Hardcore Strategic Communications

June 3, 2010

J.Michael Waller likes to make the comment that we should think about what public diplomacy and strategic communication would look like if James Carville or some other political hardcase was in charge meaning that he thinks that the PD community is too squeamish.     Having said this I’m developing a sneaking suspicion that the Carvilles and Alastair Campbells of political communication are actually a bit soft if you compare them with the way that the UK government approaches issues of health or environmental communication

I was reminded of this reading Conrad Bird’s chapter on lessons for public diplomacy from domestic strategic communications campaigns.  In this context the tools for influence include factors such as ‘pricing, legislation and peer pressure’  I was amused by his comments about anti-smoking campaigns ‘routine and manual-workers are less susceptible to price changes than professional and managerial workers.  The reason is the prevalence of smuggled goods in these  communities.’  To translate: if you put up the tax on cigarettes richer smokers cut back on their consumption while poorer ones are hit hard enough to be motivated to get in their vans and go shopping across the English Channel where the tax is lower. Thus the attempt to modify behaviour definitely has an effect – just not the intended one.

I’ve added some links to reports prepared for the British government on climate/environmental communication. I think that this stuff is interesting because of the way that communication is used to create an environment that will lead to behaviour modification.  The other point is that this is strategic communication by a government that has a high level of control over the population including a broad range of policy instruments.  In comparison PD (or political campaigners)  never have this toolkit available – this really is hardcore persuasive communication.

Bird, C. (2008) ‘Strategic Communication and Behaviour Change: Lessons from Domestic Policy’, pp. 107-119 in J. Welsh and D. Fearn (eds) Engagement: Public Diplomacy in a Globalised World, London: Foreign and Commonwealth Office. at http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/about-us/publications-and-documents/publications1/pd-publication/

Halpern, D., C. Bates, G. Mulgan, and S. Aldridge (2004) Personal Responsibility and Changing Behaviour: The State of Knowledge and Its Implications for Public Policy (London: Cabinet Office) at http://cdi.mecon.gov.ar/biblio/docelec/dp4105.pdf

FUTERRA (2005) The Rules of the Game: Principles of Climate Change Communication. London: FUTERRA . at http://www.stuffit.org/carbon/pdf-research/behaviourchange/ccc-rulesofthegame.pdf

FUTERRA (n.d) New Rules, New Game: Communication Tactics for Climate Change. London: FUTERRA. at http://www.futerra.co.uk/downloads/NewRules:NewGame.pdf

Environmental Behaviours Unit (2008) A Framework for Pro Environmental Behaviours. London: Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs http://www.defra.gov.uk/evidence/social/behaviour/.


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