Gaining influence can be difficult. With a proliferation of messages, channels and priorities, it has never been harder to influence others. And yet, it’s more important than ever to be able to achieve influence because of increased pressure to get resources and results. Consider the case of The Belgian Navy.
Six Questions with Ward De Grieve, Strategic Communications Advisor to the Commander of the Belgian Navy
1. People familiar with Belgium probably don’t think of it as having a Navy. Yet, the Belgian Navy was created as the Marine Royale in 1831, and the force has operated in various forms throughout Belgian history. How does Belgium deploy its Naval forces today?
With two frigates and a handful of minehunters, the Belgian Navy is (very) small! However, as we hear all the time, size does not matter! The Belgian Navy has been a trusted partner for NATO and Europe, contributing to ongoing naval operations. The Belgian Navy is very active in European waters but also deploying to the Mediterranean Sea, the Gulf of Guinea, the Indian Ocean and recently to South Korea.
There’s been a shift of focus towards high-end warfare training and exercises. This results in more careful selection of exercises and operations in which we participate whilst continuously allowing the Belgian Navy to be present in NATO and EU missions.
2. What skills, tools, or tactics do you use to deliver a compelling message to build support for the Belgian Navy and a budget for strategic communication?
Ward De Grieve, Commander Senior Grade and Head of Communications for the Belgian Navy, will make a plenary presentation identifying how changes in the current political and social environment have dramatic impact on organizations and budgets. Friday, April 26, 2019 at the 10th National Summit on Strategic Communications at American University in Washington, DC. For a complete agenda and registration visit www.strategicsummit.com.
With its limited capacity, he Belgian Navy is at the edge of sustainability and survival. Any further reduction would lead into a fleet with only Coast Guard functions. Over the past decade, Navy Chiefs worked to ensure this threshold was not crossed by communicating the needs of a modernized Belgian Navy to all levels of policymakers and influencers.
Simply informing the public of our activities was not enough. We had to engage key leaders and influencers to convince them of the necessity to maintain and even increase the naval footprint in a new defense strategic vision.
“Inform, Persuade and influence” are keywords for strategic communications, inspired from the top.
3. So you have launched a strategic communications campaign enabling the Navy to raise its voice and assure its brand identity and survival. What are the pillars of that campaign?
Our communication strategy is built on three layers (understanding the information environment, understanding the interaction between communication and action, and understanding strategy and vision) and three pillars (integrated communication for coherence and consistency, senior leadership-driven harmonization, and synchronization of internal and external communications).
The communication process is focused on outcomes and desired effect as a starting point.
4. Like many militaries worldwide, your Navy must meet recruiting goals, and your target undoubtedly includes a new demographic of Millennials or Gen-Z. How do you communicate a compelling narrative to convince young Belgians to join the Navy?
Staying above the feared threshold is not only an issue of ships and equipment, it is even more sensitive to recruitment goals and filling all posts. Unfortunately, decades of budget decline after the end of conscription have limited our ability to promote our jobs and invest in recruitment campaigns. This has led to a general “sea blindness” within the public, and especially within the target audience of young Belgians.
5. How much of your communication strategy is geared toward recruiting?
Every effort is made to link recruitment to any communication campaign. It is a struggle to find ways to reach the new demographic of Millennials or Gen-Z. How can we convince them to choose a job that will drag them out of their comfort zone? (I would even call it their Pamper Zone?) Are meaningfulness and the promise of a job filled with varied experiences and unexpected changes enough to convince them? It can be a struggle to connect.
6. What similarities exist between your strategic communications strategies and those employed by private sector organizations?
Our recruitment challenges are not different from those in the private sector. The job market is saturated in some parts of the country, with countless companies and government services fishing in the same pond for the same fishes. With the rigidity of our recruitment processes, it’s a challenge to compete with the private sector and create innovative messages that influence young people with extra privileges (such as free company cars, smartphones, computers…).
What will never change is that all sectors must ensure they are offering “a good job” in “a good company.” If one of those two elements are not met, recruitment will fail. We must invest in promoting the job content but also in the reputation of our armed forces among the public, especially young people.
Ward De Grieve is Strategic Communications Advisor to the Commander of the Belgian Navy. Previously, he served within NATO in the Capabilities and Targets Review branch of the Allied Command, where he was responsible for the definition of military targets. Also, at NATO, he was staff officer within the J5/Policy and Concepts Implementation section, with responsibility over the NATO Response Force concept.