Public Diplomacy and Branding, Part IV: Some Practical Implications

In the previous three entries in this series I have tried to compare and contrast various aspects of PD and branding – two related, but nonetheless distinct approaches to the management of a country’s international relations through public engagement, image projection and reputation management. In the last installment (Part III), I undertook to comment upon a central and abiding paradox which inevitably afflicts all forms of diplomacy.

Let’s begin with that.

Vitiated messaging

Diplomats, however well-intentioned, are hardly disinterested parties – they work for governments or international organizations and this can make them suspect from the start. The messenger can subvert the message.

Governments exist to defend and pursue national interests, to advocate policies and to promote values. In these respects they rely on the apparatus of the state, of which diplomats are an integral part. When members of civil society encounter diplomats, therefore, the encounter is not likely to be entirely unconditional, and this can give rise to suspicion and mistrust. Chances are, the diplomat, especially if he or she have initiated to exchange, will almost certainly be after something – an expression of support, a shift in position, a useful insight, a gem of intelligence. Of course there is nothing at all the matter with that. But it is not a neutral point of departure. Just as the best communications cannot compensate for flawed policy, no amount of active listening can overcome the handicap of seeking scripted outcomes or pre-ordained conclusions.

While this does not necessarily undermine or devalue the activity per se, it does leave open the possibility of eroding the integrity of the exchange, and in so doing could prejudice the chances of arriving at a mutually beneficial outcome.

For these reasons, the messenger, being somewhat suspect from the start, may vitiate the message – and the, quite possibly, the results.

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