The Canadian Forces take public relations very seriously. Operating the largest PR machine in the country, DND runs various media, academic, think tank and cultural initiatives. “It is the responsibility of the Department of National Defense to build and maintain a constituency for defence among Canada’s citizens,” noted a headline in the military backed Journal of Conference of Defence Associations Institute. In the 1990 article former Chief of the Defence Staff, General Ramsey M. Withers, explained: “In its attempts to place the facts before the public, DND has done a great deal of good, honest work. Prompt, professionally compiled press announcements; the creation of a speakers bureau; an endowment of chairs of strategic studies at universities; the production of special videos; the provision of expert testimony to parliamentary committees; the support given associations and organizations such as the Conference of Defence Associations and the Canadian Institute of Strategic Studies.”
While hard to fathom, media relations may be DND leaders’ single biggest concern. Briefing files for two new defence ministers in 2014 and 2015 prioritized PR above any other consideration. Describing the 2015 briefing, Embassy’s Marie-Danielle Smith noted: “In a book about ‘Key Strategic Issues,’ about 70 pages long, there are 17 pages worth of public opinion and media analysis, complete with graphs tracking Canadians’ perceptions of the department over years of polling data. Conversely, only two pages of the document appear to be entirely devoted to Operation Reassurance in Central and Eastern Europe, two pages to Operation Impact in Iraq and Syria, four to NATO and two to NORAD.”[i]
As part of their PR strategy, the CF is secretive about the breadth of their media activities. But internal files provide some sense of their scope. A government document Embassy uncovered through an access to information request says DND has “over 13 independent public affairs organizations.”[ii]
In 2010-11 the CF admitted to spending $354 million on public relations and related military commemorations.[iii] Six hundred and sixty-one staff members worked on this effort.[iv] According to another 2011 report, DND’s Public Affairs had 286 staff.[v] Public Affairs Officers (PAOs) work from Public Affairs Headquarters at National Defence Headquarters in Ottawa and a-half-dozen regional offices across the country. Additionally, every CF base, army division and naval headquarters employs PAOs. DND’s website lists contact information for 50 different media relations offices.
PAOs write press releases, organize press conferences, monitor the news, brief journalists, befriend reporters and editors, or perform various other media-related activities. A large proportion of the news stories about the military are based on CF statements and events.
[i] Marie-Danielle Smith, DND gave minister more info on public opinion research than on ISIS operation, NATO, Embassy, Oct 28 2015
[ii] Carl Meyer, DND points to ‘challenges’ with former soldiers talking to media, Embassy, July 30 2014
[iii] Carl Meyer, DND: Military’s ‘values’ shape ‘Canada’s identity’, Embassy, Nov 23 2011
[v] David Pugliese, Fed up media officers desert DND, Ottawa Citizen, Sep 25 2011