NATO’s communications and information programmes complement public information activities initiated by the governments of each member country. They are principally undertaken by NATO’s Public Diplomacy Division, which also coordinates all strategic communication activities across all NATO civilian and military bodies and harmonizes all public diplomacy activities undertaken by other entities belonging to the NATO structure.
Types of activities
To adjust to advances in technology, the rise of the 24-hour news cycle and the increasing popularity of social media, the Alliance uses internet-based media and public engagement, in addition to traditional media, to build awareness of and support for NATO’s evolving role, objectives and missions. In short, the Alliance employs a multi-faceted and integrated approach in communicating and engaging with the wider public.
Communicating and engaging with the public
24h media operations
Press and media provide support for the NATO Secretary General, as the principal spokesperson for the Alliance, in addition to arranging briefings and interviews with journalists, organizing press conferences and press tours, conducting media monitoring and hosting exhibits. They also ensure that at major events, such as summits or ministerial meetings, adequate resources are available for journalists, senior officials and real-time coverage of events. A Media Operations Centre focuses on NATO-led operations and all related media activities. It ensures the coordination of activities, the harmonization of messages and the day-to-day management of communication activities touching on any one of NATO’s operations or missions.
NATO organizes cooperation programmes, visits, seminars and conferences involving opinion leaders, parliamentarians, civic society groups and experts in member and partner countries. Effectively, NATO staff help to explain NATO and disseminate information in NATO and partner countries, as well as countries where NATO is engaged, by interacting with academics, think-tanks, bloggers and any other group with an interest in NATO and NATO-related issues. An original project is NATO’s SILK-Afghanistan programme, which provides free internet access for Afghan universities and governmental institutions in support of NATO’s operation in the country.
Visitors can be welcomed to NATO Headquarters and receive briefings and have discussions with experts from NATO’s International Staff, International Military Staff and national delegations on all aspects of the Alliance’s work and policies. Alternatively, NATO officials, including the Secretary General and other senior Alliance officials, participate in special flagship events in member countries and partner countries.
Mass communication, image-building and branding
The Alliance publishes and disseminates material that covers a broad range of NATO-related topics in both electronic and print formats, often in a variety of NATO and partner country languages.
The website provides access to details about NATO policies and activities, including public statements, background information, official documents, video interviews, audio files and real-time coverage of major NATO-related events. It also gives access to the resources of the NATO multimedia library, which inter-alia caters for internal and external requests on NATO-related publications. The online NATO TV Channel offers video stories and releases b-roll to broadcast media outlets, thereby broadening NATO’s reach further still. Additionally, the in-house TV and radio studios cover VIP press events and facilitate broadcast media outreach.
While publicly releasable official documents, statements and video stories are offered online, there are also texts, brochures and other products that exist, which explain policy and lend insight into the underlying objectives and rationale of the Organization. They seek to raise public awareness and contribute to an informed public debate on relevant aspects of security policy.
Promoting security cooperation
Communications and information programmes help to stimulate debate on NATO issues and contribute to strengthening knowledge of its goals and objectives in academic circles. Additionally, they give the Alliance access to the views and analysis of the general public and specialized groups within it. Many of the information activities have an interactive, two-way character, enabling the Organization to listen to and learn from the experience of the audiences it addresses, identify their concerns and fields of interest and respond to their questions. There are several instances where NATO is locally set up to increase the impact of its work and interact more frequently with its audiences, for instance with its information offices in Moscow and Kiev. There are also information points in other partner countries and so-called “contact point embassies”, which are literally NATO member country embassies located in partner countries that serve as links between NATO Headquarters in Brussels and target audiences in partner countries.
Coordinating NATO’s strategic communications activities
As well as harmonizing public diplomacy activities undertaken by other NATO entities, the Public Diplomacy Division also coordinates all strategic communication activities across all NATO civilian and military bodies.