbian government is interested in EU membership (see and they needed to corral Mr. Karadic and soon his #1 henchman, General Ratko Mladic as evidence of their worthiness to join the EU.

The moral of the story: nations must use all their instruments synergistically if they are to achieve the goals they set for themselves. In this case the Serbian government decided that the nation’s economic future was more important than continuing to shield one of their ‘heroes’.

Economics is a powerful weapon. Success of micro-financing efforts in Iraq have largely gone unnoticed and unreported, hopefully these successes and more importantly the people who have improved their lives are being aggressively promoted in the theater and internationally.

If NATO has Brand Management – Shouldn’t We?

NATO has hired Michael Stopford, a former Coca-Cola Company brand executive to shepherd its brand. According to the NY Times on 16 July (, the alliance feels it needs to be more effective at communicating to the citizen taxpayers who ultimately pay for it.

NATO is concerned about how their image is perceived across the alliance. The article quotes Jean-Fran├žois Bureau, NATO’s Assistant Secretary General for Public Diplomacy as saying “We have the green light to think about branding policy for NATO.”

A few of my more recent posts have drawn some very thought provoking comments concerning the military and its interaction with the media. I’ve often employed the metaphor of commercial enterprises and their PR and marketing departments and compared them respectively to the PAO and PSYOP. While I haven’t mentioned brand management too often, it’s a core part of successful organizations.

When I first joined Symantec in the fall of 2000 my boss was a former IBM Executive whose specialty was brand management. He was literally the right arm of Symantec CEO John Thompson and was able to exert significant influence on company operations in order to maintain the sanctity and value of the brand.

Translating that to the US Government – is the Department of State (DOS) the brand manager? Does DOD need its own brand management or is the notion of governmental brand management nonsense?

My perspective is that brand is synonymous with the reputation and imputed value of the organization. NATO has recognized the need to have a positive image and has taken a couple of baby steps such as the NATO Channel ( as a means of transmitting its messages about Afghanistan directly without the use of intermediary media. While it’s not clear how effective this effort has been, it gives credence to the concept of a military organization defending its ‘brand’ and in this case underscores the role of the Internet.

It remains to be seen how NATO doctrine will be adjusted to reflect an organization which is neither PAO nor PSYOP yet touches both worlds. The brand management effort is unabashedly one designed to influence the domestic audiences of NATO members, something the US military is prohibited from doing.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Military Perception Management: Not As Easy As It Looks

For those of you who read the blog regularly, my apologies for not posting in a while. Frankly I’ve been on vacation in Yellowstone and Idaho and didn’t even check e-mail for a week! I’ve found that unplugging is a productive mental health technique.

Like many of you I’m engaged in a number of on-line groups. One of my groups raised the issue of the military’s need to include ‘media manipulation’ as part of its planning. The author went on to say that the military needed to be more aggressive in developing and maintaining a positive image in the media.
Since this touched upon a number of points I’ve made in previous posts, I’ve adapted my response here.

Commercial organizations recognize the importance of perception management by funding PR, marketing and government relations. PR is the company's voice to the media, marketing provides a range of services designed to influence decision makers and government relations is a conduit of information from the company to the government. Stated differently, PR influences the media and marketing influences the customer and customer organizations.

All of these entities are driven by the goals set by management and approved by the board of directors.
Presumably there is a top level company strategy that clearly states revenue and profit goals and is focused on increasing the value of the company's worth (its shares of stock).The military does not have the same coherence.

While there is a National Strategy for Public Diplomacy, there is no comparable overarching strategy for perception of cabinet departments (beyond Dept of State) or for the government as a whole.Furthermore, there are legal bounds that the military cannot cross - PSYOP cannot be conducted domestically for example.

Another key difference is that the media is positioned to be a counter balance to the military because doing so helps them achieve their corporate goals and gives their platform more credence to their audiences who are pre-conditioned for anti military views.
When you take all of this into consideration, the DoD needs to develop a 'corporate' strategy that can be approved by the POTUS and that serves to guide PAO and other actions.

The point about access is a good one and the embedding strategy for reporters is one that seems to have been a good one in granting access that leads to positive results.
Recognize that like many multi-national organizations, DoD is made up of a large number of often conflicting parts (e.g. services) that have their own influence to peddle as witnesses by the recent stories concerning the Air Force's alleged used of recruiting commercials for "Cyber Warriors" as a means, not to increase recruits, but to enhance their competitive position with respect to budget dollars.