AFA Policy Forum
Colonel Jay DeFrank III
Deputy Director, Air Force Public Affairs
"Communicating the Air Force"
Air & Space Conference 2004
September 14, 2004
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Colonel DeFrank: I'm going to provide a brief orientation of the media environment today, and discuss
what we’re talking about when we say “communication for effect.” This is becoming sort of a buzzword. We're an
effects based Air Force. We do everything for effect, and so what do we mean when we say “communication for
effect”? I’ll talk a little bit about what effects we can create and some of the challenges to be even more
The old model of public affairs. I like to address this because it typifies exactly what the wrong
orientation is towards PA. The crisis PA is the person who, when there's an incident, an accident, or anything
like that, is the indispensable person on the scene keeping the commander out of trouble, and a lot of PAs do
love to hear it when commanders say, “When the stuff really hits, the two people I want by my side are my PA and
my JAG.” But that's an entirely defensive position and doesn't begin to tap into the capabilities that
communications can bring to the fight for the Air Force.
You've got the crisis orientation, but it represents the attitude that what we're all about in communicating,
which is getting the good news out and keeping a lid on the bad news. It's sort of a publicity model, and what I
would call a reputation oriented approach, where it's about protecting the reputation of the Air Force,
safeguarding the reputation of the Air Force. We do that, we are concerned about the reputation for broader
effects, and I'll get to some of that as we go on.
The world we live in is one that, right now, is becoming increasingly focused on information technology with
the World Wide Web. More than 5,400 newspapers are available online at any time. A lot of them are updated in
real time or have access to wire services or other sources of constant information, part of the 24/7 news cycle
that I'll talk about in a second. Satellite comm. is a reality. You can communicate from just about anywhere on
the globe in real time.
With digital imagery, images can be moved in literally seconds from any place on the globe, and I can tell you
five years ago, almost to the day, I was out at Edwards Air Force Base and I took a KC 135 full of media to fly
with the F/A 22, which was just starting to fly out there, and we wanted to let them get some visuals of the F/A
22 flying. While we were there, the AP reporter was up there and he was taking digital photographs of the F/A 22,
plugging into a wireless laptop, and transmitting his images in real time for the airplane, and that's when it
really hit me that the whole world has changed, when you can do it like that in real time.
Scanners, etc., mean when you're talking, you're not talking so privately. Media are listening. In fact,
how many media people are in here? Anybody? Anybody willing to admit it, if they are? I can tell those yellow
swipes, orange swipes on the badge. But media people, even in the Pentagon—NBC regularly listens to the scanner
for the Pentagon protective service operating around the building—as soon as they pick something up on their
scanner, they're running to try to chase after the story, and it's that way around bases, it's that way all over.
So people are focused in on your reaction time. Response time is very limited.
The 24/7 news cycle. It used to be, there were set times that you knew was a regular news cycle. You knew
what you had to work against for the deadlines, whether it was print media or broadcast news shows that were done
at a certain time. Now, those deadlines are always right now. It's happening.
In fact, I came to my current job from being the Director of Press Operations for the Department of Defense,
and it used to shock me sometimes when some of the broadcast correspondents would come in, particularly from CNN
or FOX. They'd ask me a question, and I'd think it was a casual conversation, and then as I had television
monitors around from the various networks out there, I'd see literally within a minute or two something that I
said. "Pentagon sources say," or, "as one officer put it," or something like that being reported on CNN just
minutes from when I talked to the correspondent, and that's pretty much the environment.
And it's not just here. Now the whole environment has changed. When we were doing the spin up to OIF, I saw
things that I would have never even a few years ago expected. For example, a major international news
organization like Reuters, established and respected, would pick up something from an obscure Mideastern wire and
they would report it right away without even checking the facts, and their way around it journalistically was to
name the Mideastern wire service, and because they were reporting what another media organization said, they felt
that they had fulfilled their journalistic obligation because they cited their source. In fact, what you find is,
something that is unchecked and obscure from some place you'd have never looked for it is all of a sudden
worldwide news and you're chasing it.
This speed obliterates traditional deadlines. Of course, journalists want to get it right, but they also want
to get it first, and that leads to some of those shortcuts like I just referenced with Reuters there. In order
to get out there first, they're willing to compromise a little bit in ways that didn't use to be the standard,
and so that proves the pressure to get the news out and to get it now.
Pictures, visuals, sound bites are, as I mentioned before, being transmitted in real time, and as you can see
from some of the instances I mentioned there, there's no such thing as local news. Anything at any time can
become a national news story now and, with the demand to fill some of those 24/7 news programs or wire services
or whatever the case may be, anything can become national news.
When you go back up to the first thing with the web, what starts swirling out around on the web is likely to
become a news item, too. We're working issues like that right now related to the President's guard service,
where the web is a primary driver of what's becoming a news story.
We end up dealing with it in terms of weapons systems video. Somebody thinks it's a cool video. It's not
releasable, can't get it out of the theater, but friends start forwarding it to friends all over the Air Force
and then beyond, and the next thing you know, you see it on CNN, you see it on FOX, you see it on the network
newscasts and it's everywhere. So every little item, even e mails, has the potential to become a global news
A little bit of information about where the Air Force stands in terms of this communication environment. The
public perception remains strong. There is high confidence in the military in general, and that reflects on the
Air Force, too. As you can see, three of the four services are pretty much tied for most important, and the
perception of the Air Force vis-à-vis the other services is still very high in many areas, such as professional
or elite excellence and skill, but we've lost a little bit after Operation Iraqi Freedom.
I think part of that's just a matter of the focus. The focus that was on the ground forces was far greater
than on the air forces. A lot of that was largely because there was access to the ground forces; there wasn't
access to the Air Force.
As you can see, it's not about good news or bad news. That's the publicity model, you know, get the good news
out, keep a lid on the bad news. It's about what's going to help you achieve your objective, that second point
there, and sometimes it's counter intuitive. Sometimes, the thing that is most effective in helping you achieve
your objective is what might be considered bad news.
A few years back, we worked a story on readiness, and we were having significant problems with readiness, and
we hadn't been telling that story. We knew that ABC wanted to tell that story, but we hadn't done it. I was
giving a presentation at Air Command and Staff College and following that presentation where I was talking about
many of these same things. An F 15 pilot came up to me and said, "You know, you talk about not being about good
news, bad news, and getting the bad news out if it helps achieve the objective, then why aren't you telling the
story about readiness? Readiness is in the toilet. We don't have the technicians it takes to maintain our
systems. We don't have the spare parts we need, and nobody's telling the story and we're not getting any
With me that day was the Director of Public Affairs of Air Combat Command, and I asked him, "Do you think
General Holly would let us tell that story?"
He said, "Yes, I think he would."
I came back and I talked to the Director of Public Affairs for the Air Force at the time, General Rand, and he
said, "I think the Chief will go for it."
He talked to the Chief, and the Chief supported it, so we put ABC out with ACC units at Shaw and at Langley,
and told them just give them the frank, unvarnished truth. And they did, and within a day or so you had the ABC
Nightly News piece in front of millions of people, over eight million people, with kids coming on saying,
“readiness is in the toilet. It's broken. We don't have the spare parts. We don't have the training. We don't
have the technicians.”
I know Bob Williams, who's here, was in the staff meeting the next morning when I showed that at the staff
meeting, and General Rand was there before his staff meeting with the Chief, and he saw that and he said, "Tell
me again why this was a good idea." [Laughter]
But what happened as a result of that was it led to hearings on the Hill before the Senate Armed Services
Committee (SASC), and part of that is the chiefs, not long before, had briefed and said readiness wasn't an
issue, so the SASC leadership called hearings and said, "Hey, we're seeing these newscasts saying that readiness
is broken and you guys are telling us that it's not, and we know politics in here, it's because the
administration is forcing you to toe this line."
Well, whatever the case may be, and the Chief's had a pretty rough time before the SASC, the end result was a
$350 million topline increase in the budget to address some of these readiness issues. So I think that's an
example how sometimes bad news is really the best way to achieve your objectives, and you can find a lot of other
examples like that, but the key is knowing what you want to achieve before you go into this.
The other part, of course, is having a strategic plan for how to get your messages out and focusing your
communications across the spectrum to doing that, and then applying the tactics that help you achieve those
objectives or solve your problems.
At the macro level, this is something that we're working right now. We've only been working it for about nine
months. It was going to be the 2004 strat com guide. I think we'll have it ready for 2005. The purpose is to
focus those communications across the Air Force, recognizing that it's not just PAs who communicate, and in fact
probably play a lesser role in the actual communication. It's commanders, it's supervisors, it's airmen when
they're home interacting with the public, it's a host of other people who communicate, and the purpose of this
strategic guide is to say these are the objectives of the Air Force and these are the themes and messages that
you should focus your communications on. And of course to be most effective, localize it so it's relevant at
whatever level you're communicating.
Thematic priorities. To use a naval analogy, they're not designed to be the perfect message for everybody.
What they're designed to do is keep all the ships sailing inside of the fleet, so that there is local latitude.
As I said, they're most effective when they're localized for the specific level at which you're communicating,
but they give you a general target. They track with our core competencies—developing airmen, technology to
warfighters, and integration with the joint warfighters.
What are the effects? In public affairs, we've boiled what we do down to our core competencies, and there are
four of them, but three of them are effects and those are the ones that I'm going to focus on here. So the first
one would be global influence and deterrence, informed public support, and airmen morale and readiness, and what
I'm going to do here is I'm going to talk about some examples in each that should give you an idea about how we
apply communications to help create these types of effects.
Before I came to this job, I was the Director of Press Ops for DoD, and that was during the build up for OIF.
My task was to put together the media plan for OIF for the Department of Defense, and that included the media
embed program. It included the media boot camp, the series of briefings from the Pentagon, in Qatar and in the
theater itself, as well as special briefings brought back to the Pentagon and the creation of a rapid reaction
cell. That was the core of our media plan for OIF.
I think by most accounts, most people, unless you were in the Air Force, would say it's pretty effective. The
Air Force got pretty short shrift in that because of host nation limitations on our ability to embed and our
inability to actually get around that on anywhere near the same scale as embedding provided for the other
This was our strategy, to expose audiences to a complete picture, to preempt Iraqi tactics by demonstrating
their past behavior; to refute Iraqi charges and counter disinformation, and the best tool we had for that was
the robust media access to counter Iraqi lies, disinformation, because we needed the third party credibility
there. We could tell people that they were lying, but if you actually had independent third party forces out in
the field, they can make the case far more believably, and of course since our audiences were international as
well, that meant having a significant international component, and up to a third of the media who were embedded,
actually, were international media from literally all over the globe.
These were the primary communication objectives for putting this together, and as you can see, they pretty
much, if you think of the core competencies that I showed early on, span across the spectrum there.
Early on in this operation, we knew that communication could play a key role and we convinced the Secretary
and the Chairman that we had something important to offer in the overall operations of this impending conflict.
The Secretary and the Chairman bought into this and had us read in at very early stages in the war plan for OIF.
That enabled us to get inside the loop and determine where along the timing we could best apply communications
to achieve operational objectives.
Pre phase one, that's when we were in the preparation stages. No decision had been made yet to go to war,
but we needed to communicate our resolve and look forward to the fact that we may actually be at war at a certain
point. We built the case against the regime. If you tie that back to some of those core competencies, that's
both global influence and deterrence, informed public support, airmen morale and readiness, because you needed to
make sure your people understood why they might be asked to do what they were going to do, too.
Encourage dissent and defection, in the event that you went into combat, to start that work right away, and
you'll see that will continue throughout, because the fewer people you have to fight, the better off you are.
And then to preempt disinformation, going right back to public support, both domestically and internationally.
Phase one, pre hostilities. That's after the decision had been made to go to war but combat operations hadn't
started yet. Commencement of hostilities is pretty self explanatory. Those are the first hours of combat when
we knew that perceptions were going to be formed right away, and in some cases, you had your greatest opportunity
to create an effect on your adversaries and on international opinion in terms of support or not.
Of course, continuing during the engagement stage, and then finally, post hostilities, and arguably, that's
the area where this came up the shortest. In terms of the tactics, media embed was just a tactic to achieve some
of those objectives, and so were the press briefings from various locations and many of the other activities or
tactics that we engaged in.
Again, I think that by most measures of evaluation it was pretty effective. Never before had we conducted a
media operation on this scale. If you think about D Day, there were 30 media who waded ashore with the U.S.
forces. During OIF, we ended up embedding over 700 media, and at any one time there were more than 500 media in
the field with our forces, so it was a scale that had never been done before. I'm sure that most of you probably
had an opportunity to see regular coverage.
It's been widely criticized as well. You had many narrow slices, but no overall view of the war. I think
that, because that was just one aspect of the overall plan, that's a true statement, but a couple of things on
that. If you put many of them together, I always like to think of it as like the compound eye in a dragonfly.
You have a lot of different eyes and they present together a big picture of the overall environment, one that's
The other thing is, we knew that that was going to be an issue, so that's why we had the other components, the
briefings at the strategic operational and tactical levels, to help put in perspective what was being seen
through the embeds.
What really made it effective was the support from the Chairman and the Chief. We started out down this road.
We went out and we asked units how many media they would take. We got actually a much better response than we
thought, and it was like a few hundred media that units were willing to take.
But then as we started putting it together, the logistics of supporting it and then putting it together—which
was, for both us and the media, our Media Pre Flight, which was the boot camp—we started running into some very
serious problems in allocation of resources because that's really where this all happens. It’s the logistics of
So we went back to the Secretary and the Chairman and said, "We need you to weigh in on this." They issued a
PFOR. For those of you who don't know what a PFOR is, it's a memo from the Chairman and the Secretary. PFOR
stands for Personal For the combatant commander, and they sent that to the combatant commander, and it was also
transmitted to the service chiefs as to what their intent for this operation was.
PFOR had to do with the media operations there, and as you can see, they laid out very clearly their
expectations for support. You can see their rationale for why media coverage was important operationally, why
they instructed the commander to organize and facilitate access for the media. The goal is to get it right from
the start, not days or weeks into the operation.
We marked the one year anniversary of September 11th, and within a week or two we were starting the planning
on this operation from the media side, so we were working this pretty early on before the combat operations. The
purpose there was to make sure we were planning to get it right from the start, and then the logistic aspect, not
just to get media in and support them, but to get their products out. Things that had proven a problem in the
past, and in trying to work the planning with the other functionals, whether that's logistics, ops or some of the
others, we were running into roadblocks.
A few more items from there. Of course, they laid it out that it's both to get out the good news and the bad
news. This wasn't a publicity or a propaganda show. We were there to communicate operational effects, to
achieve operational effects. You can see the importance of speed, the goal for moving media products—minutes or
hours, not days. Getting the factual story out before our adversaries get to frame it in the media with
disinformation and distortion. Then approaching media decisions, media support decisions, with the ‘why not?’
rather than the ‘why?’ aspect.
I don't know that we could have done what we did without this PFOR, but once this went out to the field we
got all the support we needed. That opened the doors and that was the key to success. The reason I spent some
time belaboring this is, no matter what we do, if we want to achieve an effect, we need that kind of support.
Members of the senior leadership will understand that. Our problem is more at the operation level where good
people are setting priorities and they don't quite see how this fits in. You know, I need two more JDAMS or I
need to move media. What am I going to get to the location? So these are hard decisions and I'm trying not to
just present this in a narrow functional perspective. They have to be weighed out as to the larger strategy of
what we're trying to achieve.
OIF was done from a more joint perspective. In our every day operations, we can work at the same level to
try and achieve operational objectives against those effects we create. The upcoming video speaks to global
influence and deterrence, but it also reflects on other objectives. This is something that Colonel Williams,
who's here, really had a leading role in putting together, so why don't we go ahead and run the video?
Okay. So when you have a piece like that, what is the purpose for doing it? Certainly it says that the Air
Force is technologically advanced and we're out there conducting operations in a new way. In fact, when the
Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Larry DeRita saw that, he said it was the most
transformational piece he'd yet seen on a newscast.
But from that global influence and deterrence perspective, what have you just communicated? It's that you can
see them anywhere. You can see the bad guys from anywhere. We're watching, and there's an information operations
(IO) portion to doing a piece like this, as well. We'll move on now to the informed public support, building
support for ways that we're safeguarding our troops and conducting operations and the need to transform—one of
the priorities for both the Air Force and the Department of Defense.
I'll talk a little bit about this now. Here’s another video. This one is a FOX News piece with Greta Van
Susteren, done from Nellis Air Force Base with General Jumper on the F/A 22.
Okay. So what you saw was actually an edited-down two minute, 30 second piece of what was an eight minute
story. Now is this good publicity for the Air Force? Sure. But was that the driving factor in terms of
dedicating the resources to support it, the Chief's time, the time at Nellis, the cost of putting a media person
in the flight there? The real reason to do this is because if you think of those Air Force priorities and
competencies, putting technology in the hand of the war fighters, the F/A 22 is certainly one of the most
important acquisition programs we have going on now as we're going through IOC.
Just about every message for why we need that F/A 22 was in that piece. Now, the audience for that is
national and, to some extent, even global with FOX News, but do you expect a rancher in Montana or a
slaughterhouse worker in Omaha or a machinist in Cincinnati to weigh in and say, "No, you know, I think the Air
Force really needs 350 F/A 22s instead of 200"? Probably not.
But what we're doing there is building support among the public and among the decision makers for our need
for advanced technology and that this works. What happens is when these appear publicly, they stand for more
than the individuals that they reach. When decision makers, whether they're in other elements of government or
the legislative branch or wherever, see something like this, they tend to weight it because they know that the
public has seen it and they see that the rationale is out there and it provides our friends, in essence, more
support for their decision. And those who might be weighing priorities against us, when they see a piece like
this tend to weight it in terms of, “well, you know, the word's out there and they really do need this and it's
going to be harder to attack that system.” So it's building that support in a way, but also, general support,
too, for our overall initiatives in getting technology into the hands of our warfighters.
Recently, we had an issue where some of our adversaries in other branches of the government or other elements
of the government were hammering us on our C 130J acquisition program, and the thrust of it was the Air Force is
in bed with industry and they're just a little bit too cozy and they're not holding the manufacturer, Lockheed
in this case, to account. And that was the thrust of the news releases and the agenda that was being pushed by
the opponents of what we were doing.
There were some small scale stories that ran on this in some trade publications and some wires, and no major
news stories had picked it up, but ABC did. ABC went out and they worked with the Guard and they got great
visuals of the C 130J flying. They interviewed some members on the Hill and they got some good dramatic comments,
so you have all the pieces for a good news story, dramatic visuals, conflict.
Then they came to us and asked for our comment on this. We happened to be fortunate because General John
Handy was in town on that day, and we got General Handy together, Dr. Marvin Sambur, the Assistant Secretary of
the Air Force for Acquisition, Lieutenant General John Corley, and a number of experts in the room, and we did a
telephone backgrounder with ABC News, and we basically took on all the allegations.
When we were done with that session with ABC News, again, at a pretty significant expenditure of resources in
terms of who we had involved in this, ABC said, "Hmm. Well, okay. There really is another side to this story,
but we've got the piece produced, so we may go with it anyway." But it didn't air. It never aired.
The effect we really had was a story that 8.7 percent of the average viewership that night—ABC Nightly News’
average in this time slot—would’ve seen, didn't air. Do you remember my example before from another ABC Nightly
News piece that aired and led to anything from hearings on the Hill to, at a minimum, a number of other media
calling in? We ended up chasing it, it was a hit on the reputation of the Air Force, to the trust and confidence
that our public puts in us to be good stewards. All that was averted by dedicating the leadership to countering
allegations made, by getting the leadership together and talking to the media about what was a bad-news story.
Going into this, you don't know you're going to kill it. All you can hope for, really, is that your side
gets expressed as part of the overall story. There aren't a lot of these, but there are some, and sometimes
what you even get is a dramatic turnaround on there. We worked anthrax when I was the Air Force Chief of
Media a few years ago, and we put Dr. Roadman on 20/20, which was coming in to just slam us when it was a big
issue at Dover Air Force Base, and in the end when the story aired it tended to be very supportive of the Air
Force and the DOD position in what was a highly charged news story.
Okay. As I alluded to before, we don't go after everything all the time, every audience all the time, in
these stories. There used to be a concept that if you want to get your message out you've got to get around
those filters inside the Beltway, and you've got to reach the good old Ma and Pa America in the grassroots out
there, Then you're going to get your message across and you're going to get the support that you need.
Yes, but what support are you going to get? As I said, they're not going to weigh in on the SBIRS High or
the E 10 or specifics like that. Sometimes you have to diagnose. Sometimes it really is an inside-the-Beltway
engagement, and that's where the decision's going to be made and that's where you fight it, and you look at
things that are going to happen in that inside the Beltway debate.
But in general what we need, too, along with those very specific and highly targeted communication objectives,
is a reservoir of support among the general public, and that enables many of the things we do and it stands for a
lot of support when decision makers decide what to do for the Air Force and supporting our priorities.
In order to do that, you look at where you go for that general support and what the most effective forums for
achieving that with your audience are. If you look at this, this is from the Youth Attitude Tracking Survey, but
it surveys more than just youth. It surveys the general public. And you go where they get their top impressions
of the military services, and right up at the top is movies and TV.
So rather than fighting every news battle to try and affect the attitudes of the general public, you go in
the most effective places and use the venues that are most effective with them.
Right now, we're working on an IMAX film called “Fighter Pilot: Operation Red Flag” that tracks a pilot
going through Red Flag and the team it takes to support him. The film will run about 45 minutes. In fact, I
heard just today that in the rough screenings of that, it created so much buzz that a number of additional
theaters signed on to have it play in their theaters around the country. It's going to be playing in a number
of theaters around the country over the next year. People who sit in the IMAX film are going to spend 45 minutes
exposed to the Air Force in depth, and of course you get the quality of IMAX to reinforce that. It's a far more
powerful experience than any three minute newscast is going to be.
In addition, though, with this there's a large number of spin offs that get people more involved. Spin offs
include everything from arcade games to video games to educational packets that go out to classrooms for teachers
to use in teaching their classes, plus all the advertising and promotion for the film is bonus advertising and
promotion for the Air Force, too.
What I'm going to do here is I'm going to show you just a little bit of a trailer to promote the film and give
you some idea what it's about.
When you have 45 minutes spent with something like this in that quality, you convey a good picture of the Air
Force. You reinforce what our capabilities are, build that broad public support, that reservoir of support, and
it also carries over to other areas, too, such as airmen morale and readiness, and even has a global influence in
deterring a portion of it.
Now, how many of you saw the new Air Force ads yesterday? [Most raise hands] Just about everybody? Want to
watch them again? Okay.
First, why do we do the ads? Ads do a lot more than just recruiting. A lot of people tend to think of them
as recruiting ads, but they're very deliberate in terms of other objectives.
They’re designed to, first and foremost, present the Air Force to the public, because we know the public is
watching television. We know they're influenced by it.
I came into my current job as the deputy director having spent a lot of time in the media side of the house,
both as the DOD Director of Media Ops and the Air Force Director of Media. General Ruggiero came in as the
Director of Integrated Marketing and he said, "You know, the difference between your job and my job is the media
never said anything I didn't pay them to say."
This is where we pay them to say what we want. This is where we have the control of what our message is, and
as you can see, it's designed to accomplish a number of different purposes there.
We did four ads. Now if we can cut forward to them.
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