By Patricia H. Kushlis
James Farwell’s soon to be published book Persuasion and Power: The Art of Strategic Communication (Georgetown University Press) is a “how to” book for professionals and wannabe professionals as well as an interesting read for those who simply want to learn more about how governments and politicians (elected and non-elected) have informed and influenced publics about their policies and candidates.
Farwell is a long-time political campaign and US military strategic communications consultant. He wrote this book as a way of explaining in lay terms the thinking behind campaigns of influence – or in less pejorative terms – ways of “winning hearts and minds.” In essence, Farwell suggests that there are certain common elements between what the US military calls strategic communication, governments call public affairs and public diplomacy, businesses see as advertising and political advisors view as campaigning. He eschews or questions incomprehensible jargon and quantitative studies and instead uses numerous real world examples told through narrative to illustrate his points.
Paramount importance of truth telling
Farwell’s basic argument is that the overriding goal of any information campaign is not only to inform but also to influence the people who matter. He suggests that this is the case for authoritarian regimes and dictators seeking to keep their populations in line as well as for democracies, militaries, foreign offices and elected politicians. And, he argues that whatever the message – the facts and the story need to be accurate. They must be judged as credible by the intended recipients because the long term veracity of the messenger is crucial to his or her obtaining and maintaining popular support.
I also think the medium is not the message; the message is the message; but the messenger must choose the most effective medium or media for its delivery whether for good or ill. Witness - as Farwell tragically points out - the efficacy of hate radio campaigns in the 1996 Rwandan genocide and, I would add, also 1990s Former Yugoslavia.
Truth be told, you will see my name in several different chapters of this book because I was involved in its initial editing. I donated my time – and expertise on public diplomacy – because I thought the book had the potential to go beyond the tiny readership of communications specialists cloistered – for the most part – on military bases and in university communications departments.
And although I have been subjected to various social science quantitative theories over the years in graduate school and beyond and found some useful in practice, I also know that people remember concepts told through stories far better than when presented through hard, cold data or entangled in specialist jargon. Farwell uses his gift for story telling – he after all, lives in Faulkner country – to excellent advantage in this readable and instructive volume.