Week 4 – Key Traits and Skills for PD Officers

The nature of public diplomacy work requires officers to have exceptional communication and marketing skills, particularly to be able to correspond on behalf of US interests, create programming that is appropriate for a specific target audience, determine which media sources are trustworthy, and gage how best to disseminate information to foreign publics. The following two examples focus on contemporary skills necessary for foreign officers in public diplomacy.

In 2006, Under Secretary of Public Diplomacy, Karen Hughes, encouraged Public Affairs officers to make appearances on TV and radio whenever possible. Prior to Hughes, US officers had to get permission to make public appearances to insure a unified voice in statements made to foreign publics. There was a point where officers were not allowed to make any statements to Al-Jazeera, a state funded broadcaster in Qatar. However, Hughes made the case that it is more important for US officials to be able to speak on behalf of the US rather than leave statements on US interests up to critics on media networks directed to foreign publics. The two communication platforms mentioned above, TV and radio, continue to be key avenues to reach foreign publics where literacy rates and accessibility to the internet may still be low. In such cases, these communication platforms remain as important as in the Cold War era to reach target audiences. However, with the increased use of social media and the internet as tools of public diplomacy, there are more technological skills required of US officers today.

Public diplomacy officers are engaging with foreign publics on a far more regular basis than other foreign service officers, and thus it is imperative that their language skills are at a professional level. Public affairs officers can foster better connections and are regarded as more trustworthy when they are able to communicate with foreign publics in the local language. Language skills also allow a public affairs officer to make appearances on local media channels which are best regarded by foreign publics. Since the Bush administration the US State Department has received additional funding to improve the language training of foreign service officers to better communicate in their respective locations. While language has always been an important skill for foreign service officers, it is increasingly focused on in the training process today.

-Samantha Sobash


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