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Public diplomacy and advocacy handbook

Part one: Managing public diplomacy programs

1. Who has responsibility for PD functions in DFAT?

As noted in the introduction, all DFAT officers have PD responsibilities. However, some areas of the department and a number of 'designated' officers at posts have more formally defined PD roles.

The two key branches in the department that have responsibility for public diplomacy, advocacy and media relations activities are the Public Diplomacy and Information Branch (PDB) and the Parliamentary and Media Branch (PMB).

PDB is the main contact point for officers who have public diplomacy and advocacy responsibilities at posts. PMB is the first point of contact in the department for all media enquiries, including international media enquiries, about portfolio-related issues.

Other areas of the department that have important advocacy and public communication roles include the Trade Advocacy and Outreach Section, the Speechwriting Unit, geographic branches, the Communications Unit of the Australian Passport Office and the Consular Policy Branch, the Executive Branch (which has responsibility for the Direct Aid Program), the Australia Awards Secretariat, DFAT State Offices and bilateral foundations, councils and institutes (FCIs).

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Public Diplomacy and Information Branch

PDB's key objectives are to support Australia's public diplomacy programs to shape perceptions of Australia and generate support in Australia and the broader international community for Australia's foreign and trade policy interests. The branch does this by:

  • developing proactive advocacy strategies and public affairs material on specific priority issues
  • developing and projecting key messages to target audiences and identifying and responding to misleading or damaging perceptions of Australia
  • engaging in broader, long-term relationship building through cultural and other programs that promote a better understanding of contemporary Australia.
  • PDB's functions include:
  • providing PD funding to posts and guidance on conducting effective public diplomacy programs
  • managing DFAT's international media and cultural visits programs
  • managing the department's PD outreach program (including culture, sports and science and Indigenous programs)
  • providing administrative support for the Australia International Cultural Council and its country programs
  • engaging with other international advocates for Australia such as the Australian diaspora, including the Advance group representing Australian professionals overseas, and university alumni who have studied in Australia
  • coordinating the department's role in major events such as international expos, sporting bids and other priorities, such as the proposed Square Kilometre Array radio telescope project
  • managing the government's contract for the Australia Network regional television service.

PDB also provides a range of public diplomacy training opportunities for officers, including:

  • regular pre-posting training courses in Canberra (usually in September, December, March and June)
  • two-day regional training workshops at posts
  • public diplomacy briefings for officers attending leadership and development programs in Canberra.

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Parliamentary and Media Branch

PMB plays an important role in the public advocacy of Australia's foreign and trade policies. It focuses on domestic Australian media and the international media. It also plays an important role in providing media support to ministers' offices.

The Media Liaison Section (MLS) of PMB is the only point of contact in the Department for all matters that will or could generate media coverage in Australia.

PMB's functions also include liaison with the Australian and international media overseas on portfolio issues; clearing and issuing media releases; and arranging media interviews and briefings, ranging from informal one-on-one meetings to formal media conferences (either on the record or for background). PMB also manages the DFAT website (, DFAT's intranet, the Department's involvement in social media and providing support for post websites.

Overseas, the branch provides advice to posts on contact with Australian and international media on portfolio-related issues.

Further information: Part five–Contact with the media.

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Geographic and trade divisions

Geographic and trade divisions of the department have an important role in developing public advocacy material in support of portfolio policy objectives. Working closely with PMB, PDB and the Speechwriting Section, they prepare drafts of media releases and announcements, possible parliamentary questions and speech notes.

They have an important role in helping to increase public understanding of Australia's foreign and trade policy. They also:

  • monitor and advise on emerging or contentious bilateral issues which may have PD implications, and work with PDB and PMB to develop talking points and other background material to respond as appropriate
  • coordinate the Special Visits Program
  • host relevant bilateral and regional foundations, councils and institutes.

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Advocating the benefits of trade

The Trade Advocacy and Outreach Section (TAO), located in the department's Trade and Economic Policy Division, is responsible for communicating to Australians the benefits of trade and why Australia supports trade and investment liberalisation. TAO also focuses on Australia's free trade agreement agenda; our involvement in the World Trade Organization, the Cairns Group and APEC; and bilateral trade issues.

The section works closely with the Australian Trade Commission (Austrade) to promote awareness of Australian trade policies in key overseas markets.

TAO uses the DFAT website to communicate its messages and also produces targeted public affairs materials for general circulation, including to MPs, chambers of commerce, schools and other groups.

Further information: and

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Australia Awards

The Australian Government currently invests more than $330 million each year in international scholarships which, at any one time, supports more than 5000 international students, researchers and professionals to study in Australia and for Australians to study, research and undertake professional development overseas.

Under the Australia Awards initiative various Australian scholarship programs run by the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR) and the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) have been brought together under a single recognisable brand.

DFAT provides Secretariat support for a high profile Board which provides expert advice to Government Ministers on the Australia Awards initiative as well as policy co-ordination on the Australia Awards, including on alumni and branding.
The initiative will support Australia Award recipients to maintain long term links to Australia through a strong alumni program. Posts are encouraged to look for opportunities to promote the Australia Awards initiative in a targeted way as well as extending support to relevant alumni groups.

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Speechwriting unit

The Speechwriting Unit in the Policy Planning Branch works with ministers' offices and relevant areas of the department to prepare around 100 speeches a year for ministers, parliamentary secretaries and the senior executive.

Copies of the speeches are available on the DFAT website. Posts can draw on them as appropriate for their own local presentations and briefings and can also provide copies of relevant speeches to media organisations, government agencies, think tanks and other target groups.

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Direct Aid Program

The DAP is a flexible, small grants program funded by AusAID and managed by DFAT. It is intended to advance developmental objectives and address humanitarian hardship in developing countries, while at the same time fulfilling Australia's international relations and public diplomacy objectives.

Officers responsible for administering Direct Aid Program (DAP) activities at posts should also ensure that individual projects are appropriately publicised as part of post public diplomacy programs in accordance with DAP guidelines.

Further information: Direct Aid Program

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Bilateral and Regional Foundations, Councils and Institutes

DFAT funds secretariats for, and works closely with, nine bilateral and regional foundations, councils and institutes (FCIs) to promote people-to-people and institutional links and project positive images of Australia in support of the Government's foreign and trade policy goals.

The FCIs manage the majority of the programs funded under the International Relations Grant Program–the largest grant program administered by DFAT.
Posts are encouraged to work closely with FCIs to support Australia's overall public diplomacy objectives to the fullest extent possible.

The FCIs are:

  • Australia–China Council
  • Australia–India Council
  • Australia–Indonesia Institute
  • Australia–Japan Foundation
  • Australia–Korea Foundation
  • Australia–Malaysia Institute
  • Australia–Thailand Institute
  • Council for Australian–Arab Relations
  • Council on Australia Latin America Relations

Further information: The site also has links to each organisation.

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Issuing Australian travellers with passports

DFAT's Australian Passport Office (APO) issues around 1. 8 million passports a year and manages the needs of more than 10 million passport holders. The APO provides a secure, efficient and responsive passport service for Australia.

The APO produces public affairs material to communicate key messages to passport holders and applicants, such as the importance of maintaining security of Australian travel documents, programs to combat possible identity theft where passports are lost or stolen and travel tips regarding passport use and validity. APO also publishes information on the department's YouTube channel and Twitter account.

APO's website contains information on all aspects of the passport issuing process, including processing times and procedures, children's passports and the need for parental consent, and change of name arrangements. Posts are encouraged to draw on this information to respond to general inquiries.

Media inquiries, particularly on potentially controversial issues such as identity theft or passport fraud, should be referred to PMB and APO's Communications Section.

Further information:

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–and keeping travellers safe

Keeping Australian travellers safe by delivering high-quality, responsive consular services is a key priority of the department. The smartraveller campaign, managed by the Consular Policy Branch, provides advice to travellers on how to stay out of difficulties overseas and is a central element of the department's 'preventative' consular work.

More Australians are now travelling overseas than ever before, placing unprecedented demands on consular services. While most travellers do not experience any difficulties, those who do can find themselves hospitalised, arrested, imprisoned, assaulted or robbed.

The smartraveller campaign advises Australians that they should have adequate insurance (and know what their insurance covers), subscribe to DFAT travel advisories, and register with the department online. The smartraveller website also contains general hints on safe travel.

Further information: Smartraveller website

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2. Coordinating PD activities at posts

In order to achieve clear outcomes in advancing Australia's international interests, public diplomacy and advocacy programs must be focused, well managed and linked directly to our policy objectives.

Posts should have an annual PD strategy in place, based on departmental and post priorities and objectives. The strategy should identify key issues and messages, target audiences and the most effective ways of communicating messages to them.

All post PD activities should be undertaken within this overall strategy. Events or advocacy campaigns should not be undertaken unless clear objectives and outcomes have been identified.

Heads of Mission are required to provide leadership and set strategic direction for post PD programs.

They should:

  • ensure that PD activities are given high-level attention
  • act as senior mission spokespeople on major or sensitive issues
  • maintain contact with editors and other senior media figures and opinion makers
  • encourage a cooperative, integrated approach among attached departments and Australian companies and other agencies based in host countries.

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Everyone has PD responsibilities

At medium-sized and larger posts, a policy officer should be appointed to supervise and provide day-to-day policy direction to locally engaged PD staff and other officers and set longer-term strategies.

However, public diplomacy is not something that is done in isolation by designated officers, even in those posts that have full-time PD officers. All DFAT officers posted overseas, and other agencies, have important roles to play in promoting Australian policies and objectives. They should always:

  • think in terms of how PD principles can further advance their objectives and support, explain or strengthen public perceptions of their policy work
  • be conscious of the key messages that Australia wants to deliver in their country of posting
  • be creative about how these messages are conveyed
  • integrate PD principles into planning–identify key audiences/influencers; articulate key messages; think creatively about how to achieve outcomes.

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So why do we need designated PD officers?

Designated PD officers have a number of specific responsibilities, particularly in medium-sized and large missions. They include some or all of the following:

  • working closely with Heads of Mission and other officers to develop annual PD strategies that reflect agreed priorities and objectives
  • developing appropriate PD strategies, events and campaigns for delivering the mission's messages, including combating short or long-term misconceptions about Australia
  • developing talking points on controversial issues in consultation with divisions, PDB and/or PMB as appropriate so that the post and the department can speak in a consistent voice
  • preparing media releases, background papers and fact sheets, and maintaining the post website
  • encouraging others in the mission to incorporate PD principles into their broader work.

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Using LES skills effectively

Many of our posts have locally engaged staff who have extensive local knowledge and experience in public diplomacy. Some of our larger posts also have specialist locally engaged PD officers, many of whom are former journalists with good media networks.

Australia-based officers should work closely with locally engaged PD officers and draw on their expertise and local knowledge in developing effective public diplomacy strategies.

Locally engaged PD staff can help to identify local media representatives, special interest groups and academics who have a particular interest in Australia and may be able to act as intermediaries in promoting Australia's views. They will also be familiar with the needs and interests of the local media and be able to advise on how best to promote specific issues through the media.

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Add value to all PD events

All events staged by posts should have a clear message and objective–they should be seen as 'platforms' rather than as ends in themselves.

Appropriate messages can be delivered through speeches, briefings, media releases or backgrounders associated with the event.

Refer to Part three–Making the most of PD events, visits and people-to-people links.

Posts should undertake and fund activities or events only where they can demonstrate clearly how each of these activities will contribute to their overall strategies and post objectives.

In deciding whether to proceed with particular PD events or activities, posts should assess not only the potential size of audiences but also their level of influence and their ability to tap into or connect with other target groups that the post may not be able to reach through other means.

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–and always evaluate your activities

General performance indicators for assessing the success of PD events include:

  • the specific messages the event conveyed
  • how effectively the event was used as a platform to promote broader aspects of contemporary Australia or Australian policies
  • the number, level and influence of special guests attending events
  • the extent and type of media coverage generated
  • feedback from audiences and stakeholders.

Outcome-focused indicators for advocacy campaigns include:

  • analysis of media coverage generated, both immediately after the event and later
    • Was media coverage favourable? Did media reporting get to the right places and groups? To what extent did it reflect your messages?
    • Did the right people hear your message? Were relationships with key influencers formed and sustained?
  • extent to which perceptions have been changed or moderated in your favour
    • Did the right organisations support your program at the right time? Did others align their policies appropriately?
  • feedback from third-party influencers on the success of your advocacy efforts.

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Conducting opinion and image surveys

Opinion surveys are useful in assessing the impact of post PD activities.

While large-scale quantitative surveys can be costly, more specific qualitative surveys can be a cost-effective way of gauging shifts in opinion, particularly among target audiences.

At bigger missions, it may be possible to conduct joint surveys with other Australian organisations (for example, the Australian Tourist Commission and Austrade) on a cost-share basis.

DFAT also has access to international survey material produced by the Anholt Reputation Institute.

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Reporting to Canberra on your PD activities

Posts are asked to report throughout the year on major public diplomacy activities such as advocacy campaigns, issues management/damage control and major cultural and other events.

The reports should be qualitative and include a breakdown of expenditure and other appropriate performance information. They should be cabled within two weeks of the activity being concluded.

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3. PD funds

A streamlined and more flexible system for allocating public diplomacy funds was introduced in 2010. Under the new system, posts are divided into tier one and tier two groupings for PD purposes.

The Consular, Public Diplomacy and Parliamentary Affairs Division (CPD) provides PD allocations twice a year to posts designated as tier one.

These posts are expected to fully spend their first allocation before the second one is made and are also asked to cable six-monthly PD strategies to PDB. Tier one comprises all Category I posts as well as posts that received more than $17 000 a year under the previous funding arrangements.

Tier two posts are invited to forward funding requests for public diplomacy proposals to PDB. The requests are assessed in consultation with geographic divisions against specific criteria and on a regional basis.

Tier two posts may also apply to PDB for contingency funds to cover one-off public diplomacy activities. Funding applications should be forwarded well ahead of the proposed expenditure. Joint bids involving more than one post in a particular region are encouraged. Bids should also reflect a whole-of-government approach which draws together other agencies at posts and/or appropriate Australian companies or institutions.

All PD funds remain the responsibility of CPD and do not become part of post budgets for the purpose of rollovers or to cover non-PD activities. Posts are responsible for ensuring that PD funds are expended in a targeted and effective way to achieve identifiable outcomes and meet accountability requirements.

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Making the most of your PD budget

Posts can stretch their PD budgets by sharing costs with other stakeholders, including other agencies represented at post, and obtaining sponsorship in cash or kind from airlines, Australian or multinational businesses or banks operating in the region, or local companies that have Australian interests.

Before agreeing to any sponsorship proposals, posts must ensure that the perceived benefits (including non-financial benefits) outweigh any potential costs to the department and that all potential risks have been identified and considered.

Areas of risk include:

  • the possibility of an agreement being struck with a party whose activities are at odds with the policies or objectives of the department and/or the government
  • any perception that the department's activities, goals, strategic direction or integrity could be influenced by a sponsor
  • accepting sponsorship from people or organisations whose reputations or financial viability may come under question during the life of the sponsorship agreement.
  • Posts should actively seek out opportunities for reducing costs by working together with other posts in their region, for example by coordinating itineraries and sharing travel and other expenses. Regional posts should keep each other informed about cultural visits, exhibitions and events, and be alert for opportunities for joint tours.

The department regards the use of interns and voluntary workers in its overseas posts as a positive initiative. Internships provide valuable resources to the mission on a gratuitous basis. Further, they function as a public diplomacy tool, strengthening links between the post and local community, or the department and the Australian community, and provide interns with a valuable workplace training opportunity.

More information: Locally Engaged Staff: A Better Practice Guide

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What can you do for a couple of thousand dollars?

Some of the most effective post advocacy and media liaison initiatives can be arranged at relatively low cost, including:

  • arranging speeches and public appearances by Heads of Mission, other senior officers or prominent Australians (non-government as well as officials)
  • placing targeted articles, media columns, letters to the editor and op-ed pieces in the local press drawn from material posted on the DFAT website and other cleared sources (for example, some HOMs have regular or occasional articles placed in papers. )
  • arranging briefings or seminars for media representatives and other opinion makers and, where possible, timing them to take advantage of visits by Australian ministers or experts
  • holding informal gatherings and briefing sessions for editors hosted by the Head of Mission
  • distributing news releases and, where appropriate, producing modest bilateral relations booklets, either hard copy or electronic
  • publicising Direct Aid Program activities, AusAID projects and other development assistance activities undertaken by Australian NGOs and volunteer groups
  • working with schools, community and sporting groups to highlight/leverage off Australia's development assistance programs
  • arranging seminars or lectures on bilateral relations or doing business with Australia, or a series of seminars around a central theme which reflects post objectives
  • identifying suitable Australian experts to speak at existing conferences and events
  • is there an equivalent of the National Press Club in your host country which could be used as a venue for visiting ministers or prominent Australians?
  • arranging Australian participation in existing high profile festivals or events rather than trying to organise your own

And remember–smaller posts are expected to undertake only limited, targeted PD activities as appropriate.

Last Updated: 28 February 2013
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