I HAVE been puzzling for some time now over the repeated use by some communication executives of the term or concept “strategic communications.“
The term, when dropped, confers a little distinction or knowledge on the person doing the dropping.
On the other hand, if someone rudely asks that you explain what you mean by “strategic communications,” you might get flustered.
The concept has been evolving only in this century, and the field is not yet professionally taught or studied in schools of communication and public relations.
I thought it was time to write on the subject when I learned in the papers that Communications Secretary Martin Andanar announced this month that the government would be establishing a strategic communications training academy for government information officers as early as next year.
This called to mind that in his time, President Benigno Aquino 3rd also tried to create a strategic communications group to serve his needs and that of his administration.
Knowing how Tuwid na Daan (straight path) wound up crooked and confused, I am naturally curious now whether Secretary Andanar’s scheme will fare any better.
Aquino’s media group
On Monday, Aug. 10, 2010, just two months after his accession to office, Aquino signed Executive Order 4, creating Malacañang’s media communications group.
The EO effectively reorganized the Office of the Press Secretary (OPS) and sought to modernize the Palace’s communications strategy to better deliver President Aquino’s message to the people.
The order reorganized and renamed the OPS as the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) to be headed by a Cabinet secretary with all corresponding salaries, emoluments and benefits.
The EO also created a separate Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office (PCDSPO) involved in coordinating the crafting and enhancing of the messaging system under the Office of the President.
The EO stated that the PCOO would develop and implement the “necessary guidelines and mechanisms to deliver and disseminate information regarding the policies, programs, official activities and achievements of the President and the executive.”
The PCOO was to coordinate and cultivate relations with private media as well as manage and administer the Office of the President website and the web development office.
On the other hand, the PCDSPO was tasked with the design and recommendation responses to issues that arise on a daily basis; ensuring consistency in the messages issued by the Executive Department.
The media communications group had two heads: Herminio “Sonny” Coloma as PCOO secretary, former ANC anchor Ricky Carandang as messaging secretary, and Manuel Quezon 3rd as a deputy secretary somewhere in the mix.
As readers will remember, the Aquino innovations were unsuccessful. The communications group looked hydra-headed, as it appeared to have three or more heads. Besides Coloma, Carandang and Quezon, Aquino also had the ubiquitous Edwin Lacierda as presidential spokesman. Sometimes, they all talked at the same time.
They accomplished very little in terms of either communication or strategy. When the bottom fell out of the Aquino ship of state, it could not be saved from sinking.
Strategic communications academy
Secretary Andanar announced the plan for a strategic communications academy in Tacloban City on August 3, during the oath-taking ceremony for the Association of Government Information Officers in Region 8 at the Philippine Information Agency Tacloban headquarters.
Andanar explained that the training academy for government information officers would be put up as early as next year following the approval of the idea by the finance and budget departments.
According to the plan, he academy will not only provide a strong, comprehensive and unified communications structure to combat disinformation, but also breed excellent communications officers nationwide.
Andanar told his audience: “The quality of information that we receive based on our present structure depends on the capability of the government information office. There are so many bureaucratic organizations to look up to…such as the PNP, AFP, PIA, also DFA. Most of these organizations have highly qualified people. But it does not go across the entire government bureaucracy. Most barangay don’t even have information officers,”
Barangay information officers? Is he kidding? Do we have this much public money to burn?
“One thing I noticed is the lack of uniformity in government communication paradigm. Each department on the national level has different ways to do media relations and public relations.
“I conceptualized an academy that perhaps can help us in our pursuit that can help us improve our communications paradigm. I thought that it is imperative that the government sets up its own government strategic communications training center.”
Andanar elaborated that the training center will have research facilities, television and radio stations, a digital newsroom, lodging, and attached agencies of the PCOO like the Philippine News Agency (PNA) and Philippine Information Agency (PIA).
He disclosed that his plan is to build the strategic communications training center in Bukidnon which has a temperate climate, and serves as a gateway to major cities in southern Philippines such as Davao City and Cagayan de Oro.
Government information officers chorused their approval of Andanar’s idea because it will enhance the capability of government information workers.
“You will have a place, an academy to be able to share your expertise, not only among yourselves but also the people who need it most,” Andanar told them.
Frankly, from this informal launch of the idea, the strategic communications academy does not look convincing or necessary sat all.
The academy has not been properly thought out or planned. Who will teach at the academy?
Are there people with advanced degrees in communications working in the PCOO?
By the sound of the plans, nobody appears to know what on earth is meant by strategic communications.
Integrated corporate communications
I came across the concept of strategic communications, when I worked for a brief spell with several corporate CEOs, who needed help in the corporate communications of their companies.
I did some work in crisis communications and also did a bit of speechwriting.
Most of all, I helped in crafting communications plans for several organizations.
At the time, I came across a new book on communications: The Handbook of Strategic Public Relations and Integrated Communications, by Clarke L. Caywood, editor (Mcgraw-Hill, New York, 1997).
Haywood’s book is an illuminating introduction to public relations and corporate communications in the new century.
He does not use term “strategic communications”; he prefers to use instead the term “integrated communications.”
Caywood contends that management, marketing, public relations and advertising should be integrated through communications and research-based decision-making.
In this light, communications and public relations are conducted as if the very future of the organization, corporate or public, depends on it.
In this sense, communication is strategic and vital.