February 20, 2011

The Business of Strategic Communication

Maybe I am being a little self righteous, but the Corman, Hess and Justus piece on Strategic Communication made me feel just a little bit dirty reading it. While the business of selling a product is always at least to some degree manipulation, the business of selling a war (if there should be such a business, but that’s a different blog) seems as though it should be about a little more than that. The policy implications at the end of the paper were what made me cringe the most.

The first recommendation is the only one that seems to recognize that there is no way that some people in the Middle East will love Americans today, tomorrow, or in the next six months. This is good thing, because it shows that they are trying to be less delusion in their communication approach. However, there is also a need to recognize that you can’t force “like” on people and that for some people it may never happen.

The second implication is to involve sympathetic Muslims. I think this will work just about as much as a McDonalds commercial with an African American family and RnB playing in the background works on me (about once a month to be honest). Muslims in the Middle East are going to take with a spoonful of salt anyone speaking on behalf of America, no matter what there skin color or religious beliefs are. They are not going to be OK with our War on Terror just because someone who may or may not share similar religious beliefs from the U.S. says so.

Degrading the opponent is an equally bad idea. Didn’t these authors ever hear two wrongs don’t make a right? This is like telling the kid who is being bullied at school to give it back to the other kid in kind. This just doesn’t work. Instead of focusing on the messages that other people are sending out, the number one priority should be fixing our message. If our message becomes more credible then we don’t have to worry about the other’s message. Trying to destroy their message makes ours even less credible in the short and long term.

The last recommendation is having lower level employees deliver messages instead of higher officials. This just shows a lack of understanding the culture that they propagate earlier in the paper. Many cultures appreciate high-level officials taking responsibility for their words and actions. For instance, when something goes wrong in a Japanese business, it is ALWAYS the CEO who steps down, where as in the U.S. blame is passed down from one official to the next. Before deciding that people who have no real power behind the message should be the ones to give the message, maybe they should research whether or not this would be a good strategy in the Middle East or not. They also suggest using a Middle Eastern celebrity (based on research done somewhere they don’t mention). All I have to say to that is REALLY???

In the end sometimes I think we need to take a step back and stop trying to formulate a message. Stop telling people who we are and what we are and why we are so great. Showing is sometimes the best way to convey a message. Just as our war on terror has already delivered a message to the Middle East that almost seems immutable at this point. I don’t want to seem so pessimistic. I do think that if we are taking big steps in showing a new message with ending the Iraq War, but these things don’t happen over night. We have a lot of explaining to do, and not with words.


Steven Corman, Aaron Hess, and Z.S. Justus. “Credibility in the Global War on Terrorism: Strategic Principals and Research Agenda”. Consortium for Strategic Communication. Report #0603. June 9, 2006.

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