Leading the Narrative: The Case for Strategic Communication

  • Published

Leading the Narrative: The Case for Strategic Communication by Mari K. Eder. Naval Institute Press, 2011, 152 pp.

Strategic communication is an important, difficult subject to grasp. Commanders, junior officers, and noncommissioned officers have to consider many factors when they communicate, especially outside the military, because that process can have either a favorable or detrimental effect on the public’s perception of a military organization or a response to an operation. Mari Eder tackles this complex idea, offering the reader a strategic communications primer, albeit through a decidedly military perspective. Her years of service in various Army public affairs roles and depth of experience in the joint environment shine through as she discusses ways that military communication has worked and can improve, as well as military leaders’ opportunities to take advantage of effective communication.

One might think that Leading the Narrative, at only 152 pages, would be a quick read. However, Eder includes a number of complex concepts regarding strategic communications, succinctly describing many ideas and backing them up with good analysis. The first chapter, “Military Media Relations,” offers a good foundation and introduction, especially for professionals not associated with public affairs. Subsequent chapters pay particular attention to strategic communication, defining ways to identify deficient areas and improve communication, and others detail the value and role of ethics for the military professional who deals with the media. Summing up the importance of ethics, she closes one chapter by observing that “the soldier is America’s cowboy in the twenty-first century, a role model of service and ethical behavior” (p. 76), a vivid characterization of the military juxtaposed to society as a whole. Throughout, Eder highlights the importance of ethics and the public’s opinion of the military—both critical to establishing effective strategic communication.

Although many sections of the book provide valuable insight into the need for good communication, some need improvement. For example, chapter 3, “Strategic Communication and the Battle of Ideas,” and chapter 4, “Toward Strategic Communication,” both discuss the role of public affairs at the outset of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003—and do so in almost identical fashion, sharing paragraphs and concepts. The author should either consolidate them or choose another example to represent her ideas. Furthermore, the section “Public Affairs Career Field Redesign, 2013–14” in chapter 10, “Challenge to Change: Developing Leaders for the Twenty-First Century,” could have concluded the book quite effectively; unfortunately, Eder makes it extremely Army-specific, taking the form of a tactical-level, service-centric discussion. A higher-level example—one that applied the concepts of the book, especially in the joint environment—would have proved more useful.

Despite these issues, readers will discover material that they can apply to their professional careers. It is extremely important not to become caught up in the immediate needs and visceral reactions to media operations but to look forward to beneficial second- and third-order effects. Failure to address the strategic results of our communication can impair our ability to carry out military operations efficiently.

Overall, the noncommunication professional should find Leading the Narrative well worth exploring. The many key elements of communication can assist military members at all echelons. Strategic communication, an important part of the operating environment in the twenty-first century, could be lost among the required tactical- and operational-level education and training that encompasses most military members’ time.

Maj Benjamin L. Carroll, USAF

Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."