The cultural bridge between the U.S. mission and the host country, the Public Diplomacy Foreign Service Officer is the gatekeeper and promoter of information concerning the U.S. During your career, you may represent a post as the spokesperson, promote student and professional development exchange via the Fulbright Program, and/or organize discussion groups with the local community to teach, or be a resource, on U.S. culture. All in all, increasing the influence of the U.S. via “soft power”.
What follows are three written pieces, by the Department of State (DoS), the American Foreign Service Association, and the DoS “Becoming a Foreign Service Officer” brochure, to assist you in better understanding what the Public Diplomacy Officer does.
Department of State Main Website
Experts in cross-cultural relations and communications who build public awareness and promote U.S. interests abroad.
As a Public Diplomacy Officer, you’ll broaden your understanding of American values and policies.
Myth: Public Diplomacy Officers only monitor news media and organize cultural performances in foreign countries.
Reality: Public Diplomacy Officers engage and network with the full range of host nation contacts to shape the public message and perceptions about the United States. Public Diplomacy Officers maintain contacts with key people who influence public opinion. They are also managers of people, programs, budgets, and resources.
Public Diplomacy Officers engage, inform, and influence opinion leaders, local non-governmental groups, the next generation of leaders, academics, think tanks, government officials, and the full range of civil society in order to promote mutual understanding and support for U.S. policy goals. Public diplomacy officers explain the breadth of American foreign policies to ensure that our positions are understood and misrepresentations are corrected in addition to:
- Explaining to foreign audiences how American history, values and traditions shape our foreign policy.
- Creating and managing cultural and information programs to help connect with foreign audiences and engage in different cultures.
- Coordinating exchange programs to strengthen relationships that improve foreign insight into American society and build bridges of understanding between Americans and the world.
- Communicating with and through a variety of media to promote U.S. interests abroad, including coordination of embassy and consulate websites and social media outreach.
The American Foreign Service Association
Public diplomacy (PD) officers are our public relations professionals. They shape and deliver our message to the world; handle our interaction with U.S. and foreign media; explain our history, culture, and the value of our diversity to foreign audiences; and promote educational and cultural exchange. This career track involves tremendous contact work: meeting with and developing close ties to foreign journalists, government officials, educators, nongovernmental organizations, think tanks, and those in the arts.
Public diplomacy work also requires close interaction with colleagues and knowledge of all the issues they handle—from political policies and economic programs to a controversial consular case or a complex legal issue being handled by the management section. The PD officer must keep on top of it all in order to explain it, if necessary, to the press and public.
PD officers usually get management experience early on. They are responsible for programmatic budgets and often supervise significant numbers of local staff. Information officers, or those PD officers in charge of press affairs, work closely with journalists, acting as a source of information, and promoting free speech and transparency. Cultural affairs officers, or those PD officers handling cultural and educational exchanges and programs, may spend their day chairing the local Fulbright Exchange Commission, managing grants to local arts groups, non-governmental organizations, or think-tanks, or selecting noted American jazz musicians or hip-hop dancers for U.S.-sponsored local tours.
Public diplomacy officers advise the ambassador and other embassy leaders on what to say publicly and when to say it. They track local public opinion, and travel often to speak and provide U.S.-themed programming to regions far from the capital. They must have excellent foreign-language and public speaking skills. They should enjoy the spotlight and have grace under pressure. The most successful PD officers also have a passion for U.S. history and culture and enjoy explaining and sharing these with the world.
Becoming a Foreign Service Officer Brochure
Following is an overview of a potential progression as a Public Diplomacy Officer:
- Acts as an Assistant Cultural Affairs Officer or Information Officer
- Coordinate exchange programs to send selected individuals to the United States on fact-finding tours
- Oversee the website and use of other new technologies
- Serve on a local Fulbright selection board monitoring the travel and professional programs of grantees, both in your host country and in the United States
- Act as a contact for local and international reporters, editors and broadcasters, who seek up-to-date and accurate facts on U.S. policy or assistance with the methodology of fair reporting
- Promote U.S. core values of free speech and transparency
- Manage the staff of a cultural or information section of a U.S. embassy
- Oversee the budget on programming exchange opportunities
- Organize focus programs and discussion groups with local audiences on topics of mutual interest
- Manage an information resource center or language institute
- Serve on Fulbright boards or chair a Fulbright commission
- Handle inquiries from local and international media
- Manage regional or global exchange programs in Washington
- Represent an embassy overseas as its spokesperson and as manager of its culture and media programs
- Be responsible for significant budget and staff resources
- Advise the Ambassador and other senior colleagues about the media, cultural and educational climate of the country
Looking for more information?
Along with the publications listed above as great resources to review, FSO Compass has interviews with current and former diplomats to help you gain a better idea of what the role is all about.