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February 22, 2010
A Relational Campaign in Marja

Public relations isn't war, except when it's being practiced in the context of war, as in Afghanistan. U.S. and Afghan forces have employed a remarkable alteration in tactics -- based on tenets of PR trust-building -- in their assault on Taliban fighters in the town of Marja.

First, as The New York Times reports, the operation was preceded by polling of local residents and advertised far in advance, "almost in neon lights." The whole idea has been to appeal to the people of Marja and gain "a shift of perceptions among the fence-sitters and the fearful among the Afghan people."

The goal of the campaign is as much psychological as military and programs of education, health and employment are at the ready as soon as the town is secured. Already life is returning to the streets -- in a more hopeful, confident context, apparently -- as the last pockets of Taliban resistance are cleared out.

The Americans have "taken pains" to involve the central government of President Hamid Karzai, which has contributed thousands of troops and is standing by "to carry out programs in education, health, and employment as soon as the area is secured." 

There apparently has been some Afghan concern about the "media blitz" that signaled the Marja campaign.

A British officer explains the PR rationale: "There were three reasons for signalling the operation in Central Helmand in advance. First, to give the Taliban a choice. Second, to make the population aware that the operation was about to unfold. Third, it allowed a much greater level of Afghan involvement and ownership, and subsequently Afghan participation."

In other words, allied forces were clear about their aims and publics, key PR tenets. 

The whole Marja campaign seems a perceptive attempt to identify the publics involved, what their interests are, and to respond attentively and constructively to the extent that this PR emphasis is a new departure in warfare. May it succeed abundantly, and not only in Marja.  



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Doug Bedell has a background in journalism and PR and is the owner of Resource Relations LLC in Central PA, focusing on organizational and crisis communication. He’s the community manager of SimplyFair.net, a social network on fairness. On the Web, Doug’s at www.ResourceRelations.com. On Twitter, he’s @DougBeetle.
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