US Army Europe’s annual Public Affairs Conference

By Major Steven Lamb, U.S. Africa Command Public Affairs

Public affairs professionals from across Europe and from Washington D.C. gathered in the historic city of Sibiu, Romania to participate in US Army Europe’s annual Public Affairs Conference 23-27 August 2010.

I work for U.S. Africa Command Public Affairs and though we don’t have a European mission we were invited to participate due to our headquarters location in southern Germany’s city of Stuttgart and the strong desires of all those involved to reach out to all available PA professionals in seeking best practices that could move our profession forward.

According to Col. Bryan Hilferty, chief of U.S. Army Europe’s Public Affairs office, traveling to Sibiu helped clarify the fact that USAREUR is focused on all of Europe and not just Germany. In addition to U.S. Department of Defense and Department of State participants Romania and Latvia military public affairs were represented.

The conference was focused on many issues including working with U.S. Embassies, the best uses of Social Media, branding our organizations and taking a quick look at what future technologies may help us share our stories with broader audiences.

Specific attention was paid throughout the conference to the reality of living in a culture of engagement where there is a level of accountability expected by our audiences. Making use of strategic communications principles, new technologies and aggressively seeking to share key themes and messages with targeted audiences are all critical functions for successful public affairs practitioners.

Maj. Gen. Robert Brown, USAREUR chief of staff, made an appearance and shared how senior military leaders are being taught that engagement with the military are “part of the job” and do entail some risk and Mr. Ken White, Installation Management Command-East chief of public affairs, shared how the doctrinal responsibilities of public affairs professionals are now reaching well beyond the traditional means by which we used to operate.

Equally important in understanding our environment is gauging our success in outreach endeavors as we shift back and forth between our doctrinal mission of informing our internal audiences of family and friends to the broader external audiences stretching around the globe.

To help in these initiatives we were also given briefings from a variety of fields.

Mr. Mark Ray, USAREUR office of the chief of public affairs spoke on VOCUS, a web-based service that is helping USAREUR not only reach new audiences with targeted information but also is providing a way to meet the new requirements of gauging success. Maj. Scott Betts, director of the Defense Video Image & Distribution System shared their groups current and future technologies for broadening our reach to key audiences and Col. William Bigelow, American Forces Network – Europe commander gave us an update on his organization as we discussed their future and how we might work better together using their multimedia assets.

While the basic principles of public affairs have not changed over time new technologies and relationships developed with other nations have created a greater potential for reaching and informing vastly larger audiences in an ever decreasing amount of time than the conditions we faced as early as five years ago. Internet and satellite technologies, social media and a fifteen minute international news cycle creates an exciting and fast moving environment which public affairs professionals must keep up to date on. Conferences such as these help ensure the professional communicators remain on the cutting edge.

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