Who Speaks for the Armed Forces? Time for a National PR Campaign?

Discussion in 'Current Affairs, News and Analysis' started by Andy_S, Mar 23, 2011.

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  1. Andy_S

    Andy_S LE Book Reviewer

    Have just read some of the blather elsewhere on this forum over Tim Collins' comments to Torygraph re Civil Service jealously toward the forces and further bitter comments on how he is now building a career in the "media." (Quick tip for the good colonel: Instead of using the politician's practice of speaking in broad and vague generalities, how about buttressing your contention with some concrete examples? Just a thought.)

    Anyway that leads to this question for the forum.

    Given that the forces are having their money and manpower slashed to the bone, who can or should speak on their behalf and in their defense?

    I can tell you who can't or won't.

    - The defence sec and the MOD bureaucracy will fight their corners only so hard (they are part of the government);
    - Serving troops are obviously tongue tied (and for good reason, the UK being a democracy);
    - High-profile ex-servicemen such as Dannet, Collins, McNab et al have little or no training in the dark arts of spin-doctoring and so are reactive rather than proactive in their communications (ie they write books and answer phone calls from hacks, but are only tactical, not stratetic: they don't have an overall campaign)
    - Moreover, they are not allied with or partnering with each other;
    - Nobody else apart from a couple of (from where I am sitting) ineffective and possibly self-interested/self-serving NGOs is picking up the baton.

    I am NOT a soldier, but having worked at a PR multinational (before turning to the more honest but financially precarious professions of hackhood and authordom), it seems to me that there is nobody who is effecitvely fighting the forces' corner.

    What is needed, I'd suggest, is:

    (1) A formed group of high-profile public figures - ideally consisting of both ex-forces (for credibility's sake) and NOT ex-forces ("third party endorsement" in PR-sprach) who can speak, write and debate in public fora, or simply act as figureheads or fund raisers;

    (2) A planned, strategic communications campaign that would raise a debate in society as to whether the forces should be so drastically chopped down. A planned campaign would mean the endorsing group (a) have clear strategic aims and set tactical tasks; (b) sing from the same songsheet; and (e) have research resources available for effective and consistent messaging;

    (3) A full-service marketing agency (research, PR, advertising, media buying) that will plan and support aforesaid in the public/media landscape (speaking opps, column and quote opps, etc), as well as undertaking research and producing and placing ads. Agency would also gather allies (from the media, academic, NGO, etc, communities) to support the campaign;

    (4) A lobbying agency who will support all the aforesaid in the behind-closed-doors/government space

    (5) A VERY rich, pro-forces person/persons to pay the agency fees (unless an interested agency can be convinced to do it pro-bono out of patriotic duty or as a corporate social responsibilty project, which in my experience is not wise: agencies work better when they are being paid, duh.)

    Etc, etc, etc

    It seems to me a tremendous irony to me that Britain's forces today are:
    - Engaged in one shooting war, with another one possibly warming up;
    - Enjoying tremendous public (if not official) respect and support; yet
    - Are now facing the largest defence cuts in recent history.

    This situation is logically skewed, yet the the forces (especially the navy) seem to be going down without a fight.

    The obvious questions re all the above are:
    "Who takes the initiative? "Who takes charge?" "Who sets agenda and goals?" And "To whom is the group answerable?" but I think that with a bit of planning it would be feasible for a pretty muscular interest group to be formed, and to speak up more effectively than is being done at present.

    Ends waffle.
  2. As soon as Afghanistan is over (if not before) everyone will revert to their previous default setting of NFI. No more free FA tickets and no more Millies. Sad but true.
  3. Isn't that what the UKNDA was supposed to be for?

    I gave them some cash when they first started, but other than lamenting the inability of the RN to refight WW2 and failing to influence the SDSR they've neither done or said anything of note imo. Perhaps that illustrates the flaw in ex-military types trying to promote the cause of the Armed Forces, or in this case their former Service. In uniform officers have a captive audience, however reluctant. In civvie land you have to engage with and hold audience or lose them. I'm not sure Dartmouth/Sandhurst really prepares folks for that.
  4. Perhaps you need to look at this issue from a slightly different perspective, and look for a leader who has first hand knowledge of the corridors of power first-and-foremost. Media-savviness as much as a military background could indeed be considered an essential trait, along with related experience but sadly, in these days of the 'professional politician' the likes of Hesseltine are rather thin on the ground.
  5. So, to sum up, you are saying the armed forces should shed what little dignity they have left and enter the 'marketplace' as just another spin doctored vested interest such as, say Big Oil, agriculture or the TUC.
  6. Random thoughts/questions -

    I can't think of a time since August 1914 that a group like the NDA has had any significant influence on defence policy, and
    British veterans' organisations tend to emphasise welfare matters rather than seeking to change wider defence policy. Would something like the Association of the United States Army, with an explicit aim of influencing the legislature, work in UK? SEE HERE - or is this simply 'unBritish' and unworkable within our political system?

    I'm puzzled why senior officers are not more effective lobbyists. Anyone who has made it to 3 or 4* should understand exactly how PR and the corridors of power work, otherwise they've not been paying attention. You can understand why the single issue fanatics (e.g. Ward) or the 'I'm on speed dial at the Telegraph' pundits (e.g. Collins) don't actually achieve much - however gallant their service they may not actually have much influence.

    But former CDS, 1SL, CGS, CAS, etc? They will have spent a long time in Whitehall, know where the levers are and where the bodies are buried. So why have they not been been more visible/vocal? Are they unable to combine effectively? Are they compromised by decisions they made (for good, pragmatic reasons) while in service? Again, is this simply unBritish - the expectation is that they'll knock out the memoirs. accept a couple of NEDs in the defence industry, become patron of a worthy cause, and shut up?
  7. I think you are mistaking the current love-in that The Armed Forces are ever so slightly benefiting from at the moment for a more permanent thing.

    Give it one government term after pulling out from Afghanistan and The Armed Forces will go back to being considered as a massive drain on our countries finances.
  8. Andy_S

    Andy_S LE Book Reviewer


    No. In a democracy, serving troops cannot take up the PR cudgel for very good reasons.

    The body suggested would be a combination of retired service personnel - Dannet, Tootle, Collins, McNab, et al - and sympathetic broadcasters and writers - Hastings, Holmes, Forsyth, etc - to argue the case in various fora.

    The body could also enlist a sprinkling of sympathetic celebs of the Clarkson, Becks, Knopfler and Lumley (steady, chaps) variety to raise funds and public awareness of the issues raised by the brains (above).

    Various extant forces-focused organizations - the British Legion, regimental associations, Help for Heroes, even ARRSE - could also, perhaps, find roles to play under the umbrella of a concerted campaign.


    I think we will be in Afghan in one casualty-taking capacity or another for a couple of years yet. If not, a key point of such a body/campaign would be to keep awareness of the necessity of a well-manned, well-equipped armed forces at the forefront of the public mind.

    There is a broad sentiment within the body politic that the NHS is untouchable. Why does this kind of sentiment not surround the (far, far cheaper) armed forces?


    Well, various retired officers have raised their voices in various fora. But as you note, they pen a tome, take a seat on a board, and get on with their lives.

    What they lack includes:
    (1) An organization
    (2) A campaign strategy
    (3) A consistent voice and consistent messaging aimed at targetted audiences
    (4) A secretariat or other supportive infrastructure
    (5) Training or understanding (I would guess) of how to run PR
    (6) The necessary funds to pay for the agency support and to pay for ad creative and media space

    Fight a battle as an individual with tactics: Lose.

    Fight as a team, with a strategy: Win.
  9. In part, because the average citizen will, at some time, have a direct engagement with the services the NHS provides and therefore sees a direct benefit to themselves, and therefore will not vote for anybody who wants to reduce that service. They do not have the same direct experieince of the military providing a 'service' and may even be unconvinced that anything the military does actually improves their lot - does the general public believe that funding operations in Helmand makes British streets safer?

  10. Andy_S

    Andy_S LE Book Reviewer

    Charm City:

    Well, there you go. You have explained why a body needs to explain the work of the forces and endorse them to the public-at-large.

    Or are you suggesting that becuase the average Nigel or Tracey does not "use" the forces, they are, indeed, less important than the NHS?
  11. I can understand having Dannet and Tootle on board but Collins and McNab; please! One of them is a thug and the other one a liar, find someone with a little more cred!
    • Like Like x 1
  12. Andy_S

    Andy_S LE Book Reviewer

    Rooper, My Dear Chap:

    Are you seriously suggesting thugs and liars don't have a role to play in PR?
  13. I was always of the opinion that being under funded, under equiped, with a lack of support from the public and from the goverment and the lack of political representation was what made the British squaddie what it is today: nails!
  14. All depends if you want this idiot organisation if yours to have any credibility and gravitas.

  15. Therefore there is no need to take this thread any further, how about f*cking off elswhere to tout for business/cheap quotes ^_~

    And by the way would they be the largest Defence cuts since:

    A new Chapter
    The 1998 SDR
    Options for change
    The 1981 Defence Review

    Incidentally, each of these happened just before the UK committed to new Operational Theatres. This round of cuts is nothing new :biggrin: