A contradiction in terms: the author's case for strategic communication gets muddled.about the book
Leading the Narrative: The Case for Strategic Communication
by Mari K. Eder
Naval Institute Press, 2011
Maj. Gen. Mari Eder's book Leading the Narrative: The Case for Strategic Communication is a worthwhile read for communication professionals, especially those who are in uniform or involved with military public affairs. But it's also a contradiction in terms.
Having served as a U.S. Navy public affairs officer on active duty for 17 years, I understand the world Eder is coming from, where effective communication--especially in a time of conflict--can be a matter of life and death. Eder offers a number of case studies, many with firsthand experience. And in her book, she does make a passionate and logical argument for effective communication.
Where I differ with her "case" are her definitions of strategic communication and narrative:
"To me, strategic communication is a communications process, a mind-set and a philosophy as well as a thematic purpose, that is tightly woven into a primary strategic plan, regardless of organization or campaign, from the seat of government to a corporate growth plan," Eder told me in an interview. "It is broad-based, overarching and long-term. Every element of a communications campaign must reflect, relate back to and support that overall strategy."
But, I countered, strategic communication is also about research, benchmarking, setting measurable and time-bound objectives, and evaluation--all areas where military public affairs is often lacking.
She agreed. "I think strategic communication has become a euphemism for public affairs, although in a military sense, public diplomacy, information operations and other efforts that use messaging and influence as their tools and effects are also involved," Eder said.
In Leading the Narrative, Eder writes that strategic communication is the missing element, and that "our lack of a strategic communication strategy has provided a major advantage to our enemies."
Her concept of narrative is not defined. But narrative is one of the most important concepts in the struggle playing out today in Afghanistan. There's a huge listening component to understanding that narrative, too, which didn't come through in the book.
There is a chapter on crisis communication and storytelling, which do play a role in shaping the narrative. But if you read this book to understand the narrative or how to lead it, you won't even find the word in the index.
Eder told me that the chapters were written as separate essays published over a period of time. "Together they help shape the narrative, but the book was not written as a holistic argument," she said. "The book primarily relies on examples of communications practice and strategy based on my background with military public affairs; it is applicable to communicators in all fields. It is about strategy, theory and process, and tactics. The tactics and examples bolster the strategy and theory."
It is all that. But it isn't about clearly defined strategic communication and its applications to business, nor is it about the narrative.
about the reviewer
Edward Lundquist, ABC, is a retired U.S. naval officer and a principal science writer and naval analyst for MCR Federal LLC in Arlington, Virginia.