Book Review: The Art of Global Public Relations

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There’s a new book on the block that will is required reading for anybody seriously interested in the relationship between information activities, cultural and educational exchanges, advocacy, and Congressional and executive branch bureaucracies. This book is Dr. Nick Cull’s The Cold War and the United States Information Agency: American Propaganda and Public Diplomacy, 1945-1989.

As a trained historian, Nick delivers a rich narrative of the United States Information beginning with the seeds of the USIA at the end of World War II and through the end of the Cold War that marked the beginning of the slow death of agency. As an academic, he supports the story with deep research, including one hundred personal interviews, that leave very few stones left unturned. Unlike most of other books on the subject, he focus on both the “slow” engagement of educational and cultural exchanges or the “fast” engagement of the information activities.  

For the many reports being written today on the future of U.S. public diplomacy and whether and how to recreate the USIA, this is a must read. For current and future students of public diplomacy, strategic communication, and global engagement, this is a valuable and necessary resource.

There is one unfortunate problem with the book, however: the price. Hopefully the publisher will drop the price on the soft cover (don’t know if one is planned yet or will ever).

For a more comprehensive book review, I’ll defer to Martha Bayles, who reviewed it in the The Wall Street Journal today. I look forward to other reviews (personally, I’d like to see a review from John Brown). A snippet from Bayles’s review:

Mr. Cull admits that America's image is shaped by many actors, from U.S.-based transnational corporations (especially the titans of the entertainment industry) to thousands of NGOs, ranging in size from behemoths to pipsqueaks. But because most of these operate with little or no political oversight, the traditional tools of public diplomacy -- the foreign service, government-supported international broadcasting and a whole range of military-related communications -- remain crucial to the conduct of U.S. foreign policy.

Mr. Cull's invaluable contribution is to divide public diplomacy into five components, beginning with the most important: listening. Initially, USIA did research and analysis of foreign opinion, and the director sat on the National Security Council and shared these soundings with policy makers. (This changed under President Nixon.) The second component, advocacy, is also tied to policy, in the sense of shaping an overall propaganda "message" in its favor.

Read the review in its entirety here.

One sad note on USIA: Charles Wick, the last USIA director discussed in the book, died yesterday (LA Times article here).