IO Europe: Day 1
The guts of the conference don’t actually begin until tomorrow, but the organizers have a history of bookending the conference with operator-focused practical workshops like the one I started with today. Because wifi is a bitch to string up (shame on you, IQPC), I figure I’ll try my hand at a read-out via blog and livetweet when possible (under the hashtag #IOeurope).
Chatham House rules generally apply at IO Europe, so I’ll be judicious in my reportage.
Session 1: Can Commercial Advertising Teach IO Professionals Anything?
M&C Saatchi presented a case study on its Change 4 Life campaign against obesity, executed on contract from the UK Department of Health. I really liked this campaign’s use of iconography to get across its message: demographic-neutral cartoon characters aimed at borderline impoverished families. While several lessons could be learned from the case study, many IO pros in the room didn’t find application because the nuances of public information campaigns work very differently from military information operations. Most military attendees were fresh off IO tours in Afghanistan and Iraq where they have a very different environment in which to work versus the generally permissible domestic audience to which M&C Saatchi catered.
This doesn’t necessarily mean there weren’t any good kernels of knowledge here; there were. But I think only in the context of those who are looking at evolving the IO practice. Unfortunately, few of those people exist as today’s current environment of budget cuts and drawdowns leaves very little research & development space for future state IO and influence. It may become incumbent upon the private sector PR, marketing and advertising industry to consider designing future state IO training pro bono or at least in such a fashion as it can be demonstrated as useful and effective to those who watch the number of zeroes in the check box. Most of the cutting edge work and thought in influence is happening at places like Edelman, Wieden + Kennedy, and the tech startup world… all of which are a long way from MacDill Air Force Base.
Side note: there was a fun little practical exercise where we were to put together an on-the-fly ad campaign for selling more caravans (RVs, to you Americans). It was interesting that all the groups arrived at many of the same conclusions when presenting their campaigns. Ultimately, however, the exercise was too short to get into the meat of the differences between IO processes and PR/advertising processes. I’ve long argued that communication is communication is communication, but delineations do exist between disciplines like IO and PR… even though they are very, very subtle.
Session 2: Afghanistan
I hesitate to mention too much about this session due to operational sensitivities, but suffice to say, there is no good news about the situation in Afghanistan. Everything every pessimist has written or analyzed about that country and our united presence there is true. Much of the problem involves flawed objectives and poor partnerships with corrupt Afghans not to mention the looming drawdown coming in the next year. Afghans trust Westerners very little on long-term promises or operations; they know our political will to sustain change in their country is fleeting. Worse, we keep pumping money and time into communication through a flawed-from-the-start Afghan national government, where tribal engagement at the lowest possible local level proves more effective in the long run.
Many of the Afghanistan vets in the room conveyed a sense of unfortunate hopelessness. They believe that it’s possible to sustain change in the region, but they’re not optimistic about it given the political and economic realities in their native governments.
Fish and chips, lads?
Coming up: THE PUB. Where the real work in the influence business gets done.