I’m starting to understand the flow of our week much better now. It’s being built like a Belgian waffle with the extra toppings. First we started with the base layer which was the tour of the city center and our lecture to understand the media landscape of Belgium. Next up we got the scoops of ice cream which were our visits to the International Press Center and the European Parliament Visitors Center. Now we are loading on the toppings with our visit to the U.S. – European Media Hub and the U.S. Embassy to Belgium’s Office of Public Diplomacy. I don’t know for sure when the culminating whipped cream topping will occur, but my waffle has gotten pretty full. Its manageable though, and each visit has led me to overall better understanding of governmental operations in Europe and the U.S., and media’s role in communicating with the public.
The U.S. European Media Hub and Office of Public Diplomacy have opened my eyes to the public affairs missions of the U.S. Federal Government. I learned the Media Hub provides regional support for embassies in the European region by offering video and radio services for the embassies, public affairs and policy officers needing to communicate the U.S. mission to Belgium. In addition to the European Hub in Belgium, there are media hubs located in Tokyo, Miami, Africa, London, and Dubai. Each Media Hub has different capabilities and skill-sets on hand but uses their resources to prepare videos and other communications on behalf of the State Department.
A foreign service officer serves as the director of the Office of Public Diplomacy (PD) and their staff has an important role in shaping and delivering messages to the media. PD’s key mission is to provide bilateral support by telling the U.S.’s story in Belgium to journalist with local and regional media interests. The office focuses primarily on journalists in all three regions of Belgium and works closely with the Ambassador to communicate the messages that are most important to the mission. Using press releases, press conferences, interviews, publications, social media, and other tools in their toolkit, the PD office is essentially the communications department and public relations functions of the U.S. Embassy in Belgium.
To answer my original question, I don’t really see a difference in public affairs and public relations with the exception of a few minor nuances. In both fields communication professionals are working toward the mission of the institution, organization, or corporation they are representing by using the media to target messages toward their publics. Public affairs is the governmental side of communicating with publics. While PR focuses more on communicating for business stakeholders and customers.
Sorry, there are no photos today. The embassy is pretty tight with security, as should be expected.