Protocol Officers – The Unobtrusive Diplomats!
Protocol Officers are the ultimate diplomats—the choreographers who direct the dance of diplomacy, which in turn, affects all aspects of public perception. The overarching goal for any event whether diplomatic or international business, is to portray the home country or company in a positive light. When we consider protocol, there’s a common misinterpretation that it consists of handshakes and high tea. In fact, it is a far more complex procedure, as one has to consider government policy, the goals for the event and the signals the home government wishes to send. The same applies to the visiting country, who will have devised their own government policy, goals for the event and what signals they feel will best reflect their interests. In essence, this is “strategic protocol” advancing the policies of the home government which is critical to desired diplomatic negotiation outcomes.
Working behind the scenes, effective Protocol Officers are students of history and geopolitics, have emotional intelligence to include vision, creativity, intuition, and ability to anticipate all possible scenarios. Consider, in 2022, on President Macron’s visit to Russia to meet with President Putin…a long table (13ft) separated them, each one sitting at either end — the reason given (according to a member of his entourage) was that President Macron refused to have his blood taken to prevent Russia from obtaining his DNA. When it came time for the Press Conference, the Podiums and appropriate flags were placed farther apart than was customary–again, it was assumed that it was an effort to ensure that President Putin did not get infected with Covid-19. Or, was the “Meeting Table Protocol” an attempt to signal to President Macron and the world, that the Russian President was not invested in a diplomatic solution prior to his invasion of Ukraine? In effect, the ultimate message received, was that the long table was symbolic of the deep divide between the European Union and Russian Federation.
Another instance of “Meeting Table Protocol” was when the relationship between President Obama and President Erdogan of Turkey was on precarious terms, the then Chief of Protocol, Capricia Penavic Marshall, author of “The Power of Protocol and How to Make it Work for You.” had them seated side-by-side at a round table to create a more relationship-conducive atmosphere for their rapprochement talks.
Public Diplomacy plays a critical role in deciding protocol strategy. For instance, the dilemma may arise between either pleasing the guest or the public. On the one hand, the choice may be that the guest will be hosted in a manner observing the guest’s cultural traditions (an example being when the Italians covered their famous sculptures in deference to the traditions of President Rouhani of Iran), resulting in a public outcry at this insult to their Italian traditions. Or, on the other hand, the decision may be to host the guest in a manner upholding the host-country traditions (an example being when the French upheld their tradition of serving wine with dinner, whereupon the Iranian President and his entourage declined the invitation), resulting in favorable public opinion, but a lost opportunity to build economic/trade relations with the Iranian government at that time. The power of the Fourth Estate (the Press) to influence government policy and public opinion must further be taken into consideration in the signals a country wishes to portray. These are decisions the Protocol Office and their governments agree upon long before the proposed visit.
In essence, Protocol Officers are unobtrusive diplomats who are masters of emotional intelligence, operational and strategic protocol. They are the strategists who choreograph the proceedings to transmit the subtle (sometimes not so subtle) desired signals on behalf of their governments and their country. One unforeseen gaffe (as in “Pengate,” where, in September, 2023, Prince Charles became visibly frustrated, when given a leaking pen with which to sign the Visitor’s Book) can cause a media frenzy of global proportions.
The Protocol Officer…the lynchpin in laying the strategic foundation from which diplomacy can excel!
Join us in San Diego, California for our 5-Day “Train to be an International Protocol Specialist” – March 4 – 8, 2024
Marie Betts-Johnson, MA., International Protocol Institute of California® Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Website: https://mbjprotocol.com/