Introduction &
Problem Statement

Literature Review




References &

Research Team

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Our interpretations of the content and answers to the open-ended interviews imply the nature of public affairs, its value to the DoD branches of service and the emphasis each place on communication planning as a common practice. Findings indicate that there are differences between each of the services in regard to PA planning. The services’ stance on PA and its value to the organization and the DoD is relatively similar; however, the importance each service place on planning, within the regulations as well as interpretation of participant responses, is significantly different. The categories of written and verbal content analysis are as follows: Value of PA to the organization and DoD; emphasis on PA planning and whether it was described as a systematic approach; the use of cross-functionality when approaching issues; and the importance of research and resources.

It should be noted that much of the survey input we received from PA professionals was contradictory in nature. For instance, one senior PA officer recommended areas of improvement in the public affairs curriculum at the Defense Information School (DINFOS), while a senior PA officer from a different branch of service, finds the training at DINFOS adequate. That subject alone is a good topic for future research, but more importantly it suggests a greater need for the services to communicate more efficiently between themselves to achieve mutually agreeable joint PA training and practices.

PA Value to the Organization

Within the regulations and interview responses, it was confirmed that PA is essential to the organization — the organization being defined as a particular unit, command, branch of service or the DoD. To be an effective element of mission execution, PA must be at the table when all command policies and issues are in the formative decision-making stage (Respondent #3). Public affairs activities are an “operational function” (PA Joint Pub 3-61, p. III-6) and PA is an integral element of the decision-making process at all levels of command, and across the continuum of operations (AR 46-1). But PA officers cannot expect to simply be given this position of trust; they must prove their worth and work their way up to the status of equal players in their commands.

A senior PA reserve officer, working in a corporate communications office in his civilian capacity, stated that civilian PR practitioners must prove their value to the company or face dismissal. As a result, there seems to be a greater sense of urgency in civilian PR to communicate with their publics in meaningful ways that have positive impacts on the success of the organization. Public relations “strategies and tactics must be on time and on target if we're to be an important contributor to success, i.e., profitability and growth. “If we're not agile contributors, we're relieved of duty” (Respondent #4). Although military PA practitioners often operate at this same level of urgency, it is the belief among members of other service departments that PA brings nothing to the table that ultimately causes problems (Respondent #4).

Public affairs practitioners must validate their worth to the mission of their service and their organization by showing they make direct contributions to the success of those missions. Organizations within military commands have traditionally fallen into either operational or support roles within those units and PA has typically been considered a support function — but that is changing. As the flow of information regarding the military and its operations becomes more and more important to the American public, PA practitioners are increasingly finding themselves included in the operational realm. This is due in part to the realization by commanders in chief that PA can help achieve operational goals. “What we do is not for the sake of PA itself, but for the sake of achieving specific communication objectives that we are uniquely situated and trained to achieve” (Respondent #5).

Responses received from corporate and civilian PR validates the importance of PR as important to the overall success of the organization. Public relations teams, within a firm, attempt to operate close enough to their clients so they are considered to be a part of the client’s internal team (Respondent #6). Successful PR firms employ two-way communications. Although the firm brings communication consulting, guidance and support to the table, they recognize that nobody knows the clients needs and operating environment as well as the client (Respondent #6). “We are partners with our clients, sharing the successes and the failures” (Respondent #7). Military PA practitioners can adopt this mindset to further the efficacy and value of PA to their organization. PA practitioners who incorporate themselves into their “client’s” environment are better able to communicate their needs to the intended audience; therefore, increasing the value PA brings to the overall objective.

Systematic Approach to Planning

Four out of the five services explain the importance of planning within their written regulations — the fifth did not contain documentation of planning, nor did we receive any verbal responses in regard to planning. The other services dedicated sections of their regulations to planning, although each approaches the issue from different directions. The over-arching perspective gathered from the data is that planning is accomplished primarily for operational and contingency purposes; and each service does include a plan within the operational or strategic plan. This plan is commonly referred to among all the services as “Annex F.” This annex is extremely important in the overall planning picture but it is not perfectly clear within the written content as to whether or not the plans can be used for daily operations — the context of planning we are looking at in this study. The problem most recognizable from the data received is that each service addresses the planning process, but there is no uniformity across the services’ PA fields as to its purpose. It can be noted that when comparing the written content to verbal responses, PA practitioners feel planning is being accomplished but not as thoroughly as it should be. The responses also reflect that the process is conducted differently within each service.

The following examples of thorough planning were extracted from the regulations. The Navy documents that a “public affairs plan is customarily a three-part, comprehensive statement of the authority, purpose, objectives and specific actions or milestones to be undertaken by a particular command in preparing for contingencies, exercise, operations or routinely planned events” (SECNAVINST 5720.44A, 1987). The Army documents in great detail the importance of planning, primarily from the perspective of strategic contingency and war planning. In fact, PA planning is stated as a core process within Army regulations and distinguishes different types of plans, including deliberate or peacetime planning, and time-sensitive or crisis-action planning. Each plan has a systematic approach. The Air Force dedicates a chapter to planning within their regulations and follows a five-step model similar to that proposed by Grunig — 1) assess the situation; 2) conduct research about the situation and how it affects the military and the civilian community; 3) plan; 4) execute; and then 5) conduct a follow-up assessment to determine the level of success achieved. This planning method can work for all PA missions “from dealing with an aircraft crash to conducting a civic leader tour” (Respondent #1). The best way to approach any PA issue is with a strong plan, but before you can plan, you have to take a close look at the organization (Respondent #1). With a strong organization in place, the most essential element in PA mission effectiveness is proper planning.

Plans need to include, at a minimum, an analysis of the potential impact on the organization and the response needed to handle the issue (Respondent #3). Every PA issue can be resolved if you do effects-based planning. You determine the results you want to achieve (effects), identify your targets (audience) and the facts of the current situation, assess your capabilities, establish specific and measurable objectives, apportion your resources, execute, and then evaluate. It is essentially the same process used in wartime planning, commercial marketing and risk management (Respondent #5). One military respondent did not have the same outlook on planning. “Some senior leaders have insisted on plans, measurement, evaluations over the years, but when crises emerge, those were never worth much. It was always just having the savvy to do the job that worked” (Respondent #13). And, yet another senior official said that he believes there is not a best approach to solving an issue. “Common sense and good problem-solving skills and attention to details is key” (Respondent #14). What we bring to your attention is that although PA issues are situational, prior planning along with savvy and good problem-solving skills will only help the PA practitioner become more effective — the Walton et al., Planning Model is that tool.

Responses from the corporate and civilian public relations practitioners bring to light one interesting point. That is, corporate PR is much like military PA in that they are just one of the many departments within a larger organization; whereas, civilian PR firms are the organization. Many firms use proprietary planning tools (Respondent #9); they generally do not have preexisting or a standard plan to use with all clients (Respondent #6). However, the four-step PR process taught in college forms the basis from which most PR firms begin their planning (Respondent #7). Where PR firms depart from this approach is the additional formulation of a strategic overall communication approach, and the tactical elements of the plan used to execute strategic goals (Respondent #7).

None of the interview respondents consciously use specific communication or PR theories when putting together PR plans. Overall, the lack of identifiable theories is the result of the fact that no two clients are the same, so there are no “cookie-cutter” solutions to how they do business (Respondent #7). Corporate organization members interviewed, admitted that while they should spend more time planning and organizing their approach to solving an issue, they are frequently in a reactionary mode. Two of the corporate respondents indicated that leadership of the organization becomes the “pacesetter” (Respondent #10) and as a result, PR works through the leadership’s vision rather than through a strategic plan of action (Respondent #11). All corporate respondents report that planning is not given the attention it should be.

Our interpretations of the responses indicate that while planning is an ideal practice and can be explicitly documented in regulations; both military PA and corporate PR do not use this practice to its fullest extent. PR firms tend to use planning more often due to the nature of their organizations. The challenge PA practitioners need to overcome is the mindset that there isn’t time for planning. Making the paradigm shift of technician (knowing how to do the task and doing it), to managing the issue through planning is the ultimate goal of a PA practitioner. The practitioner then becomes the manager and can see the bigger picture; therefore, the practitioner enhances the value of PA in the organization in achieving its strategic goals.

Cross-functional Approach

As stated in the Joint Public Affairs doctrine (PA Joint Pub 3-61). “Most issues, plans and events contain elements which may be of interest to the general public, the media and the committed forces and their families. This interest should be part of the normal planning process. Complete integration of PA personnel in all staff planning is essential to ensure an effective PA operation” (PA Joint Pub 3-61, p. vii). Fully integrating all three functional areas of PA is an “essential element to successfully addressing PA issues. When many voices speak, they’re using a unified, agreed-upon message (Respondent #1). According to Navy regulations, a plan reflects the way in which a command, unit, etc., will communicate with external and internal publics, bringing together the three components of PA — internal information, media and community relations (SECNAVINST 5720.44A). Although all but one service’s regulations allude to the use of cross-functionality, it wasn’t completely apparent. This fact only confirms our thoughts that a unified planning model will enhance the effectiveness of PA.

Some of our military PA respondents have experience in the civilian PR field also. They are perhaps the best sources for comparison data regarding the differences between PA and PR. According to one senior officer with PR experience, there are some important differences in how the two fields have conducted business in the past (Respondent #12). First, civilian PR communication practices are cross-functional. Their efforts are directly tied to their firms’ strategies, and account managers report directly to firm management on how they are meeting their clients’ goals within those strategies (Respondent #12). Civilian PR organizations attempt to fully integrate their efforts. Although the specialized departments in civilian PR firms retain their autonomy, they all bring individual talents and resources to bear on the same issues; they are all “integrated into one team, one fight” (Respondent #12).

Another senior officer said that PA practitioners are all trained to be generalists in the sense that the schoolhouse teaches them to practice all aspects of PA (Respondent #3). “We might focus on one area more than another during a given assignment, but we should never become strict specialists in media or community relations — when we do, we lose sight of the bigger picture” (Respondent #3). Civilian PR respondents unanimously agreed that their firms use some type of cross-functional approach. It was determined that there are two ways for civilian PR companies to tackle an issue: 1) Use a single account manager who calls on the various assets of the company to meet their client’s needs; 2) use a cross-functional team approach where experts of the various departments work together as a single unit with the goal of meeting the client’s needs. With the obvious benefit the team approach offers, some companies only use the cross-functional team approach (Respondent #9).

One corporate respondent, who relies on military practitioners to be part of the team, stated that the military members work as “mission specialists” versus as a team (Respondent #11). “What we would like to see is the idea that PR doesn’t consist of just writing the release or talking with the press. It is the whole meal of serving up the meat and potatoes, the dessert and the veggies to the public.” (Respondent #11). This statement is a good example of how the civilian PR field functions and how some military practitioners maintain their technician title. As mentioned earlier, Respondent #3 states that being a specialist can make a practitioner lose sight of the big picture. Yet, another corporate PR practitioner said that the cross-functional approach is situational. When a crisis arises, they are reactive rather than using a cross-functional approach that can be used for established or predictable events. While there is no one specific method which can be transposed to military usage, elements from civilian practices can assist military PA practitioners to be more responsive and more integrated as a team.

Research and Resources

Central to the planning process is the research accomplished before the plan is created and executed. Research is a comprehensive look at all the variables that will have an impact on planning to communicate (AFI 35-101). It sets the direction a PA practitioner will take and gives him/her a foundation of knowledge on which to build upon. The Air Force takes an academic stance on research within their regulations and discusses two methods, quantitative and qualitative. The regulations go into great detail about what type of questions a PA practitioner should consider when scoping out a communication environment (AFI 35-101). The regulations also discuss a variety of methods of collecting this information, for example: Surveys, content analysis and public opinion polls. This thorough explanation of research in the regulations is beneficial but raises the question: Are PA practitioners knowledgeable about how to implement these methods?

The Army also documents within its regulations the idea or practice of research, titled an “Information Environment (IE) Assessment.” The IE analysis provides the basis for the development of all PA operational plans (FM 3-61.1). “It is a method of identifying factors within the information environment that have potential implications for the planning and execution of Army operations. PA planners study and evaluate the dynamics of the area information environment to identify specific public affairs operational considerations” (FM 3-61.1, p.5). Although the IE is a more operational vs. academic approach to research it can translate into the tactical planning environment.

The problem with conducting research is not necessarily the research itself but whether or not resources and the time are available. One senior PA practitioner stated the problem with conducting research in military PA is the scarcity of time and resources (Respondent #12). Some services have research assets available to them at the upper-levels of the chain of command, but they are virtually non-existent at the lower levels where the vast majority of PA work is done (Respondent #8). But the military already dedicates resources to the type of research in the recruiting domain which could be of use to PA. However, that information is not usually shared across functional areas (Respondent #12).

One civilian PR respondent stated that they assess the overall marketing climate to build a plan. That climate being the client’s position in that environment; the behavior and perceptions of publics and media in relation to the type of business in which the client is engaged; and the client in particular. Another civilian PR representative, currently serving on active duty as a military PA, stated that “Good PR professionals think outside-in, not inside-out” (Respondent #12). They research and understand the publics that are most important to their communication efforts and choose the most effective media for that communication (Respondent #12). Although some practitioners feel time constraints play into the inability to properly conduct research, it is evident from the written and verbal analyzed content that research should be an important step in the planning process.