Wk 7 – Nation Branding & Culture

The concept of Nation Branding as a public diplomacy tool at the disposal of governments is relatively new to the foreign ministry cadre of tools. Nation branding grows out of and possibly consists of a complex outgrowing of the country of origin, place branding, public diplomacy, and national identity. What all of these concepts – and the academic literature – skirt around but never really attribute is the place of culture in nation branding. As culture grows out of the country of origin, much of the value of a place rests in the culture of its people, a primary goal of public diplomacy is explaining culture, and national identity is created by culture, nation branding must be seen as both an outgrowing of culture, and as an indicator of cultural context and values.

Using the “GREAT” Britain nation branding campaign of 2012 as a case study, nation branding efforts are most successful when they combine deep domestic political buy-in, an appropriation of existing brands that combine both an accepted piece of the national identity and a widely-held association in international audiences, tight internal or interagency governmental coordination, and buy-in and integration by all level of participants. A key factor that touches all of these areas is the existing culture, as felt and celebrated internally and sought-after from outside of the nation. The GREAT campaign achieved all of these marks exceptionally well, one could argue, by presenting a Britain that more British – a Britain centered on itself, and coming from itself; British self-interest, British cultural products, British goals for British people using British historic lines of accomplishment. Rather than bringing the world a message of ‘Britain – we are like you,’ Prime Minister Cameron’s government focused on ‘Britain – we achieve high British standards for the British first.’ And in terms of ability to execute from within the British government apparatus, the approach worked.

I argue two things from this example: 1) That ideals of exemplary achievement and a higher-than-others order of cultural, ideological, and performance ‘place’ in the world was a preexisting British cultural trait that was the underlying reason for the campaign’s success. 2) That this example of the state co-opting aspects of national interest, cultural products, history, and underlying national identity into a state-’organized’ or ‘orchestrated’ nation brand is perhaps a new legitimate use of power privy only to a legitimate state. Like Weber’s definition of the state as having the monopoly on the legitimate use of violence, perhaps a state can likewise now be defined as having a monopoly on the legitimate use of culture as its identification. In a kind of soft power turned inward while it grandstands for the the international stage, nation branding may become an evolved and subtly unilateral form of cultural export.


Wk 6 – Q3: “What does the term “engagement” mean in the context of public diplomacy? Does it clarify the purpose of PD, or, add to its ambiguity?”

“Engagement,” in public diplomacy terms, indicates an effort to invite and capture audiences in “dialogue” – two-way or multi-way communication – and “messaging” – one-way communication. Engagement has become a prominent rhetorical goal for modern diplomacy and public diplomacy particularly, both of which make greater use of web-based platforms than in years past.  Traditional diplomatic goals include influence for the acting state, demonstrated favorable opinions toward the acting state, or official treaties favorable to the acting state.  The purpose of U.S. Public Diplomacy is to influence foreign publics toward a more favorable opinion of the United States, inform foreign publics about U.S. foreign policy and culture, and influence foreign publics and their governments towards policies favorable to the United States.  While engagement in public diplomacy theory leans toward dialogue, in practice, PD emphasizes wholly one-directional engagement.  As practiced by the U.S. State Department, engagement is all about getting the other to the table and convincing them to think and act from an American mindset in order to achieve those goals.


Though concepts of engagement and dialogue have caught popularity in speeches among U.S. presidents, there are little measured gains from straight “engagement” in terms of the traditional diplomatic outcomes mentioned above.  Also, adding conversational engagement to the list of public diplomacy duties muddles what engagement is, and what PD practitioners are really trying to do.  Are they to influence, or just talk with foreign publics at contrived roundtables on event platforms while reading from previously cleared language?  Are they to engage online, and what counts as “engagement” in that sphere?  Is influence measurable through Facebook likes?  Does engagement today open a line of communication that could become influence later?  Questions like these cannot be answered as yet, though various arms of the Department of State use polling and other methods to test social media indicators against other indicators of influence.


With the widespread adoption of social media and platforms by the Department of State, the potential for engagement through these media have increased several times over – though only in select regions where internet, electricity, and computers are readily available and relatively free – namely North America, Europe, and parts of Asia and South America.  As public diplomacy works continues to add and refine its online element, practitioners at U.S. embassies will likely make greater use of the internet and other available platforms to push out information, and raise questions on current global topics or current events for an audience that may not be paying attention.  Information going only one way is clearly a lower level of engagement than real dialogue, exchange, or influence.  


If U.S. diplomats mean to truly engage interlocutors by exchanging ideas and ideals, contact should be meaningful to the other party, truthful, constant and ongoing.  Face-to-face diplomacy that works to influence can first establish relationships, and the frequent contact made possible by online and radio and tele-broadcasted contact can be leveraged to maintain them as never before.  These platforms can continue to cultivate the relationships over a long period of time, meaning decades.  In the State Department world of bi-yearly rotations, these relationships also need to constantly be reestablished face-to-face.  It is possible that simpler engagement can lead to the desired engagement of influence, but that deep level of engagement will not come first, nor will it be easily won.


Contribution vs. Attribution

Should practitioners worry about Contribution versus Attribution in making claims about measurement?

Problems related to proving causality or demonstrating attribution are familiar to students of international relations and political science. Without the benefit of highly controlled environments for experimentation, social scientists face greater challenges in conclusively demonstrating causality than their counterparts in the natural sciences. International politics are complex and dynamic, making it impossible to eliminate all extraneous variables, or to discover the hidden variables that impact policy in the international arena. Scholars of international relations thus face a monumental task in attempting to attribute a policy outcome to any one input, such as a public diplomacy campaign. Furthermore, foreign affairs students are generally restricted to observing international events, which occur as single, unique instances. As social scientists lack the control and repeatability necessary to prove attribution in a scientific sense, focusing on the contributions of certain policies or practices, while less useful than attribution, will also prove less futile.

For practitioners of public diplomacy this means that the chance of definitively attributing policy outcomes to their work is extremely low. Public diplomacy efforts cannot feasibly be distinguished from other concurrent diplomatic activities, let alone the other societal and political factors which shape international policy. Given the difficulty of such a task, efforts to collect metrics in an attempt to prove a causal relationship between public diplomacy and policy objectives, represent a misuse of resources, that will likely never bear fruit. That is not to say that efforts to evaluate the performance of public diplomacy efforts should be eschewed altogether. While attempts to show that an Embassy’s Facebook page successfully dispelled misconceptions of American beliefs and values, measurements indicating how many people were reached by a Facebook page can be useful to evaluating the contribution of public diplomacy efforts to larger foreign policy goals.

However, practitioners must also be cautious to avoid construing measurements of contribution as measurements of attribution. To do so ignores the myriad of other factors which affect foreign policy and ignores the very societal complexities which make the job of public diplomacy officers so difficult and unpredictable.



Week 5 Blog Post – Question #3

Do you think there are consequences to how the call for more measurement impacts the practice of PD?

New technology has the benefit of being able to track and to aggregate the impact of PD more efficiently than ever before in PD’s history. However, there are consequences from such reliance on technology and the recent call for more measurement impacts, primary among them being: the loss of PD’s vision, disproportionate comparisons of initiatives and programming, and actual relevance.

Much discussion can surround the accuracy of qualitative versus quantitative measurements. In modern society, qualitative disciplines are often relegated to second-class status, due to their lack of “accuracy” and thoughtful or emotional responses instead of mathematical or scientific research. PD falls directly into a qualitative discipline, best exemplified by Edward Murrow’s “last three feet” – no matter the research and knowledge acquired of a foreign peoples, PD work must bridge the personal gap between countries. This gap is not easily quantifiable, though recent research attempts such. Regardless of the attempts at measurement, the impact of PD depends greatly on interpretation of questions, assessment of attendance/involvement, and other cultural aspects. The cautionary tale of Sayyid Qutb and his impressions of the United States while participating in an exchange underlines the possibility of variances.

Each program and initiative often addresses different situations, desiring variances in outcomes. While some of these programs are comparable, increased measurement poses the threat of expecting similar impact for different. Like Robert Banks notes in partnerships, even those working on the same project may interpret the impact differently, especially when measuring impact within the context of the organization.

Lastly, the actual relevance of an increase of impact measurement should be considered as a consequence. As resources diminish in supporting PD, the diversion of funds and labor in actual PD production to measuring impact does not guarantee the development of more effective PD programs and initiatives. Ali Fisher notes the need to “[navigate] the most useful ways to derive insight and develop innovative strategies from that date”. More data is not always better data and such a consideration needs to be taken into account when determining whether or not there is sufficient need for measuring PD’s impact and whether such measurements are effective and efficient.

Week 4 – Q.1: Do you think public diplomacy officers should be required to get more training than ‘traditional’ Foreign Service Officers?

Diplomacy – in a general way, not just Public Diplomacy – is woefully underfunded since the collapse of the U.S.S.R.  With budgets slashed, training time spent has been slashed as well; less time in language, less time spent honing tradecraft, less time gathering management skills before being pushed into a new world every couple of years exacts a greater pound of flesh from Foreign Service Officers (FSOs) over the typical 20-30 year career.  All FSOs should have more training period, yes Public Affairs Officers (PAOs) need more training, but it is unfair to compare them to other ‘traditional’ FSOs who need training in their fields as well.  

Public Affairs Officers need training especially in: the various programs available through the Department of State – valuable programs and lessons learned worldwide, management, budgeting with allocating and reporting, and managing programs without a budget.  The skills and traits necessary to Public Diplomacy work have evolved in the modern era, the ‘New Diplomacy,’ from putting a nice image on the ‘America’ brand to demonstrating American values directly to the local non-elites by engaging with the people, bypassing the government entirely in some cases. 

There are other arguments for training that address additional questions from this week:

       1)  More training creates better prepared diplomats, firmly entrenched and versed in U.S. foreign policy who can then be trusted to speak more on behalf of the touted U.S. government.  Plurality of thoughtful, educated American foreign policy opinions can only demonstrate the strength of our democracy. 

       2)  Also, longer, more in-depth training should give PAOs a better view of Washington machinations and political motivations to create a PAO who comes from a whole of government approach.  These qualities should instill confidence in the U.S. embassy leadership, and demonstrate the leadership role of the PAO at post, naturally integrating PD work with the rest of the diplomatic efforts.  Such a situation would lead to the PAO de facto autonomy as the PAO moves from a role of noisome cultural context informer or reminder to trusted adviser. 

Should public diplomacy officers be permitted to openly comment?

In his chapter on Traditional Information Channels, Ambassador William A. Rugh describes the diametric tension between PDOs speaking both candidly and often to the media and the fallout that may occur if they do so. 

The Public Diplomacy Council also discussed this same issue during its 2013 Fall Forum. In the Future of Public Diplomacy panel discussion, Rajiv Chandrasekaran spoke about the need for the State Department to move away from a risk-averse media culture.  Chandrasekaran emphasized the need for U.S. diplomats to not be seen as slow and defensive and to speak with truth, accuracy, and transparency.  According to Chandasekaran, the U.S. military is much better at empowering officials and soldiers to speak openly and honestly with the media about challenges and limitations. He emphasized that posts lack sufficient delegated authority to make smart decisions. 

Is there a difference, though, between when a diplomat speaks to the press and when a military officer does so?  I think there is.  When a diplomat speaks, they inevitably speak to the U.S. policy position due to their role. When a military official speaks, they are often talking about the implementation of U.S. policy, or day-to-day operations.   These are two very different things. 

U.S. Embassy Cairo’s tweet condemning the film “Innocence of Muslims,” posted on September 11, 2012, highlights this difference well.  The tweet – issued not only as protesters breached the grounds of U.S. Embassy Cairo, but also only a few hours after the fatal attack on U.S. Embassy Benghazi – quickly became fodder for the 2012 Presidential race. The tweet, made by a diplomat, was construed domestically as an Obama administration foreign policy strategy of what Romney called “apology diplomacy.” While this can easily be attributed to a vitriolic domestic presidential race, it very clearly points out the huge difference between a soldier and a public diplomacy officer: the public conflates diplomats’ role representing the United States abroad with the role of formulating foreign policy, whereas the public sees the military’s role as merely implementing a subset of foreign policy.  Although Chandrasekaran has an excellent point, one worthy of careful consideration, lessons learned in the military may not always be appropriate for the diplomatic corps because of the stark differences between the two.  Chandrasekaran provided further evidence of this difference, specifically in risk aversion, between to the two corps, saying “Congress is more likely to criticize civilians who take risks in complex environments and fail than members of the military.”

 Public Diplomacy officers should be enabled to speak timely and transparently, so long as they do so carefully. I tend to agree with Karen Hughes, Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs under the Bush Administration, who strongly encouraged U.S. diplomats to be proactive in approaching the media and to “think advocacy;” however, there is a fine line between being proactive and seeking opportunities to engage with the media on one side and having the authority to speak candidly without clearance from those that make policy on the other. Unfortunately, the clearance process and a culture of risk aversion cause Public Diplomacy officers to often shy away from opportunities.   

Am I wrong? Is it avoidable?  What are your thoughts?  Is there a better agency to which we can look for an example?

– Tiffany Law

Public Diplomacy Skills


In order to fully realize the benefits of a fleet of foreign-based public diplomacy officers, they need to be fully equipped with a variety of skills and capabilities. Although public diplomacy officers will gain many of these skills during training, they should also have a capacity to learn, as they will need to acquire other essential skills while working.

Rugh discusses several important skills necessary for public diplomacy officers to operate effectively. As mentioned previously, it is more effective for the officer to learn some of these skills while working, rather than in training.

The skills that public diplomacy officers can learn from training include program management, nation-specific information (such as information about the nation’s economy, society, politics, etc.), linguistics, and knowledge of U.S. culture, society, and politics. Also, public diplomacy officers can learn to communicate effectively through several methods, including reading, writing, and oral communication. Public diplomacy officers also need to be comfortable working on a team and individually. There are not as many public diplomacy officers stationed in embassies and consulates abroad. As such, many times the officer will have to behave autonomously and make decisions quickly without any external input. For example, the officers often speak with ordinary citizens on a regular basis while stationed abroad. The officer will have to use his or her training and understanding of the culture to decide which topics are appropriate to discuss with local society members. On the other hand, the officer needs to be able to work with a team including locally employed staff, higher and lower-level officials in the U.S. and abroad, and society members.

Many of these learned skills would be sharpened with job experience, while other skills will only come after the public diplomacy officer has spent some time working in the foreign nation. Some of the skills that grow with job experience include cultural awareness and openness, tolerance, and successful networking abilities.

Finally, there are some skills that are inherent in the personality of the public diplomacy officer himself. Specifically, good public diplomacy officers will have strong interpersonal skills, an innate curiosity about other cultural traditions, respect for different societies, and the ability to lead a team.  

            Carnes Lord and Helle Dale (2007) noted that public diplomacy was important in the collapse of the Soviet Union during the Cold War, even though the practice of public diplomacy was not yet fully developed or operational. Because the idea of public diplomacy was undefined, Congress did not fund many efforts. Although the practice of public diplomacy was not exercised as fervently during the Cold War as it is today, many of the skills public diplomacy officers employ today are the same as the ones used decades ago. There have been a plethora of technological advances since the Cold War, which have changed the method that we use to communicate information. Technology has also made this communication much faster and easier. Therefore, the biggest change in public diplomacy skills since the Cold War has been in communication. Now, public diplomacy officers can use social media, electronic sources, television, and email to distribute information. The remaining skills mentioned previously have changed entirely since the Cold War. Instead, these skills have been easier to acquire because of technological advances. For example, the Internet has made it easier and quicker to learn about different cultures.

External References:

Lord, C. and Dale, H. (2007). “Public Diplomacy and the Cold War: Lessons Learned” http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2007/09/public-diplomacy-and-the-cold-war-lessons-learned