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PDAA Awards Hail Public Diplomacy Officers for Creativity in Challenging Environments

Mark Bosse

Mark Bosse, Assistant Information Officer in Baghdad, leads training for government spokespersons (U.S. Embassy Baghdad)

(10 May 2018) The 2018 winners of the 21st annual PDAA Awards for Excellence in Public Diplomacy demonstrate the necessity of being able to utilize a basket of strategies in addressing the challenges of influencing public opinion in an ever-savvy global media environment.

From creating educational scholarships and producing social media platforms to training foreign official spokespersons in the art of media strategies and developing traditional exhibits, winners from our embassies in Korea, Panama, Thailand and Iraq have demonstrated that the public diplomacy officer has to be flexible and creative in crafting the right strategy for the right situation.

The winners are: Mark Bosse, then Assistant Information Officer in Baghdad and now Acting Public Affairs Officer in Dublin; Shim Jai Ok, Executive Director of the Korean-American Educational (Fulbright) Commission; Adrienne Bory, Information Officer in Panama; and the Public Affairs Section in Bangkok.

The winners were honored in a May 6 celebration at the Army and Navy Club in Washington, D.C.  PDAA is a volunteer, nonprofit organization of current and former State Department, broadcast, academic and private sector public diplomacy professionals.

Mark Bosse, faced with creating support for a strong U.S.-Iraqi partnership at a time when senior Iraqi officials were making unfounded allegations of U.S. “atrocities” against civilians, developed and delivered a seven-month series of trainingsfor official spokespeople and over 150 media professionals from 12 Iraqi ministries.

That effort “led to positive local, pan-Arab, and international coverage of U.S. military and humanitarian efforts,” wrote then-Baghdad Information Officer Kim Dubois.” She cited the very positive statement on CNN in April 2017 by the Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Services spokesperson thanking the U.S. for “providing a better future for all Iraqis.”  Such a statement, Dubois said, would have been unimaginable a month earlier. “Thanks to Mark’s efforts, both personally and at the head of his team, the highest level voices of the Iraqi government touted the outstanding cooperation between our two governments.”

In South Korea, Shim Jai Ok persuaded both the South Korean and U.S. governments to put up hundreds of thousands of dollars for a new fellowship that targets the 3,100 college-aged defectors from North Korea.

In 2018, the first five North Korean students will start their graduate school fellowships in the United States. “Our hope,” wrote award nominator and former Seoul Cultural Affairs Officer Mark Canning, “is that the program will grow over the years to produce a cohort of western-educated defectors who will be well prepared to go back to North Korea and lead it into the global community when circumstances permit such a development.”

Adrienne Bory

Adrienne Bory, second from left, and an embassy team shooting a video with the ambassador (U.S. Embassy Panama)

Information Officer Adrienne Bory was hailed for her visionary use of social media platforms to get out accurate, positive stories about U.S. engagement in Panama.  These tools were instrumental in turning around public opinion when the country’s traditional media attacked the United States over money laundering sanctions and when false accounts erupted that the U.S. planned to use Panama as a staging ground for an invasion of Venezuela.

But, says award nominator Francisco (Paco) Perez, Public Affairs Officer at U.S. Embassy Panama, Bory’s sweeping influence was especially evident in her use of videos, which often went viral, that portrayed the Ambassador as “the approachable man of the people, able to deliver important, often tough, messages to the Panamanian public.” She also mentored Peace Corps Panama in launching its first ever Facebook and Instagram accounts, and provided regular media training to the Panamanian Ministries of Security, which has helped advance U.S. security interests in the region.

Rounding out the PDAA awardees is U.S. Embassy Bangkok’s Public Affairs Section, led by Public Affairs Officer Melinda Masonis, for its “Great and Good Friends” exhibition, developed over two and one-half years, highlighting the sustained and positive 200 year relationship between the United States and Thailand. Lisa Heller, director of the Office of Public Diplomacy in the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, said the new King of Thailand’s presence at the exhibit opening signaled strong support for the U.S.-Thai relationship, especially welcome after the tense relations that followed the military junta’s takeover of power in 2014.

The exhibit, which required the PA section to raise nearly $4 million and work cooperatively with the Smithsonian Institution, National Archives, Library of Congress, and Google, was covered by every national television station and viewed by millions of Thais. A 30-second video on the exhibit was released on 109 major Cineplex movie screens throughout Thailand. “Even McThai (local McDonald’s franchise) is featuring the exhibit on its tray mats, cups, and boxes at restaurants throughout the country,” Heller said.

The PublicDiplomacy.org web site has a complete list of PDAA’s award winners since 1993.

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