By Sherry Lee Mueller and Olivia Chavez
The Advocacy Imperative
The Public Diplomacy Council mission is to promote excellence in professional practice, academic study, and advocacy for public diplomacy. The first two endeavors are relatively easy to comprehend. It is the third – advocacy – that is often neglected and misunderstood. Yet we are approaching a post-pandemic and resource-constrained time when advocacy will take on new urgency. It will not be something relegated to “
if we have time for it, it would be nice to do.” It will be a necessity – an imperative.
The terms “advocacy” and “public diplomacy” have multiple definitions yet both activities deal with persuading others to do what you want without payment or coercion, echoing Joseph S. Nye’s definition of “soft power”. USC Professor Nicholas Cull lists advocacy as one of the five components of public diplomacy in his book Public Diplomacy: Foundations for Global Engagement in the Digital Age. He describes advocacy as government officials crafting messages and communicating in support of particular policies.
When we use the term as part of PDC’s mission, we are referring to the wide variety of ways that we, as a private-sector association, can support adequate resources and sound policies and programs for U.S. public diplomacy. There are various approaches to advocacy. When PDC was first founded in 1988, issuing statements was a primary tool. Now, in this information-saturated world, we have many more options. Available approaches in the digital age are dynamic and ever-changing. What follows is an intergenerational dialogue between PDC President Sherry Mueller and PDC Graduate Fellow Olivia Chavez about the value of advocacy, the variety of advocacy tools at our disposal, and PDC’s plans for engaging our multigenerational members in advocacy.
Olivia: When we were in the process of refining our mission last year, I recall that you were adamant that advocacy had to be a prominent part of PDC’s PDC’s core agenda. What shaped your views on this?
Sherry: Three reasons come to mind. First, if you read the PDC Articles of Incorporation, clearly our founders wanted this professional association to speak up for the field and represent its best interests. Second, I agree with the findings of researchers Leslie Crutchfield and Heather Grant in their book on NGO leadership Forces for Good: The Six Practices of High-Impact Nonprofits. The authors identified advocacy as one of the six practices that contribute to the success of organizations that make a positive difference. They assert that it is not enough to design and implement high quality programs. It is also essential to help shape the policy environment in which those programs are delivered.
Third, my own experiences, first at the Institute of International Education (IIE) and later as president of Global Ties U.S., taught me the vital importance of advocacy. Early in my career, I was at IIE when the new Reagan Administration first proposed cutting the Fulbright Program by 50%. The New York Times ran an editorial entitled: “America Surrenders.” IIE was part of a concerted and ultimately successful effort to counter this proposal. I still remember calling my colleagues in the Global Ties network (then the National Council for International Visitors) around the country encouraging them to contact their members of Congress.
Olivia: How are you trying to provide leadership for PDC’s advocacy efforts? Who will engage in advocacy on our behalf?
Sherry: Advocacy requires building a constituency that is articulate and willing to act. Accomplished communicators, the PDC board and members are uniquely qualified to engage in effective advocacy. I have invited two of our board members who have extensive experience with advocacy, Mike McCarry and Mark Rebstock, to co-chair a group we have named Advocacy Communication Envoys (ACE) We are assembling a Steering Committee and will also work closely with those 67 members who, in the PDC 2020 Census, indicated that they would like to become more involved with advocacy. Ideally, every member of PDC will take an interest and respond when ACE issues calls to action.
Like public diplomacy, the art of advocacy is relationship-building. Some of our members have excellent connections on the Hill. It is my hope that most PDC members will build these relationships so that as major issues, critically important to our field, come along our members know the legislative aides for Foreign Affairs in the offices of their Senators and Representatives and can weigh in with calls and emails.
Sherry: As a PDC Rising Professional member (someone 34 and under), you are much more adept at understanding and using social media tools for advocacy. What do you think would be most beneficial? Which platforms should PDC embrace?
Olivia: Social media serves as a way to amplify advocacy efforts by reaching more people, in more places, at a fast pace. It’s a way to contact, inform, and mobilize a group of concerned people around an issue as well as providing opportunities to listen and engage. As a small organization, the PDC has a presence on multiple social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Youtube. Building on our presence, I think we can use these platforms more strategically.
As PDC’s ACE develops its goals and priorities, social media advocacy efforts can work in alignment with traditional advocacy tools. This means becoming a reliable source of information and analysis for the legislative staff and branding the PDC as an organization of experts with a focus on shareable content. More specifically, two platforms that stand out are Twitter and LinkedIn. Both platforms attract the thought leaders, officials, and candidates we wish to engage and the flow of information is ever-changing. Being on these platforms increases the relevance of the PDC and places us at the center of conversations focusing on public diplomacy.
Sherry: What are some of the downsides to using social media?
Olivia: A big drawback to social media is that it is time-consuming. It requires continually creating new content, posting content, and engaging with our audiences on multiple platforms. Being a small, largely volunteer-dependent organization, we need to be selective in ways we use social media. We should focus on smaller projects with shorter timelines that follow a centralized protocol for engaging on various platforms. One of the most common pitfalls a small organization can fall into is using volunteers or interns to post social content. While it makes sense to utilize different people who willingly offer their time to the organization for social media, this leads to having different voices carrying the organization’s brand rather than projecting a unified voice.
Don’t get me wrong, having donors, volunteers, and advocates speak on our organization’s behalf is essential. However, they need to understand how a social media strategy fits within the organization’s priorities. For this training is necessary but often overlooked. Ideally, you would have a small team of three people who really understand your organization and its mission be more effective on social media than lots of people with inconsistent messages.
Olivia: How do you measure success? Was there a moment when you thought “Yes, I got this right”?
Sherry: Your question prompts one of my favorite professional memories. Toward the end of my tenure as president of Global Ties U.S., the legislative aide for foreign affairs in Congressman Jim Moran’s Office called me. He said: “The Congressman has received an invitation to speak at the Fulbright Association Conference. What do you think he should emphasize?” At that moment, I thought, yes, this is exactly what we have been working toward. We should be viewed as a reliable source of information. As in public diplomacy, reciprocity is a key principle of advocacy.
Olivia Chavez is currently the Graduate Fellow for the Public Diplomacy Council. Originally from San Diego, CA. Olivia completed her undergraduate studies at San Diego State University. She is a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer who served in St.Vincent and the Grenadines from 2017-2019. Olivia is a graduate student at American University pursuing an M.A in Political Communication as a Coverdell Fellow in the School of Public Affairs.
Sherry L. Mueller, Ph.D. is the President of the Public Diplomacy Council. She serves as Distinguished Practitioner in Residence at the School of International Service (SIS), American University, Washington, D.C. She teaches an undergraduate course and a graduate Practicum entitled Cultural Diplomacy and International Exchange. Dr. Mueller provided leadership for the National Council for International Visitors (now Global Ties U.S.) since 1996, first as Executive Director and then as President until September 30, 2011.