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August 16, 2010
Generals at the (PR) Ready

The New York Times sounds as though it's scooped the world in finding that there's a PR dimension -- a relational knack -- to being a U.S. general officer. Of course there is, and always has been. Though some generals haven't fully gotten, or understood, that truly challenging message, like the recently departed Stanley A. McChrystal. 


But when you're marshaling large numbers of men and women to advance U.S. interests in a place like Afghanistan, or anywhere that hostilities are involved, PR skills -- like understanding aims, objectives and relational imperatives -- are paramount.


If U.S. military mentors are just beginning to understand that winning wars is a people, as well as a martial, challenge, as The New York Times indicates, that's really worth cheering. However, there must have been military people who understood all along that winning, at whatever you're aiming for, is a profound management challenge. 


It appears that General David Petraeus' counterinsurgency manual ought to be added to the shelf of prime PR reading materials. Petraeus really seems to "get it," in terms of having to bring people along on war aims, not just shoot things up. That doesn't make it any easier to prevail, harder maybe, but it might cost fewer lives as an "other-centered" discipline sinks in. (Recently, though, trying to be more relational in Afghanistan seems to have spurred on the Taliban, at an added cost in U.S. lives.)


A rigorous focus on objectives back at the start in Afghanistan might have enlisted more local support for the real aim there, holding Osama bin Laden to account. We're not sure that the The New York Times actually is reporting news here (more like commentary), but it's seems that somebody, in uniform or out, is catching up with the idea that being a successful military leader, or leader of military leaders -- like the president -- has a key, highly challenging PR element. If the military is becoming more people-centered, more aware of its publics in hostile terrain, that's a great turn of events.

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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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