BACK TO : PUBLIC DIPLOMACY (PD) and CULTURAL DIPLOMACY (CD)
The Art of Public Diplomacy by Ramona Harper
A 19-year veteran of the Foreign Service, Ramona Harper is currently serving as a State Department Fellow in Ketchum's Washington office through the State Department's Executive Council on Foreign Diplomacy/Corporate Training Program. Here she draws on the wealth of experience she's gained working in the Public Affairs departments of U.S. embassies in Senegal, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Panama and Germany to offer insight on the art of Public Diplomacy.
Defining Public Diplomacy
The function of Public Diplomacy within the Department of State is to promote the national interest of the United States through understanding, informing and influencing foreign audiences. Essentially international public relations, the goals of Public Diplomacy are to build, maintain and tailor mutually beneficial relationships with foreign audiences. Compared to traditional diplomacy, which involves only government-to-government relations, Public Diplomacy includes governmental relations plus public-to-public, mass public audiences, and other public institutions such as educational, cultural, business and particularly, the media. Until October 1, 1999, Public Diplomacy was the work of the United States Information Agency. USIA consolidated into the Department of State in 1999. The current undersecretary for public diplomacy and public affairs is former Madison Avenue advertising expert, Charlotte Beers.
In a paper titled, 'Public Relations, U.S. Public Diplomacy and Foreign Policy Public Affairs,' author William Ostick supports the view that 'Public Diplomacy - as an aspect of U.S. foreign policy - should properly be seen as public relations focused on building long-term relationships with foreign audiences and providing policy explication and advocacy for the United States. If we explicitly acknowledge Public Diplomacy as public relations, rather than the persistent view of it as a specialized diplomatic function, we will more consistently adopt the approaches and techniques developed and tested by private sector practitioners and those of integrated marketing communications.'
Uses for Public Diplomacy
Foreign public opinion matters. Without a favorable public opinion environment overseas, progress towards foreign policy objectives will be difficult, if not impossible. And new threats and instant global communications have shown that Public Diplomacy is just as important now as it was during the Cold War. Over the past century, we've moved in history through periods of fascism, communism and now fundamentalist terrorism. The new threats involve weapons of mass destruction, drugs and global crime, environmental concerns, worldwide population, migration and refugee problems, disease, famine, and the need for democratization and human rights in many parts of the world. Underlying forces have compelled the United States to transition from traditional diplomacy with its lack of public transparency, to Public Diplomacy, which focuses on the dissemination of information and two-way communications. These trends include:
A revolution in information technology
A proliferation of new media outlets
Globalization in business and finance
Widening participation of general populations in international relations
Complex issues that transcend national boundaries
The prime mover of change is information technology. An example, the Internet will reach one billion people by 2005. The network of communications technology will become the central nervous system of international relations, making Public Diplomacy more important than ever. In its 2002 annual report, the U.S. Advisory's Commission on Public Diplomacy emphasized that 'Public Diplomacy has value as a strategic element of power in the Information Age.'
Getting the Story Out to the Public
The Department of State aims to promote international relations through understanding, informing and broadening dialogue with foreign audiences:
Public Diplomacy practitioners attempt to understand the perceptions of foreign audiences through the work of the Office of Opinion Analysis and Research and International Media Reaction. This office studies international media and conducts foreign opinion polling.
Through many of the programs, products and services of the Office of International Information Programs, and Public Affairs, the Department of State informs foreign audiences about U.S. foreign and domestic policy, American society, our people, policies, culture and values. Some of these products include:
International Web sites:
Daily "Washington File" compilation of official speeches given by U.S. officials, press conference transcripts, press releases
Overseas Information Resource Centers
American Embassy Television Network
Foreign Press Centers in Washington, New York and Los Angeles offer research services and high-level briefings for foreign media
Speaker programs present American experts who give background and context for understanding U.S. policy
The exchange programs of the Department of State promote international understanding through two-way communication:
International Visitor Exchange Programs
Overseas American Cultural Centers
Fulbright Academic Scholarship Programs for American and foreign students, teachers and researchers
Cultural presentations in the visual and performing arts
Citizen Exchange Programs
University Affiliation Programs
International Student Advisory Services
The Strongest Link
Through Public Diplomacy, foreign populaces get a more accurate perception of the United States, our people and our values so that they can see the best of American society and culture. And likewise, Public Diplomacy helps the American people better understand foreign cultures and the people of the world. In the final analysis, there is no substitute for personal contact. As former USIA Director and legendary broadcaster Edward R. Murrow said "the really crucial link in the international communication chain is the last three feet, which is bridged by personal contact, one person talking to another." In today's world of instant electronic communication, these "last three feet" remain - the three feet separating the viewer from the television set, a listener from a radio, or a reader from a newspaper. Public Diplomacy can turn raw footage into a compelling story - communicating with foreign audiences to combat misunderstandings and misinterpretations. But direct face-to-face contact still cannot be replaced. Language-capable, media-savvy, policy-wise Public Diplomacy specialists prevent international incidents and build U.S. credibility each day. Our motto is, 'Telling America's Story to the World.' This is the work of Public Diplomacy.