Military Public Affairs (PA) and civilian Public Relations (PR) are often misconstrued as being one in the same; although they have been benchmarking off of each other for generations, their missions are different. PA is the discipline of communication that informs and educates, while the definition of PR is a source of contention among scholars. E.L. Bernays originally defines the function of public relations in terms of using information, persuasion and adjustment to engineer public support. J.E. Grunig counters that argument with the idea that PR doesnt require the aspect of persuasion (Pfau & Wan, 2001). The only consistently identifiable and legally mandated dividing line between PA and other aspects of the informational instrument is the design or intent of the communication (MCWP 3-33.3).
public affairs among all the services U.S. Army, Marine Corps,
Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard is composed of three main functional
areas that all contribute to the success of the overall mission: 1) Internal
information is that information which informs the military public and
their families, 2) media relations is the functional area that works with
media representatives to inform the external public and 3) community relations
fosters support of Americas Armed Forces within local communities.
All three areas, the three-pronged approach, define the purpose of PA
to conduct comprehensive programs that provide service members,
the public, Congress and media representatives timely, accurate and authoritative
Department of Defense (DoD) and service specific information that contributes
to awareness and understanding of the services mission.
Throughout this study we identify corporate PR and civilian PR as two separate entities. Corporate PR practitioners are professionals who work for a large corporation and work within one department of the organization. They operate in much the same capacity as military PA. Civilian public relations are firms whose sole purpose is PR. These organizations are hired by other corporations and businesses to help its public adapt mutually to each other (PRSA, http://tampa.prsa.org/pr101.html).
Communication planning is commonplace in PA and PR staffs outside the military. If research, planning, execution and evaluation serve as the standard for public relations professionals around the world, PA staffs should make them priorities as they plan their communication initiatives (Respondent #1). Therefore, the purpose of this study is to compare and contrast the function of PA as defined by the DoD and each branch of the service with corporate PR cross-functional approaches to issue solving. The study identifies PA strengths and weaknesses within the military services; outlines civilian PR best practices that have application in military PA; and uses organizational systems theory to develop unified models for strategic and tactical PA planning which PA practitioners can use with their existing resource toolboxes to execute and measure the effectiveness of PA plans.
As PA practitioners, the research team believes PA talks a good game with regard to planning, and a couple of the armed services even include planning as a PA practice in regulations, policies and doctrine. Yet, for the most part, PA practitioners at all levels, tend to be more reactive than proactive when it comes to addressing issues. But PA is more than reacting to others; PA also must take the initiative to communicate its key messages to important audiences on its own terms (Respondent #1).
There is a benefit to planning; it gives the militarys PA professionals the opportunity to deliver key messages to internal and external audiences. One of the most obvious ways PA can benefit from strategic and tactical planning is by bringing all available resources and talents to bear on issues. Strategic planning considers the mission and direction of the organization; and tactical planning focuses on elements to help achieve the strategic plans goals. The tactical plan is more specific and reflects how the organization (PA) will approach an issue. The way to do this is to not think of internal information, media and community relations as exclusive parts of PA operations, but as inclusive tools vital to the success of the mission.
A model (Figure 1), advanced by the research team, takes into account the research and social science elements introduced by Bernays and Cutlip, et al. Grunigs models were evaluated to determine the ideal structure for a public affairs office, taking into account their desired outcomes. The model emphasizes the inherent strengths of military PA. The internal information, media and community relations functions are depicted as intertwined webs working together to meet the strategic objectives, rather than three separate entities working against each other.
How many times has PA looked at an issue and at first blush said, Oh, this is a media issue? If it is an issue the media might be interested in, would the internal audience be interested? Should PA make sure the message gets communicated not only to the media but also to the community? Figure 2 represents how some PA offices function in reality. The three functional PA areas do not always communicate with each other and tend to work independently toward the overall organizational goals.
A number of problems can develop by not using all three functional areas together, these may include: 1) PA practitioners not seeing the big picture which may lead to tunnel vision;
when only one functional
area of the office is working an issue, the other two are unable to bring
their unique capabilities and perspectives to the table. 2) The approach
to addressing issues can be ineffective if only one section is working
it. 3) The intended audiences might receive mixed messages if PA does
not take a cross-functional approach to solving the issue; as a result,
the public can lose confidence in the military. 4) The publics lack
of confidence can lead to a poor perception of the military, which in
turn leads to a number of profound negative implications including reduced
support for military spending, loss of standing in the community, and
in extreme cases, call for base closures. 5) In the absence of a unified
approach to addressing PA issues, offices waste man-hours and tax dollars
by going in different directions, possibly duplicating efforts and not
covering all aspects of PA issues, therefore causing a possible increase
operating costs. 6) All of the above then leads to possible recruiting
and retention difficulties.