The notion of public diplomacy has been used in international relations and in international communication studies since about the mid-1960s. It originates from US foreign policy from the period of the Cold War. Public diplomacy is understood as a dialogical communication between governments and other actors on the stage of international relations via the mass communication media and non-mediated channels of contact with the foreign countries’ mass audience. The aim of public diplomacy is to create or reinforce a positive image of the country and its society, and by influencing public opinion to shape positive attitudes toward the country, and in consequence to make the achievement of international policy goals easier.
At the beginning of the twenty-first century the notion was widely discussed, as a result of the campaigns undertaken by the USA and European countries after the September 11, 2001, attacks and the employment of public diplomacy tools by many governments in order to rebrand their country or reposition it in the new international environment. The new campaigns adjusted the images of countries in relation to political, economic, and cultural changes, acknowledging the impact the rise of global communications has had on international relations.
Nowadays public diplomacy is still understood as a supplementary means of American international policy, and often taken for a new version of international propaganda. In the past this approach was supported by the activities of the United States Information Agency (1953–1999), which was frequently cited as a model institution for public diplomacy. Nevertheless, public diplomacy understood as the long-term, symmetric, dialogical communication of governments and NGOs with broad foreign audiences differs from propaganda, but may still use the same means and apply these to the same audience as propaganda. According to Leonard et al. (2002), public diplomacy is played out in three spheres: political/military, economic (promoting products and businesses), and societal/cultural.
Public diplomacy differs from traditional forms of diplomacy in the means used, the channels the messages are sent through, and the target groups that should be reached. Traditional diplomacy was characterized by the flow of messages from government (diplomats) to government (g2g), whereas public diplomacy implies the direction governments (diplomats) to foreign public (g2p). Thus public diplomacy is understood in the countries where it has been conducted for a relatively short time as a means of supplementing traditional government-to-government diplomacy. The third form of public diplomacy nowadays is characterized by the people-to-people (p2p) flow of information. In the third case the messages are sent and received between members of the public in different countries without the mediation of governments.
Three Dimensions Of Public Diplomacy
According to Leonard et al. (2002), there are three dimensions of public diplomacy: news management, strategic communication, and relationship building. News management is seen as a short-term, reactive activity, having a long tradition in the classic form of diplomacy. It relies very much on cooperation with foreign correspondents.
Strategic communication covers cooperation with the mass media of communication in a longer-term and proactive way. The mass media are still seen as important tools of public diplomacy. Also, public relations agencies hired by governments have an enormous impact on strategic communication. In the media field nowadays, public diplomacy implements advertising, as in the case of the US “Shared Values Initiative” campaign in 2003. This consisted of television spots targeted at the public in Muslim countries. The aim of the campaign was to improve the attitudes of Muslim societies toward the USA.
Relationship building, perceived as a long-term activity, relies on winning support in foreign countries by cultural and educational programs targeted at students, artists, academics, and journalists (people exchange). The practice of public diplomacy might here originate from traditional cultural diplomacy (social/cultural level). In this case, public diplomacy is understood as a “soft power” (Nye 2004) in international relations, focusing on the image and reputation of the country. The concept of public diplomacy as a soft power builds on the difference between public diplomacy and propaganda, and puts the stress on “attractive” power rooted in culture, typical of public diplomacy in contrast to propaganda.
Public diplomacy as a concept and a practice is rooted in international studies, the theory and practice of diplomacy, international and intercultural communication, and international public relations. The approach rooting public diplomacy in international studies and international communication is well illustrated by the writings of Gilboa and, recently, Melissen. According to Gilboa (2001), public diplomacy is one of the ways in which the mass media of communication are used as an instrument of foreign policy and international negotiations. The core of this activity lies in influencing a foreign government by influencing their citizens. This model applies to the g2p level of public diplomacy. Melissen (2005, xxi) argues that it would be a simplification to view public diplomacy as only another instrument of foreign policy. He analyzes the notion in a framework of propaganda, national branding, and cultural relations, and understands it as “part of the fabric of world politics.”
The last dimension of public diplomacy according to Leonard et al., i.e., relationship building, is often equated with governmental public relations.
Public Diplomacy And International Public Relations
In some interpretations, public diplomacy is a part of public relations, or both notions are used interchangeably (Hiebert 2003). In the latter case public diplomacy is understood as international public relations. According to Signitzer and Coombs, public diplomacy and international public relations are in “a natural process of convergence” (1992, 137). Depending on the approach and the country, the theory and practice of public diplomacy might stem from public relations, meaning promotion of products and businesses (economic level of public diplomacy), and concentrate on branding, or relate to cultural and educational exchange (social/cultural level).
Practitioners of place branding use the term “public diplomacy” only with reluctance, or perceive it as a core element of national branding (Anholt & Hildreth 2004). They reject the parallel use of both terms as they claim that public diplomacy is more limited to the proliferation of governmental policy. According to this approach, public diplomacy is included as a tool, part of a broader campaign of building the country’s brand, understood as “the most important channel of transmitting national identities to consumers” (Leonard et al. 2002). Public relations specialists argue that branding aims at upgrading the country-of-origin effect, whereas public diplomacy concentrates mainly on the political/military level. Building a positive image of the country is much easier if its products are widely perceived as being of high quality. On the one hand, the country-of-origin effect may help to build a positive image; on the other hand, it might also become the main obstacle to rebranding the country if the place of origin is perceived in a negative way. Still, public diplomacy should be seen as wider than branding in defining its goals. Whereas branding builds on the differences between countries, and seeks for products that would be typical only of the one country, public diplomacy might also stress the similarities if it is required to support any act of international policy. Also, the target group definition in public diplomacy is wider than “consumers” only.
Images of countries are also influenced by the image of their leaders. In heads-of-states public diplomacy, leaders or other famous personalities are perceived as a country’s products and contribute to the image of the country. The same must be said about diasporas, members of the public living abroad, and domestic institutions such as parliaments and political parties. The performance of the institutions, and contacts with elites and the general public abroad, have a significant impact on the perception of the country.
Public diplomacy is implemented by governments, especially by ministries of foreign affairs but, in accordance with the logic of contemporary international politics, also by NGOs. The main actors of public diplomacy nowadays are still governments, coordinating the campaigns. One of the key problems of public diplomacy with the government as the main actor is how to manage perceptions of the country as a whole and coordinate such differentiated fields as politics, trade, tourism, investment, and cultural and educational relations. In the p2p type of public diplomacy, NGOs or informal groups play the main role. As public diplomacy includes promotion of products and businesses, companies might also be seen as important actors.
Because one of the main goals of public diplomacy campaigns is to foster positive attitudes among the audience abroad, the campaigns are usually long-term activities. Before launching the campaign a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis is done, the country profile is analyzed, and target groups are defined. The most effective tactic, according to Leonard et al. (2002), is careful selection of foreign publics and target groups among them. Campaigns targeted at too large a community of different countries are not effective. The next step is the selection of means and tools, including the choice of channels through which to communicate the message. Key messages of the country are elaborated, often in combination with a selection of leading products and services that will be promoted. At this stage of preparation the coordination of campaigns is essential.
Many public diplomacy campaigns are run by public relations agencies in the target countries (Gilboa [2001, 6] calls such campaigns “the domestic public relations variant”). In practice, an agency in the target country is better accustomed to local specifics. Governments also hire well-known public relations firms to maintain favorable attitudes abroad, as was the case during Iraq’s war against Kuwait in 1991, when the Kuwaiti government hired Hill and Knowlton. In the process of branding or rebranding the country, foreign specialists are employed also in order to throw fresh light on the country in question; this hiring of foreign specialists applies especially to the key messages elaboration stage. The last stage of public diplomacy campaigns is evaluation. Evaluating the effects of public diplomacy campaigns is rather difficult. First, they are long-term activities, especially if they aim at changing negative stereotypes. Second, changing attitudes are difficult to measure. The tools that are used after the campaigns are attitudes surveys, media content analyses (both quantitative and qualitative), and tracking the amount of contact with target groups. In Europe the most effective long-term campaigns are illustrated by two cases: those of Spain and Ireland to rebrand after joining the EU.
The campaigns might, according to Leonard et al. (2002), build on competition or cooperation. Competition occurs when one government sends messages to the same key audiences abroad as another government or governments, all aiming to win the audience over to achieve their goals, and the countries’ policy goals are seen as contradictory. A cooperative public diplomacy suggests working together in fields and regions where competition might be abandoned, especially in those such as democracy promotion, human rights, and good governance.
Public diplomacy is still perceived as a bilateral action, but nowadays we are also confronted with a multilateral form of it.
- Anholt, S., & Hildreth, J. (2004). Brand America: The mother of all brands. London: Cyan Communications.
- Gilboa, E. (2001). Diplomacy in the media age: Three models of uses and effects. Diplomacy and Statecraft, 12(2), 1–28.
- van Ham, P. (2001). The rise of brand state: The postmodern politics of image and reputation. Foreign Affairs, 80(5), 3–6.
- Hiebert, R. E. (2003). Public relations and propaganda in framing the Iraq War: A preliminary review. Public Relations Review, 29(3), 243–255.
- Leonard, M., Stead, C., & Smewing, C. (2002). Public diplomacy. London: Foreign Policy Centre.
- Melissen, J. (ed.) (2005). The new public diplomacy: Soft power in international relations. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
- Nye, J. (2004). Soft power: The means to success in world politics. New York: Public Affairs.
- Ociepka, B., & Ryniejska-Kieldanowicz, M. (2005). Public diplomacy and EU enlargement: The case of Poland. Discussion Papers in Diplomacy, 99, 1–19.
- Signitzer, B. H., & Coombs, T. (1992). Public relations and public diplomacy: Conceptual convergence. Public Relations Review, 18(2), 137–147.