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01 October 2007

Marketing of the deed

StrategyPage has an interesting take on the prospects for the Russian defense industry in the wake of the apparently unopposed transit of the Israeli air force strike package to its target in Syria. Needless to say, the failure of the Syrian air defense network – centered around “advanced” Russian systems – does not inspire other buyers in quite the same manner that Rosoboronexport would undoubtedly prefer for its “premium” brands.

The point regarding the impact of perceived effectiveness in real world engagements on the value of selected weapons systems and doctrines is well founded. In part, this has been a driving force behind the bazaar of violence described by John Robb’s Global Guerrillas theory. Adoption of shared tactics, weapons choices, and targeting patterns among distributed independent threat actors is accelerated given unique, recognizable, and replicable branding.

In the same vein, the expansion of privatized military responses is also accelerated by the marketing of the deed. In comparison the corrupt and ineffective third country national forces which typically make up the bulk of peacekeeping deployments, PMCs are provable more effective and – despite all of the IO activity aimed at discrediting their activities – far more respectable in most cases. It is entirely unsurprising that recruiters seeking to attract talented young Iraqis for military service – even in specialized units – face brand competition as many Iraqi prospects desire very much to seek out service as PSDs, a position which they perceive to bring with it more respect.

This raises similar questions when discussing the privatization of intelligence. How much of the recent successes of contractor shops in attracting and retaining the best talent in a scarcity dominated market comes from the intangibles of being perceived as more effective in a heavily resource constrained and bureaucratic environment? It is clearly not just the money in many cases, as recent blue badging initiatives are demonstrating – but there has been little examination of the other market forces in play. A shop which offers its staff better integration into the intellectual life of the community, more accesses to events and networks, and better opportunities to develop intellectual capital, is going to demonstrate through its deeds the value of its effectiveness and philosophies. The body shops and salt mines will signal a far different picture to prospects. But are human resources groups (both within contractor shops and government agencies) paying attention to these perceptions, and working with other elements within their organizations to shape them in a favourable fashion? This is a community that is at most two people deep, and these intangibles can dictate the success or failure of a shop in very short order in these times of rapid mobility and high demand.

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