A global strategy for Public Diplomacy is unlikely, because every region has its specifics and one needs to adapt to a certain degree to the region with which one is dealing, otherwise the information one attempts to get across will not reach the desired effects. The lack of customized and two-way communication often results in failure to establish some kind of dialogue. Nevertheless, it is important to give embassies some kind of guidelines or framework. This will not undermine their demanded ambition to adapt their strategy for regional purposes. In fact, these embassies do have quite a lot of expertise in regional fields and there must  therefore be some kind of dialogue about how one implements a public diplomacy strategy and its different elements in various weaves. The question remains in what way the ministry of foreign affairs can enhance understanding and stimulation of public diplomacy among its diplomats.

First, embassies need to be clarified about what is understood by public diplomacy. The central goal in public diplomacy should be a country’s image, yet it should be taken into consideration that image tends to be related to specific characteristics of one’s country. It often seems difficult to get across aspects other than those main characteristics. This raises the question of whether or not it is important to get the other images across. Although one might think that certain decisions are solely based on strategic rationale, decision-making often integrates an emotional part and thus also takes other images into consideration. For example, people that are willing to invest in your country also count the cultural environment, the society’s hospitality to foreign audiences, educational programs for their employees, infrastructure and so one. It is therefore not only important to get across the economic data and ‘hard’ facts, but also to accentuate other fields and messages. Subsequently, a more comprehensive approach is necessary. The second step is to define what message one wants to get across. A successful public diplomacy strategy would be first of all be able to capture attention by having a few niche messages, which enable recognition and visibility. Those messages should not be too broad based and embedded within global attractive values, because that then enables the viability of a country’s own activities internationally. It thus always helps to define principles and values and communicate a country’s strength while recognizing the weaknesses. The third step is to be clear that public diplomacy is not only done by the MOFA and that it should not only be done by government officials, because a country’s image abroad is defined by many other factors. The fourth step is therefore to reach out to important actors, all of the actors that actually communicate your country’s image abroad, and try to establish some kind of permanent communication platform where one can exchange information. Furthermore, it is important to establish stronger contact between the communication side and the political side within the MOFA. Too often policy is formulated first and afterwards the question arises about how it can be sold abroad. Although this approach may sometimes work, it very often does not work. Already at the start of policy formulation one must be aware what the consequences will be , and how the perception of audiences abroad can be effected.

There is a central role for embassies and diplomats in public diplomacy activities. They should become active and the MOFA should provide them with information that is operational and that can be readily used. Embassies do not need extensive and detailed information on issues but more bulleted information with regard to the key messages. It is essential to simplify and move away from bureaucratic language and try to illustrate things in common people’s language.

In their country of accreditation diplomats can undertake different actions. They could, for example, create visitors’ programs and invite journalists, academics and so-called multipliers of opinions to visit their country and to take a closer look at whatever it is that interests them. The whole idea behind this is not to dictate what these opinion-makers should write and say, but to create a lively context in their minds, which supports a more nuanced view of that country’s effort in dealing with day-to-day issues and crises. A similar but perhaps more intense strategy is to establish an exchange program for journalists from the home and host countries, where the basis can be an intensive language course. This would create the effect where quite a few foreign journalists that report on their country extend their knowledge and network within their own countries. Through such a program journalists gain access to first-hand information and this therefore helps to avoid the myths and garbled facts that sometimes appear in newspapers. It is also worthwhile to use special events, which can gain more publicity for a country, putting out one’s message and also bringing people together to tall about shared issues. The public in general needs to put issues in perspective. As part of public diplomacy, one has to share dilemmas sincerely and not just make propaganda, because the latter will not work.

Working with non-governmental actors on specific issues could, also be very effective. When one works with such actors, risks are inevitably being taken because one does not have total control of their initiatives. In fact, some of these non-government players have earned their reputation precisely from their independence of government or perhaps by criticizing government. However, if diplomats abroad decide to cooperate with such NGOs on a specific issue, they should try to limit their involvement in coordinating matters and, as much as possible, just provide them with information. Especially when a public diplomacy measure is exercised in cooperation with an NGO, it is vital to think of ways for how to use the press as a player in the early stage of cooperation. Well-intended collaborations could otherwise be easily portrayed as propaganda via non-state actors.

As government officials, diplomats at all times must realize that in their communication they are normally assumed to be speaking for their country and are expected to have special knowledge about their country’s activities. Under these circumstances, spoken words take on official meanings. As new public diplomacy comprises more engagement and dialogue with non-state actors, the media will more than ever seize the opportunity to challenge diplomats, asking penetrating or potentially embarrassing questions and expecting instant answers. In news interviews, the time available for responding to questions is often limited to a few seconds. Moreover, facial expressions, the tone of one’s voice and body language can convey both positive and negative impressions.

Many foreign ministries send their diplomats to specific courses on media communication. Yet, although necessary, the new public diplomacy requires more than just basic communication skills. Diplomats must at first resist the temptation to see reporters and journalists as the enemy.  As  a diplomat it is necessary to accept rather than to decline invitations. ‘Being there’ must be a principle. In fact, diplomats should strive to build bridges with the media. They should resist avoiding the media and should not withdraw into a shell of silence, which tends to generate suspicion that the government has something to hide. Just being open and honest can already be a successful media strategy. Since credibility is one of the key elements of public diplomacy, honesty is the best policy. Moreover, because the media will investigate to confirm all information that an official provides, it is crucial to double-check the facts.

The importance of developing  a solid public diplomacy program for diplomats cannot be emphasized enough, as countries that have experienced crisis can attest. The problem is that the need for strategic public diplomacy responses cannot be anticipated; diplomats must therefore always be ready and trained for any possible problem. This is a daunting task for MOFAs and diplomats. But it is a critical challenge, as governments seek to protect and project positive imagery around their nation. To conclude, it is worth remembering that public diplomacy- the establishment of (inter)national credibility can take years to build and only minutes to destroy. And in terms of public policy, that what makes public diplomacy unique, and here to stay.

Sample Course Outline on Public Diplomacy

  1. Public diplomacy  concepts and methods: The role of public diplomacy, the different definitions of public diplomacy. What are the methods of public diplomacy, and what structures are best suited for its practice?
  2. Public diplomacy in building bilateral relations: The role of public diplomacy in bilateral relationship building, and its potential in relation to the other aspects of diplomacy. What are the best practices in this area? What kind of a public diplomacy strategy is needed?
  3. Building the national brand with public diplomacy: Image-building is a core issue in public diplomacy. What are the issues in this area, and the possibilities in using brand building as a means of improving the overall impact of states in their international dealings? What examples are available s from the world around us?
  4. The limitations of public diplomacy: Public diplomacy cannot be seen as a panacea for all ills. Throwing money at propaganda, however sophisticated it may be, does not guarantee results, as the US has seen after 9/11. Public diplomacy involves listening to the public, whether abroad or at home. What other realistic limits does public diplomacy impose? How should public diplomacy be optimized?
  5. Public diplomacy in the information age: As people become better informed through the Internet and 24 hour news services, they develop their own opinions about international events and are less inclined to accept official positions without question. At the same time, non-state actors like NGOs and the business sector are increasing their international activity and expertise. How traditional approaches and methods in public diplomacy can be modernized, including through use of new developments in information and communications technologies.
  6. Public diplomacy in international organisations: Supra- and international organisations are devoting increasing resources to public diplomacy activities including the United Nations, NATO, and the EU. What are the specific challenges arising from the need to satisfy member states of the organisation yet project an informative and persuasive image outside.
  7. Public diplomacy in the postmodern world: The USA invented the term “public diplomacy” and spends billions annually on public diplomacy activities. They use public diplomacy to promote not only policies and product but values and a way of life. Yet anti-Americanism is widespread. Is this hostility to the message or the messenger? What are the challenges both for the US and for states which need to interact with them.
  8. Measuring impact: Measuring the success of concepts like public diplomacy is notoriously difficult. But foreign ministries should be regularly reviewing their strategies, messages, targets and partners and adjusting them as appropriate. How can they evaluate the effectiveness of their strategies and track influence?

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