U.S. enlists ad agencies to boost image overseas

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"Help geographic combatant commanders," "tap into cutting-edge technologies" and "ensure the Department of Defense maintains its edge in defending this nation." Doesn't sound like an ad brief does it? But that's exactly what it is.

Taking another swing at swaying foreign opinion of the U.S., the Bush administration has awarded three contracts, worth a total of up to $300 million, for overseas advertising-to three companies with limited experience of the craft.

A spokesman for the U.S. Special Operations Command said despite the size of the contracts, initial spending will be less than $3 million total this year and actual spending may be far less than the $300 million. Each company is guaranteed $250,000 this year and $500,000 a year if their contracts are extended through their full five-year term.


The contracts, handed out by the U.S. Special Operations Command's Joint Psychological Operations Support unit, went to SYColeman, Lincoln Alliance Group and Science Applications International Corp. Each company has a contract worth up to $100 million.

In a news release, SYColeman's parent company, L-3 Communications, said its unit's contract was "for global media development, production and dissemination support."

According to the documents distributed during the bidding process, the purpose of the effort "is to conduct media campaigns to garner support for U.S. government policies and objectives in foreign countries among foreign audiences" and the contractors would need to be "capable of managing, coordinating and conducting media approach planning, prototype product development, commercial-quality production, product distribution and dissemination and media-effects analysis."

"These capabilities will be used to enhance operations of the Joint Psychological Operations Support Element ... in support of international programs."

SAIC set up the Iraqi Media Network after the U.S. came to Iraq, but is no longer involved in that operation. The contract and government spending on it drew criticism from the Pentagon's Inspector General, while the network was criticized for offering "mediocre programs." The Lincoln Alliance Group provides public relations activities in Iraq.

SYColeman has done some Pentagon Web sites, but an L-3 news release describes its primary business areas as program management, information-technology services, systems engineering, operational support to warfighters, strategic planning and communications and integrated security solutions.

The U.S. Special Operations Command said the advertising is intended for use where U.S. troops are and will be available to U.S. commanders.

"The overall goal is to help geographic combatant commanders plan and execute their advertising and information campaigns," said Air Force Maj. Ken Hoffman, a spokesman.


"A good example would be developing commercials for use in Iraq illustrating how roadside bombs meant for soldiers also harm children and other innocent civilians. The individual companies will apply their expertise and creative skills in developing recommendations for possible information campaigns. ... The intent is to allow the companies the creative license to explore all avenues and approaches."

The messages "will target foreign countries and be in their native languages." He said the switch to civilian efforts represents a move forward.

"Until now, PSYOP has always been conducted solely by military units. Contracting with civilian companies allows us to augment existing capabilities by tapping into cutting edge technologies and industry's creative genius."

He said the contractors were selected through normal military competitive-bidding procedures and the commercial expertise "ensures [Defense Department] maintains its edge in defending the nation."


The military calls the switch to civilian shops "a move forward." Ad messages will "target foreign countries in their native language."

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