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You’ve Got Mail: The Army and Their Problem with Emails and Women in Combat
By: Patrick Foughty, APR
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If there’s one thing we all do constantly, it's email. Email is still one of the major ways we communicate in the digital realm, and we’re all checking it all the time. From personal notes, to business emails, to organizing social and volunteer events, email has become the backbone of how we get stuff done in the 21st Century.

With this communication channel it’s incredibly easy to send information to one person, or to groups of ten, and email lists of a hundred, or maybe even thousands of people. We all work in perceived personal networks, and when we send emails to other people we are often sending it not just to them, but potentially to their entire network. Some networks are huge, some are small, some are small but connected to huge ones; we may know little or nothing about them. Think of this; one email can be sent, and forwarded, and replied to with some new cc’d people, and replied to again with more cc’d people, and forwarded to even more. The greater the number of networks, the more the email’s reach grows. Soon you have a giant email trail bouncing in and out of networks you never conceived it would bounce into — and sooner or later that email may get in the hands of someone that was never supposed to see it.

This is what happened recently when an Army Colonel leading a working group on how to integrate women into more combat roles sent an email to a colleague — a PR person — that said, “There is a general tendency to select nice looking women when we select a photo to go with an article (where the article does not reference a specific person). It might behoove us to select more average looking women for our comms (sic) strategy. For example, the attached article shows a pretty woman, wearing make-up while on deployed duty. Such photos undermine the rest of the message (and may even make people ask if breaking a nail is considered hazardous duty)…”

Now, the issue at hand is a touchy one, with Congresspeople and pundits all weighing in, and there are plenty of arguments for and against this reasoning. The real problem, though, is not the issue, but the improper email etiquette and what appears to be the typical, "that sounds good, I think I’ll pass it on" kind of mentality we often see in the email world. The email, originally sent to the Public Affairs Officer (PAO) of the Training Command (and one other unnamed person), was then forwarded to a lot more PAOs as a reminder and essentially as guidance on how to select images paired with future stories, blogs, etc.

It’s easy to get in this habit. People send emails all the time — and often they will send something that seems like good or mundane information for an entire body of people, especially if it means a change in policy or methods. But a good PR person (well, anyone using email, really), but especially a PR person, will look at the information sitting in front of them and always ask — what if this gets in front of a reporter? What if this gets in the New York Times or Politico? What then? Could it get there? If this is a policy we’re sure on, are we prepared to defend it? Maybe I should rephrase or consider the information or the audience more before I blast it to a hundred different networks I know little about.

Now, we’re all guilty of this, and maybe you’re thinking right now, "geez, I sent a few emails like this today." Remember, email essentially lasts forever. Anything you send can get moved about, and the next thing you know, someone you never talked to is calling or emailing you asking about something you wrote or sent. Always think before you send. Think about the content, think about the presentation, and think about who is on the TO, CC, and BCC line — because once you click the button, it’s out there forever.


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About the Author
Patrick Foughty is a former helicopter pilot turned PR lover. He pays bills by playing the role of Public Affairs Specialist for the U.S. Navy in Washington D.C. where he manages media operations and digital media for his organization. When he's not thinking about PR he's working on his first novel or studying medieval history.
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