Monday, February 25, 2013

Persuasion and Power is a rare nonfiction classic--about an old practice

This nonfiction work is a rare classic. There are lots of books on Communications, Public Relations, Public Affairs, Social Media, TV & Radio, Internet Marketing, Media strategy. But no other book I’ve seen looks at the permeable borders of these categories as they contribute to the big picture of political campaigns, national security—Strategic Communications. 

In PERSUASION AND POWER (Georgetown University Press), James Farwell shows that skill in the use of images, words, and symbols, does not necessarily guarantee success. The end result often depends on the content of the message and its goal.  Deception is not as successful as truth, consistent, and persuasive. It also helps to remember that any success is within a specific time-frame.  With the speed and incessant change of the 24/7 news cycle, a permanent end result is a chimera.

Yet this book analyzes the strategic communications embodied in our Declaration of Independence, a document of enormous impact.  The writers, looking for support from abroad, based their revolution not on a religion but an idea of the Enlightenment—that all men are equal. They talk about the tyranny of the British King but omit Parliament, a decision that makes this a document of careful strategic communications. It persuades with reason and motivates with emotion for desired ends—foreign support and rallying at home.

The book shows the similarity between Obama’s use of the Internet to reach a mass audience and Martin Luther’s use of broadsides, why Argentina’s Chavez may be closer to Napoleon than Simon Bolivar, how the distribution of Roman coins with Caesar’s face echoes our campaign pins.  The book also draws darker parallels on the propaganda of Hitler and the use of racist incendiary radio in Rawanda’s genocidal war.  And it astutely explains the intelligence behind  Al Quaeda’s video campaigns.

Author James Farwell is a defense consultant, who advises the U.S. Depts of Defense and Special Operations. He also shows how successful strategic communications can escape powerful nations. They will build a communications strategy to advance national security with psychological operations, military information support operations, propaganda, and public diplomacy.  Yet concepts, definitions, doctrines, and operations can be misguided. Farwell’s art is not a science.