Do National Security Communication Campaigns Work? Taking a Lesson from the Public Health Sector

December 2022 No Comments

Speaker(s): Helmus, T. (Senior Behavioral Scientist, RAND)

Date: 14 December 2022

Speaker Session Summary

SMA hosted a speaker session with Dr. Todd Helmus (RAND) as part of its SMA General Speaker Series.

The sample size of communication campaigns in support of military objectives—like the deradicalization of a population—is small. However, there is a large sample of case studies focusing on communication campaigns in support of public health initiatives. Communication campaigns assisting public health initiatives are not perfectly analogous to those made in assistance of military operations, but Dr. Helmus argued that examining their findings and best practices can still be helpful. When looking at the few communication campaigns targeting a population for security measures, the results are promising. One key example highlighting this success is a campaign in Nigeria that focuses on deradicalization and changing the perception of kidnap victims.

Studies on communication campaigns in support of public health initiatives, on the other hand, have had mixed results. Dr. Helmus stated that communication operations on drug use and other types of health programs generally had little to no effect. However, other communication operations, such as encouraging the use of seat belts, have been very effective. One factor that has made campaigns designed to increase the use of seat belts successful is the enforcement that local police officers can provide. The presence of real-life implications like the threat of law enforcement is an important factor that contributes to the success of similar campaigns. Dr. Helmus also cautioned that not all positive effects resulting from these campaigns will be immediately noticeable. To conclude, he emphasized the importance of communicating this to leaders. This transparency with leaders will help set realistic expectations and goals. 

Speaker Session Recording

Briefing Materials


Dr. Todd C. Helmus is a senior behavioral scientist at the RAND Corporation and a member of the Pardee RAND Graduate School faculty. He specializes in disinformation, terrorism, and social media. Dr. Helmus’ latest research focuses on ways to counter Russian disinformation campaigns in the United States and Europe and assess the impact of international counter violent extremism campaigns. His research also focuses on preventing violent extremism in the US military, identifying ways to enlist key influencers in support of US strategic communications, and detecting and countering online conspiracy theories. Dr. Helmus has served as a deployed advisor to US commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan and led studies on US efforts to train Afghan special operations forces. He received his PhD in clinical psychology from Wayne State University.