The results of the pilot study suggest that military leaders do not have
a full understanding of the roles, use, and management of public affairs
assets. The role of the public affairs practitioner is to manage
internal and external communications as well as media relations. Using
the public affairs officer correctly entails inclusion and input in the
planning process from the beginning. The management portion deals
with the career management of the public affairs practitioners. This
includes training as well as providing the same professional opportunities
as the other military professions.
Due to the perceptions of the leadership about public affairs found in stage one of this analysis (Allen et al., 1999), the PA career field is in a constant struggle to gain credibility within the military ranks. There are numerous examples to support this idea, even in Hollywood. A scene the movie the Manchurian Candidate (1962) features an intelligence officer who was captured and tortured in Korea. As a result he is having recurring nightmares, drinking heavily, and mishandling sensitive material. His commanding officer notices his decline and is concerned about his mental well-being. To solve the problem, the commander transfers the officer to public affairs suggesting that PA is a place for rest and recuperation. It is true that this movie is dated and things may have changed, but there are current examples that suggest PA is not viewed as a legitimate profession. A similar example actually occurred in the early 1990s at Cameron Station, Virgina, when a Department of Army employee suffered a nervous breakdown and as a result lost her top secret clearance. She could no longer remain in her position so the command placed her into public affairs.
And even more recently a high-profile example can be found in the career of Monica Lewinsky of the famed White House sex scandal. She was placed at the highest level of military public affairs without military public affairs training. This is not meant to be a political commentary nor does this literature wish to suggest that she did not do a commendable job with regards to public affairs. The point is however, she was not properly trained yet was placed in a position with the potential to have a major impact on the DOD mission. The Starr Report (1998) suggests that Monica Lewinsky was virtually dumped into the position because the White House felt she was a threat. This is a prime example of how the military, either willingly or politically selects, trains, and promotes public affairs assets.
Given the findings of the pilot study, the experiment conducted with military leadership should yield similar results. If the pre-test does find a poor perception of PA among the leadership, then this only confirms what the pilot study suggests. However, if the experiment concludes that a significant variance exists between the control and treatment groups, then this opens the door for large-scale changes in the way the military manages public affairs. But because the military is a large bureaucratic structure, the need for change is not always sufficient to generate change and additional requirements may include funding, time and manpower. With this in mind, proposals were developed based on time and resource requirements necessary to implement the changes, as well as applicable communication theories. The theories used are diffusion of innovation, agenda setting and compliance gaining. These theories were chosen because they best support the objectives of the research.
The proposals are based on the pilot study and projected results of the experiment and are divided into internal and external categories. Internal includes those individuals in the PA community and external are those working within the DOD, but outside the PA field. The external audience can also be described as those using PA services or customers. The proposals are further divided into short and long-term objectives. All of the objectives are measurable and will increase the understanding of the roles, uses, and management of PA professionals. If any one of the objectives is not accomplished, the overall goal can still be attained through the other stated objectives. This is done to ensure the success of the campaign throughout the services.
The first short-term objective is to brief the results of the experiment as well as the suggestions to the four PA general officers in each of the services. This diffusion strategy seeks to generate feedback and generate adoption of the research proposals by the PA leadership. With their support, adoption is more likely and should occur more quickly.
Our second objective is to brief the results and proposals at each services’ Worldwide PA Conference. Attendees include middle and upper management within the PA community, and this will generate support among the PA practitioners who implement the DOD policies and practices. This diffusion strategy is critical to the campaign’s success because without the support of the leadership in the PA community, any attempt to change the community will fail.
The third short-term internal objective uses Compliance-gaining Theory to help build internal credibility by avoiding mistakes in the PA community. The proposal is to have services establish a PA website specifically for lessons learned and divided by subjects so PAOs can quickly reference such topics as media on the battle field, Annex F preparation and crisis communication, like the Center for Army Lessons Learned website. The creation and management of the site is internal, however the success of the site relies on the support of the external audience. This is a limitation because the services may not want their mistakes published and therefore only favorable lessons learned would be reported. On the converse, many of the lessons learned occur on a large scale and during graded training exercises so the lessons are public regardless of intent. However, using Miller et al. (1977) rewards strategy, all lessons learned will be published with non-attribution so as not to undermine a person, unit or service and the site will have a clear purpose of improving the services.
The final, proposal in this section uses Agenda Setting and entails airing two-minute spots on Armed Forces Radio and Television networks. The spots would focus on the utilities of public affairs. Although this would reach a limited audience, the resource requirements are relatively low and repetition is quite high.
The first proposal addresses the assignment of PA as an additional duty. Additional duty means that a servicemember has a primary job and is given PA as an additional responsibility without guidance or training. Due to resources and the military structure, this additional duty status cannot be avoided in most cases. But the action does suggest that PA is not a functional field and anyone can accomplish the PA mission successfully with minimal effort and little or no training. Given this, a proposal is made that all servicemembers given PA as a collateral duty also be given appropriate training which currently exists at the Defense Information School, Fort Meade, Maryland. The course is a two-week reserve-officer’s course held throughout the year and it could be expanded to include active-duty leadership with very little cost to the commands. This would serve two purposes. The first is that mistakes resulting from untrained PAOs would be avoided serving as a type of reward to the commands, thus generating compliance (Miller, 1977). The second is a greater understanding of the role of the PAO. The required training also lends credibility to the PA profession by establishing a norm that PAOs must be trained in their craft.
The second proposal requires DOD to agree to phasing PAO training into the leadership schools. PA training already exists in some high-level officer courses, however, the majority of the training addresses management of the media. This proposal suggests expanding the training in two ways. First by making it available in junior-level leadership courses throughout the services and second by broadening the scope to address the other aspects of PA. These two steps assist in the diffusion process by exposing the military leadership to positive PA information.
The final short-term external objective is to convince the Army leadership to give public affairs a branch status. Currently, an Army officer cannot serve out a career as a PA officer as in the other three services. In fact, too much time spent as a PAO is a career inhibitor. By making PA a branch and giving it the respect and rank that the other career fields enjoy, the field would attract better-qualified personnel resulting in a better quality product. Although there is a move underway to change PA’s designation, without the support of the leadership, PA will continue to be viewed as a second-rate career field. And even though the Air Force, Navy and Marines classify PA as a career field (the Army does not), the task of legitimizing PA’s status is a DOD-wide challenge because many servicemembers are not even aware that PA is a job.
Once the training development is complete, the second objective is to get the PA leadership to market the training to DOD leaders and the selected leadership schools. To do this, the positive and negative consequences of adopting and not adopting will be communicated. An additional objective is to provide videos of the training to PAOs throughout the commands so they can provide their leadership with the information at their convenience.
The final, but perhaps the most important objective in this section is to develop a DOD-wide training outline for all PA practitioners. Oftentimes servicemembers and civilians throughout the DOD are well into their PA careers with little or no PA training. This only increases the potential for mistakes and reduces the credibility of the profession. In many cases, individuals are awarded the PA designator without having any experience or training. Since this is an internal problem it can be easily fixed by requiring specific training prior to awarding the PA designation as is the case in most other military professions.
Regardless of the research results, the pilot study and the personal experiences of Allen et al. suggest that the PA community has a credibility problem. In addition, it is also likely that the research will conclude that a credibility gap exists. The answer to the research question, “Does PA have a credibility problem?” is one very much worth answering. But with the answer comes many more questions for future consideration, such as does one service have a better PA program than the others? Or will the proposals in this literature address and repair the problem? If not what is the fix? What are the costs and savings to the military if the problem persists or is remedied? How did the problem initially develop and what steps can be taken to avoid it in the future? Why has it not been addressed previously and what are the short and long-term effects of the problem. Whatever the answers to these questions, one conclusion was reached during the research and that is there is a lack of research in this area. There are theories to support the research proposals, but specific research on image building or credibility repair for professions is noticeably lacking.