In a recent commentary for Breaking Defense, Sean O’Keefe, University Professor in the Maxwell School, noted the opening of President Ronald Reagan’s first inaugural address in 1981, where the Republican observed that the peaceful and orderly transfer of national authority…
Former Ambassador Discusses Evolution of Public Diplomacy
Speaking from his long experience in foreign service, Ambassador William Rugh talked about the evolution of public diplomacy in government and academia. He discussed how public diplomacy has come to be a growing field, but has yet to be recognized in many government sectors.
“Our job is to explain to a particular audience in their own context what America is trying to do in the world,” said Rugh. He was the keynote speaker for the event hosted by the Association for Public Diplomacy Scholars at Syracuse University. More than 15 professionals took part in the event Oct. 13 and 14. The event was presented by the public diplomacy program, jointly offered by the Newhouse School and the Maxwell School.
The panelists at the two-day event included foreign service officers, entrepreneurs, economists, journalists, CEOs and academics, who discussed the direction and future of public diplomacy and diplomats who can effectively communicate with diverse national and international audiences.
Rugh, who started the conference with a keynote talk, is currently a professor of practice at Northeastern University. From 1964-1995 he was a foreign service officer with the U.S. Information Agency. He was also a deputy chief of mission in Syria, ambassador to the Yemen Arab Republic and ambassador to the United Arab Emirates.
He stressed the need to explain America’s policies while communicating with other nations and their people and maintaining international relations. He discussed the growing relevance of the term “soft power”—a persuasive approach to international relations, typically involving the use of economic or cultural influence—and how that has become the guide in steering international communications.
The ambassador also discussed the growing power of social media, and how it has become easier to connect with different populations in the world. This, he said, was a new frontier of public diplomacy, since it not only enabled the government to communicate with the top-tier politicians, but also with the general population.
“It helps spread the message to the audience who is most concerned,” he said.
Additional speakers at the two-day conference included Phillip Estefan, investment advisor at the Odmiyar Network; Steve Pike, assistant professor of public relations at the Newhouse School; and Ellen Blackeler, vice president of global communications at the Walt Disney Co.