Strait from the Hormuz’s Mouth

Communications Plan for HMS Montrose in the Strait of Hormuz

By Commander Tom Sharpe OBE RN (Retd); freelance communications advisor and Partner at Special Project Partners. This plan is based on GCS OASIS[1] methodology which identifies the Objectives and the Target Audience before attempting a Strategy.


Objectives

Primary

Promote the Royal Navy’s and HMS Montrose’s excellence in delivering this task (before it becomes enduring and/or escalates)

Secondary

Amplify the strategic foresight that saw a RN frigate forward-based in Bahrain

Demonstrate RN flexibility (above other, similar navies)

Reiterate the global currency that is freedom of navigation

Improve information flow with national and international media

Implied

Do not escalate with Iran

Remain right side of rapidly evolving UK political picture

Audiences

Herein lies the problem, not just with this but with most military communications – it is not possible to target effectively the breadth of audiences listed below with the same set of messages (see initial reaction to Army ‘snowflake’ recruitment campaign). Different channels and approaches are needed almost for each line. If this plan were to be converted into activity, this would from a major part of the Implementation section (below).

Primary Audience

Decision Makers (DM) – Those who shape defence spending

Opinion Leaders (OL) – Those who can influence the DMs. Includes general public, think tanks, on-line defence groups etc

Media Advocates – Elements who show consistent support to the RN

Other Media (All Channels) – Target Audience in own right and route to DMs

Indirect

Youth – Potential recruits

Navy Diaspora – Important for retention

Political

US Government/Navy – A good time to be presenting as dependable

EU – Separate escorting task from requirement to uphold JCPOA

Iran – RN is there to protect shipping but also to deter/defend/fight if necessary

Strategy

The current situation in the Strait of Hormuz, whilst unfortunate, provides an outstanding opportunity to showcase the Royal Navy and its contribution to the world stage. It is generating a high degree international interest and is receiving proactive, and often real-time contributions from many of the target audiences. US coverage remains characteristically forward-leaning. RN Communications posture must match this if it is to ensure all objectives are communicated to all audiences by us (and not someone else). Additionally, suppressing information from Montrose risks creating an adversarial atmosphere with the media who will find their information elsewhere. Judgement 1 – nothing in this plan is going to influence Iranian behaviour. Their drivers (removal of sanctions, safety of the Regime) sit above this activity. Judgement 2 – The Defence Correspondents Association (DCA) can be trusted to honour the requirement to maintain Operational Security (OpSec).

The number of people in the communications chain between the ship and the Secretary of State is high: Ship’s Public Relations Officer (PRO); Ship’s Captain; Bahrain PRO; UK Maritime Component Commander; US Navy 5th Fleet Public Affairs; Royal Navy Media and Comms; UK Permanent Joint Headquarters media cell; Commander Joint Operations; Military Strategic Effects (MSE); Directorate of Defence Communications (DDC); Special Advisors (Spads) etc. Any one of these can delay or block a fast-moving communications environment. The requirement to be proactive must therefore be understood by all – delegations are key. Similarly, the difference between (genuine) OpSec material and just ‘sensitive information’ is to be instinctively understood by all parties and not used as a reason/excuse to not communicate.

Implementation

Selected elements of the Defence Correspondents Association (DCA) to be allowed onboard HMS Montrose (ideally on sailing from port visit). The risk of them getting held onboard due to operational contingencies is to be noted but accepted.

Selected Decision Makers and Opinion Leaders to be granted access next time the ship is on passage to/from a port visit.

RN Media and Comms and DDC Campaigns to align on a proactive, all channels media campaign to support the work of the ship(s) and wider coalition activities.

Embargoes to be used with caution. If a short embargo (less than 24 Hours) allows synchronicity between broadcast and print outlets then it should be permitted. Long embargoes to ensure the release of information synchronises with (distantly related) political announcements should not be used.

Holding back information in anticipation of a VVIP visit should be avoided.

Ship’s Captain and PRO to be allowed to make full use of owned channels. Clear operating parameters to be set – permissions to be treated the same as, for example, weapons release criteria.

Ship’s media posture to be as agile and instinctively understood (and drilled) as their defensive posture, manning posture etc.

Scoring

Data analysis, polling and online diagnostics to be conducted and then reported on weekly and monthly to monitor effectiveness of Objectives reaching the Audiences.

Ends

[1] Government Communication Service: Objectives, Audience, Strategy, Implementation, Scoring

Published by Tom Sharpe

Tom Sharpe is a freelance communications consultant and partner at www.SPP.global, an international communications consultancy. He specialises in managing reputations and capacity building for complex and often contested organisations. Prior to this he spent 27 years in the Royal Navy, 20 of which were at sea. He commanded four different warships; Northern Ireland, Fishery Protection, a Type 23 Frigate and the Ice Patrol Vessel, HMS Endurance.

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1 Comment

  1. Tom, I agree with your assessment of the very real need to integrate real or near to real time observation from an independent party which importantly is not seen as another RN PR operative. The reality of warfare since the Vietnam War is that every element of any deployment is or could be beemed of a billion TV screens and computer workstations as it occurs.
    This aspect of instant reporting has the very real risk of compromising operational security, but it also opens a valuable communication with the wider tax paying public.
    The issue of the length of the communications lead (excellent overview) is an issue ever military commander has grappled with for eternity. There needs to be at some point a very hard discussion about who really needs to be in the actual command loop.
    In modern military operations
    As you have alluded to, move extremely fast, while the captain has extensive delegated decision making power there will still be issues in which Whitehall will need to provide input into, by having to many people in the direct chain especially those with a veto power do not always have the situational awareness to be permitted to stall or veto something which the captain has authorised. While a consistent PR plan is a necessity, everyone needs to understand and respect that their needs to a limit on how long an approval is permitted to be stalled before it gets to the intended party.
    Equally all military forces need to have a serious discussion in regards to the long term embedding of independent media, with this comes sw very real risks, but it also comes with the ability to positively influence key decisions makers and their advisors. I will note here that I don’t have any negative thoughts about the requirement of all independent media crews needing to obtain and maintance a defence security clearance which will help build trust with the excutive staff on board.
    Last thing there needs to be a mature and trusted PR arm at the very top of the organisation who are tasked with recording written, voice and visual information, including where possible TS, as a perment archive that once declassified can be presented as an historical record, (note the history channel), but an independent view has a role to play in the education of the future generations of decision makers.
    I will now stop my ramblings and again thank you for your valuable insights.

    Like

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