Dawn McCall
Coordinator, International Information Programs
Washington Center Student Visit
Washington, DC
February 25, 2013

Good afternoon. Thank you, Katie for that very nice introduction. Let me start by saying welcome to the State Department!

It is always rewarding to talk with young, bright, and globally aware students, but, it is also critical for me because you share a lot of characteristics with my audience. As you will see today, my job is to figure out ways to engage with you and your contemporaries around the world, in your language, in ways you find interesting.

You are here because of your interest in international affairs, and I hope our time together today will give you a better understanding of what public diplomacy is and why it is so important. I also hope it will spark your interest and make you think about a possible career in this field. As Katie mentioned, I have a background in business and I launched the Discovery Channel’s entrance into international markets. My experiences have shown me that the world will only continue to be increasingly connected, which is why I am such a believer in public diplomacy, or “PD” as we refer to it. Today, I want to speak to you about PD and the role it plays in promoting United States overall diplomatic strategy. Then my team and I will show you some examples of how we support it.

So what exactly is public diplomacy? The official definition is:

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The mission of American public diplomacy is to support the achievement of U.S. foreign policy goals and objectives, advance national interests, and enhance national security by informing and influencing foreign publics and by expanding and strengthening the relationship between the people and Government of the United States and citizens of the rest of the world.

We put that into practice by helping our 190 embassies and consulates (or what we call “posts”) fulfill their missions by providing the places, products, and infrastructure that help them achieve PD’s ultimate goal of building America’s reputation amongst foreign audiences. We offer a space where local people can learn, share ideas and contribute to the conversation both online and offline.

As you know, today’s media environment is constantly changing. PD practitioners need to understand how this new landscape impacts our audience and the work we do. The Department of State is almost 225 years old, and things have changed a lot since Thomas Jefferson’s time. We have had to confront a whole host of new challenges and find new solutions.

One of our biggest challenges is that we must go out and find our audience. Be where they are; speak to them on platforms they use. We can no longer just broadcast out information. We have to constantly find ways to engage and connect to people just like you who live all around the world.

We understand that your conversations move seamlessly from online to offline and we have had to learn how to do the same. Did you know that we have only had a presence on social media for the past 18 months? I will let our web engagement team speak to this more, but we now continuously communicate virtually to an international public of almost 11 million people through our English and foreign language social media properties, which include 10 Facebook pages and 12 Twitter handles. We also simultaneously disseminate messages through 450 post websites and their social media properties. We estimate that our reach is 1.4 billion.

We are always working to grow that audience, but that is an amazing number of people that are able to get information about America first-hand and ask us questions. Challenge us. We welcome this opportunity to engage. It is a critical part of our goal to better understand the world we live in.

As your generation is visually focused, we use video aggressively to communicate important messages. Our series of Ambassador videos launched in summer 2011 are a great example. These videos show new ambassadors talking about how excited they are to take up their new posts and what they want to achieve, introduce their families, show them doing hobbies, basically making them human. It’s been a great way to get our Chiefs of Mission off to a positive start. Although there have been many successes from these videos, the most extraordinary is that the video for the current Ambassador to India, Nancy Powell, generated nearly 1 billion views! I should also mention that it received a glowing review in the New York Times.

We help our ambassadors forge good relationships within the country in which they will be serving but we also help convey key policy priorities of the highest levels of our government. For example, on Human Rights Day 2011, former Secretary Clinton gave a landmark speech at the Human Rights Council on the importance of treating “Gay Rights as Human Rights”. Public diplomacy’s role was to amplify this message around the world and one of the ways we contributed to that effort was to produce a video that conveyed its significance and could start conversations.

We also have a state of the art studio where we conduct regular webchats with policymakers, celebrities, and experts who can help discuss our policies more in-depth. For example, just last week we had a discussion on what it is like to live with a disability in America. We have regular chats with ambassadors and the business communities in their countries to discuss trade issues. Last Thanksgiving, we produced a program with famous chefs who cooked a traditional Thanksgiving dinner and explained the history behind our traditions. These virtual programs are another way of telling our story and learning from the world around us. You will learn more about our webchat capability a little later today.

Although having a strong virtual presence is becoming increasingly important, it will always be critical to be on the ground. Maybe some of you know about American Spaces, but most of you are probably unaware that we have 850 American Spaces in 169 countries that host 16 million annual visits. These American Spaces are welcoming environments where visitors can participate in a variety of activities, learn about the United States, surf the web, and take English language classes.

To ensure that we take every opportunity to engage and connect with our audience in a way that is coordinated and nuanced, we bring all of these elements together in global information campaigns. These campaigns use online tools, content, face-to-face engagement including expert speakers to give posts and our public diplomacy officers every tool they need to communicate effectively.

Let me offer a couple of examples of how we design the materials and content for our integrated campaigns by using our global reach while still focusing on local communities.

An event you all might have participated in when you were looking at colleges took place in November when we developed the world’s largest “International Virtual College Fair.” The fair brought more than 14,000 students into online contact with nearly 200 U.S. colleges and universities from all 50 states. It gave students 24-hour access to virtual interviews from their colleges of choice. As you probably know, President Obama wants to increase the number of foreign students studying in the U.S. It’s good for our academic institutions, our economy, and our culture. This campaign was in direct support of that goal.

This past summer we also ran a successful campaign called "50 States in 50 Days" in partnership with Brand USA, which is a public-private group that works to promote the United States as a premier travel destination. We profiled one state each day for 50 days on our social media and embassy websites. Many of our embassies supported it with offline, local events. Using Twitter, Facebook, and embassy websites, we reached tens of millions of potential tourists. Our Tweets alone reached 39 million people.


I hope I’ve been able to shed some light on what public diplomacy is all about. It’s a fast-paced and exciting line of work and one that is also truly rewarding. We engage person-by-person, in nearly every country, every day – advancing foreign policy goals, shaping the narrative about the United States and our policies, and building trust around the world to enhance our national security and prosperity.

I also want to underscore how much we value our audience, which to me, are young people, just like you. We see our role as taking the lead in critical and exciting new ways to interact and connect with you. It is truly a new frontier for the Department of State and we are honored to be at the forefront of the effort. I would be happy to answer any questions you may have. Thank you.