Fourth Day of Lectures and Briefings: US Embassy Media HUB, Brussels, Belgium

Still in Brussels, taking advantage of the abundance of media sources to broaden our knowledge and understanding of communication in the area of political news bureaus.  Political media is a giant web of agency news bites, press releases, video productions, radio and television broadcasts that are frequently produced in media studios similar to the State Department Regional Media Hub, to be made available worldwide almost instantly.  Most of the news media available to the press created or managed by the HUB can be accessed by us common folks by logging into a State Department website:  www.newsmarket.com.  There is a similar, but more comprehensive, sight for journalists.

Maggie White, Deputy Public Affairs Officer, Brussels, Belgium, introduced us to the Media HUB.  The HUB is one of five regional media HUBs.  She told us of some of the duties, advantages and disadvantages of a foreign affairs agent.  The duties, various duty stations, and different roles in different areas she shared emphasized the need for foreign service officers with broadened media skills.  From writing the script to editing and producing the final product, and everything in between, an agent needs to know how to and be able to do it all, according to Laurens Vermeire, the HUB production manager.  The communication student desiring a position in political media needs more than a background in public relations, good writing skills, and a lot of ambition and perseverance, strong technical skills are also a must.  The technology today permits one person to do efficiently what once required a number of specialized individuals.

From the HUB, we were taken to a large conference room to watch a public relations piece prepared by the Embassy.  The piece was designed to remind the Belgian people of the past ties between the US and Brussels in an effort to improve public opinion.  Jacqueline Deley, Deputy Press Secretary joined us.  As she began to discuss the embassy’s role and her role in public affairs oversight, I had a real “ah-ha” moment about the differences in Public Diplomacy and Public Relations.  Public Diplomacy incorporates more organizational communication approach in that it is working toward encouraging mutually beneficial outcomes, plus PR and journalism skill sets.  Cultural exchange, media production, social media, and information research are some of the functions of public diplomacy.  While public relations officers have a set of goals,  these tend to be more about building visibility, image, and acceptance.

Jacqueline gave insight into becoming a foreign service officer, and the demands of post assignments.  In a job like hers, tours of duty are usually for three years before reassignment.  Ambassadors are resigned too, and that “is like a box of chocolates” in that you never know what you will get.  Some are tech savvy, some avoid as much press time as possible, and the press secretary must be flexible and equipped with a toolkit to make the most of what she has.

The constant theme is doing more with less.  The HUB serves the media production and distribution needs of US Embassies in continental Europe as far as Turkey, the Nordic Countries to Russia with a staff of four, more or less.  The Deputy Press Secretary has a staff of two to arrange events, programs, press conferences, and ambassadorial appearances in a variety of venues.  Both agencies use summer interns; an opportunity for students to assess this career field in real time.

Today’s take away:  Diversification of skills, with a strong technology background is a must for communication students seeking jobs in today’s market, whether private and governmental.

Photos of the past few days to follow soon.

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