Military Strategy has lessons for communication strategy

The current argument about the Afghan war and the deployment of troops between the former head of the army and the former ambassador to Afghanistan gives us three things to watch out for when making judgements about deploying resources for a communications strategy.

The row – which you can read more about at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-12186888 – centres on whether the army was fit for purpose between 2006 and 2008, particularly on whether the right resource was in place at the right time.

Since this is what media planning basically boils down to it is salutary to look a little at the debate from such a different arena.

In a concise interview on last week’s Today programme, former director general at the Ministry of Defence Rear Admiral Chris Parry, discussed the key issues.

There were three lessons that clearly come out from this.

One of the parties involved in the row has suggested that the army saw the conflict as a raison d’etre – a claim strongly refuted by the army chief at the time. So beware vested interests when it comes down to deciding resource. If there is a series of separate agencies involved with an integrated communications plan then you must ensure a media neutral expert is involved in making the decision about which media are needed and which are not.

Parry acknowledged that the current army leaders positively “encourage dissent” – whilst suggesting that this was not always the case in the past. Our lesson here is to ensure that the team has room and space to challenge each other. Nodding agreement to everything in the room usually means there is not whole hearted alignment in private. For communications strategies to really work, the team must truly align. You can’t achieve this unless you encourage challenge.

Thirdly and most importantly beware over-analysis. Learning from past conflict is critical. Yet learning from the past can be given too much emphasis. With no vested interests at all involved it is still possible to become so wrapped up in understanding what went on in the past that it is impossible to think about the future. Empiricism is a valuable thing but speculation is essential too. As Parry pointed out the desire to “perfect the last day of the previous conflict rather than look ahead to the next one” gets you precisely nowhere.

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