Communication has long been accepted as integral to the conduct of international affairs. The role that discourses, ideas, norms, and narratives play at the systemic level of world politics has been examined extensively. Scholarly interest has now turned to how international actors use political communication tools to create and counter threats, such as propaganda, hybrid warfare, fake news, and election tampering, and it is often taken for granted that states are inferior to their challengers in these domains. To address this, ‘Strategic Communications’ has emerged as a mode of thought and practice promising to enhance state communication; encompassing long-established activities including public diplomacy, public relations, nation branding, and information operations. In this developing field, private sector professionals are increasingly being called on to support and advise governments. Particular attention has been paid to the ‘Big Data’ private companies may have access to, but there has been little IR research examining the experts seeking changes in how strategic communications is practised. Informed by elite interviews with communication professionals across the public-private space, this article sets out a research agenda to fill this gap, enhancing understanding of the expert relationships that shape international strategic communications.
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