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.

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