“Ready, Responsive, Relevant?” a Public Affair Critique, USNI

USCGC Rollin A. Fritch (WPC-1119)

August has brought the US Naval Institutes annual “Coast Guard Issue” of their magazine, Proceedings, which is mostly not about the Coast Guard. Never the less there are Coast Guard related articles included and there is one on this side of the pay wall that really deserves the service’s attention, “Ready, Responsive, Relevant?” It looks at the Coast Guard’s Public Affairs program. Its written by Lieutenant Commander Krystyn Pecora, USCG, XO on Seneca (WMEC-906), an Academy graduate and permanent cutterman, a former external affairs officer for District Five with a master’s degree in media and communications studies.

She needs to be listened to, because as she points out, the Budget is linked to Public Perception of Value. 

She found that the program lacked focus, leadership, and resources.

Considering “focus”:

In her examination of focus, she refers to a 2001 USNI article, “Branding the Coast Guard” also worth a read. It points out.

“Never has a governmental agency been such a success and failure at the same time. The Coast Guard is lauded daily in the nation’s press for spectacular operational successes, yet is chronically unable to obtain an adequate budget from the nation it serves. This dichotomy was illustrated quite graphically in March 2000 when the Coast Guard won the accolades of Government Executive magazine for being the nation’s most efficient and best run federal agency but was ridiculed in the same article for its naiveté and repeated failures in the budget process. “

His solution:

“The Coast Guard’s travails will never be addressed adequately until it abandons the myth that it is a single, monolithic organization and accepts the reality that it is a “holding company” for a number individual, mutually supporting, maritime service organizations. It also must focus on the individual services, not the holding company, in the competition for federal dollars and support.”

In a modern interpretation of the argument LCdr Pecora suggests, 

if 11 strategic teams were developed, each devoted to defining and promoting one of the Coast Guard’s missions. All 11 missions have millions of constituents interested in the specific services the Coast Guard provides. For example, northern constituents care more about domestic icebreaking capabilities compared to constituents in warmer climates. Realistically, the Coast Guard cannot use the same communications playbook for each of these constituent groups. Strategic teams translating national intent to regional audiences through the district external affairs offices would ensure each mission receives ongoing attention to daily operations, akin to the U.S. Navy’s type commander construct.

This dedicated effort would be a far cry from today’s whack-a-mole operations in which the service focuses its efforts on the mission currently most in need of acquisition funding. Instead of having missions fighting for pieces of the funding pie, the Coast Guard could grow support for funding all constituent interests concurrently. In addition, this construct takes advantage of the current information environment, in which audiences select news sources that resonate with their personal interests rather than relying on traditional media outlets. It would not matter which brand image is imagined when asked to envision a Coast Guardsman; that brand image would have been a result of calculated microtargeting based on a person’s region and interests.

Considering Leadership:

Compared to the professionalism of DOD public affairs.

“The experience disparity for the Coast Guard is substantial; this is the second public affairs–related tour for its current Chief of Public Affairs. His predecessor served his first public affairs tour in this leadership position. This lack of experience is a service-wide failure. The Coast Guard would not place a novice in charge of any operational program but consistently accepts this scenario for its communications program. “

Considering Lack of resources: 

There is much more in the article, but a single paragraph,

“On average, there is one enlisted public affairs watchstander representing 22 Coast Guard units of varying size, in geographically diverse locations, often across multiple states, with varied missions. The folly of the current footprint was identified by the service’s own reports in the aftermath of both the Cosco Busan (2007) and Deepwater Horizon (2010) oil spills. These reports called for the public affairs program to be increased in size to decrease public affairs response times to sustain messaging during long-term events. 11 For context, the public affairs response to the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season consisted of half the rate, leaving skeleton crews across the nation to cover daily operations. The program simply cannot handle two national-level events at the same time. “

Please read the entire article, there is much, much more. 


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