This Isn’t Your Grandparents’ NATO

By Gabrielle Bellamy20130623-044517.jpg


Today was our final business day in Belgium, and it was definitely bittersweet. Although I am sad the summer abroad is almost finished, I was excited to visit NATO today. For those of you who don’t know, NATO is the acronym for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. NATO is located quite far from the central area of Brussels, and it is highly secure. After passing through security, we went inside the Political Headquarters and had a meeting with three NATO employees: Ms. Allison Hart, Information Officer for the U.S. & Canada, Engagements Section, Public Diplomacy Division, Mr. Tony White, Press Officer, Press and Media Section, Public Diplomacy Division, and Ms. Oana Lungescu, NATO Spokesperson.

Ms. Hart began the meeting by giving us the history of NATO. NATO, founded in 1949, is a political military organization. Everything they do starts with politics. The organization is composed of 28 countries, and all of the ambassadors are housed in Brussels. Their mission is to safeguard the freedom of the country members. NATO is value based, consensus based, and commitment based. During the Cold War, there was a lack of strong communication within the organization; thus, they decided to strengthen the communication following the war. The 3 core tasks they focus on are collective defense, crisis management, and cooperative security.

Ms. Lungescu spoke about the Press and Media Section and on what it’s like to be a NATO spokesperson. The Press and Media Section is composed of 20 people. They each specialize in the various areas of media analysis, social media, media operations (the team that handles visits and public speaking engagements), and press officers. I learned that there is only one person who manages the social media, which is impressive because NATO has handles on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, and Google+. That is definitely a job that I would love to do and could see myself handling very well. The Press and Media Section often uses the Brussels Press Corps, which is located near NATO. A problem Ms. Lungescu noted that the section faces is that today, there are not many journalists who specialize on the subject of political military strategies; therefore, it is sometimes difficult to relay the message, so they often keep things rudimentary.

Tips the Press and Media Section consider to keep NATO running smoothly:
– It is important to express all 28 members’ views
– It is important to know the political sensitivities of the different members
– It is important to get information out in real-time
– It is important that journalists reporting on NATO get accurate information
– If the information is wrong, apologize and/or clarify
– Create personal, trustworthy relationships with journalists
– Know what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, and know what the message is

Mr. White spoke more about the Press and Media Section and managing communications for the secretary general (the head person over the 28 members). Mr. White compared the organization to the Pentagon and state departments. Within their work, it is important to think about partnerships, and alliances. There are 3 stakeholders: the ambassadors, the capitols, and the chain of command. The Public Diplomacy Division is also composed of the secretary general’s speech writers. They, of course, prepare speeches and notes for the secretary general. Last year, the Secretary General did 161 interviews. “As a press officer, you want to script things so that the speaker will stay on topic. It is also important that everyone understands the message,” said White. The division also handles his social media accounts, which are quite popular. Being a speech writer is another job I could see myself doing here at NATO.

The division also publishes feature publications such as rolling briefs that explain the organization’s core message. The briefs are updated weekly. They also do media responses on the phone and through email. A problem, according to White, that they face is dealing with journalists who write incorrect content. Oftentimes, the division challenges articles and even article headlines. Another problem is that the division cannot tell the different nations how to deal with journalists. This is because, as I have learned in class, journalism varies from country to country. The best advice they can give is to the countries is to “be a translator,” said White. They should make sure the general public understands the message.

Even though NATO is a secure, military organization, the Public Diplomacy Division still makes things interesting and fun. They even take journalists to different locations so that they can see NATO in action. They have also hosted Afghan news agencies in Brussels. I think it would be a great experience to go on one of the NATO trips. Unfortunately, they are only for editors and senior journalists, so I guess I will have to wait a few years before I have the opportunity to participate.

Much of the information I learned at NATO was related to concepts I learned throughout my research in my Global Communications, International Public Relations, and Global MNC courses. Some of the concepts include creating close, trustworthy relationships with journalists, how journalism varies from country to country, making sure your message is clear, social media use for a large organization, and respecting multiple values from different countries.

Key Take-Away Points:
1) Simple questions are important. It is good to go back to the basics.
2) The best journalists are the ones that are proactive. Don’t wait for the phone to ring; get out there and do something.
3) Know your organization. Know your audience. Know your principle.

Au revoir

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