Posted: April 15, 2015, 2:20 p.m.
by Haley Petrey.
As public relations professionals, we are responsible for the representation of our clients. What if that client were the United States of America? It’s a large task that may seem daunting, but someone has to do it. As a U.S. diplomat, you work to build and foster relationships with foreign countries, representing the U.S. and our government at the highest level.
Dr. Daniel Mangis has experienced this responsibility firsthand, as a Foreign Service officer for the U.S. State Department. Dr. Mangis currently holds the position of senior desk officer for France and Monaco in the office of Western European Affairs, although he has held a few other positions prior to landing this one.
He received his bachelor’s degree in political science and journalism and master’s degree in communication studies from The University of Alabama. He also holds a law degree and a Ph.D in communication studies from The University of Texas at Austin. Dr. Mangis recently received the Department of Communication Studies Outstanding Alumni Award from The University of Alabama.
After joining the Foreign Service in 2005, he served as vice consul at Consulate General Monterrey (Mexico), deputy consular chief at Embassy Stockholm (Sweden), assistant cultural affairs officer at Embassy Baghdad (Iraq) and deputy spokesperson at Embassy Madrid (Spain). He changes positions every two to three years, and after nearly nine years overseas, he decided that it was time to spend some time in the U.S.
Every country has a desk at the U.S State Department in Washington, D.C., and each desk could have anywhere from one to 10 officers. As the senior desk officer for France and Monaco, he and his team focus solely on U.S.-France cooperation, which includes a wide range of diplomatic issues from combatting terrorism to containing the spread of Ebola. France is a major diplomatic force in the world and an important partner to the U.S., so Dr. Mangis and his team stay very busy.
Dr. Mangis originally joined the Foreign Service because he was interested in public service, and he found that the State Department seemed to be the best fit for his background and interests.
“I grew up in an Air Force family, but when the 9/11 terrorist attacks happened during my second year of law school . . . from that point forward, I began exploring various ways that I could contribute,” Mangis said.
Uncle Sam’s PR reps
The life of a Foreign Service officer includes long days, sometimes working from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. It even includes working closely with the Pentagon and the intelligence community on occasion. A Foreign Service Officer must be very flexible, and capable of doing everything from helping manage an embassy, to helping Americans in distress, to passing very important messages back to Washington.
Dr. Mangis’ personal specialty is public diplomacy, which focuses engaging public audiences through press work and cultural affairs.
“Our goal is to represent our country well,” Mangis said. “Basically everything we’re doing is really to serve the American public. I’m reminded of that every day, and that’s what’s so great about this job — your client is your country.”
Communicating for your country
In any role — in any job — communication is key. Communicating as a Foreign Service officer is not only about being able to communicate for yourself, but also helping others effectively communicate.
“Sometimes I’m preparing the paperwork to help senior officials, like Secretary Kerry, to have good conversations with his counterparts. But sometimes it’s just me at my level, communicating with my counterparts,” Mangis said.
Dr. Mangis goes on to explain that, in fact, communication majors have a great skill set that is very crucial in diplomacy.
Edward R. Murrow used the phrase “the last three feet” to describe the importance of having interpersonal contact with people. Dr. Mangis describes this contact as one of the most effective communication methods in his line of work.
“You can get a taste through pop culture and watching the news, but it’s not until that last three feet, where you step in and shake someone’s hand, that people really understand Americans,” Mangis said.
He recommends all communication students to seek opportunities for international travel and foreign language study.
“It’s an international world, even if you aren’t a diplomat. Having an overseas experience like an internship at a U.S. Embassy is a terrific professional opportunity for basically everyone,” Mangis said.
Before assuming the position of Foreign Service officer, Dr. Mangis was on a three-year tour in Madrid, Spain — ending last summer — as the deputy spokesperson for the embassy.
Although he could speak Spanish when he entered the Foreign Service, no foreign language fluency is required initially. However, Foreign Service officers must demonstrate foreign language skills to progress in their careers.
“One of the perks of the Foreign Service is getting paid to learn languages for overseas assignments. Prior to heading to Stockholm, I spent five months studying Swedish full time at the Foreign Service Institute, one of the world leaders in teaching foreign languages,” Mangis said.
During his tour in Madrid, Dr. Mangis ran press engagements and managed the “very active” social media platforms. On occasion he also served as a speech writer for the U.S. ambassador. Prior to that, Dr. Mangis served a one-year tour as an assistant cultural affairs officer in at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq.
“There [Iraq], I didn’t spend a lot of time meeting with government officials,” Mangis said. “I spent most of my time meeting with students, university professors, librarians and people with cultural backgrounds, because that was the specific engagement that my job, at that level, was supposed to be doing. So we don’t only work with governmental contacts, but we also work very closely with the broader public and civil society.”
The world is getting younger.
Because “the world is getting younger,” diplomats are focusing on reaching young people through social media and more formal outlets, like cultural and educational programs.
“We are doing a lot more public diplomacy through social media and channels like that, that young people are interested in,” Mangis said. “It’s to the point where every ambassador has their own Twitter account. There are a lot of interesting social media platforms that are indigenous to different countries. We try to have a presence on those, because that’s where we’re going to meet young people in that country.”
Since social media changes so quickly, diplomats have to learn to be very flexible, adapt quickly and stay up to date on what people are using.
In addition to social media, they are also engaging directly with youth through established exchange programs like the Fulbright program.
Young people are also encouraged to apply to Embassy Youth Councils, where they can provide advice, feedback and ideas to U.S. ambassadors on key issues affecting their own country.
“These youth councils are used to build a link to young people by giving them a way to connect with the American diplomatic presence in their country,” Mangis said.
When representing the U.S. government and its policies, it’s expected to see the occasional disagreement. But like the PR pros, you represent your client to the best of your ability, and offer suggestions for change when needed.
Dr. Mangis has worked under both the Bush and the Obama administrations. As a career officer, he works to serve the president no matter the party, by implementing the policies.
Dr. Mangis explained the unique culture of the State Department, and how it offers a “dissent channel” as “a way for an officer who disagrees with a policy, to express that disagreement in a professional way.” These concerns can go as far as the Secretary of State’s office, and are usually recognized.
This type of communication is encouraged, and it fosters the idea of honesty, which is important for any firm, organization or country.
Dr. Mangis notes that you do not have to be involved in politics to work in this field, which is in fact why communication majors are such a great fit. So if you are looking for a job that offers a great deal of gratification, Dr. Mangis encourages you to apply for a career in public service and have a hand in making “profound change” in your country and around the world.