Acting Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Russ Deyo participates in a media availability to discuss the partnership between the Blue Campaign and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to combat human trafficking in Washington on Jan. 18, 2016. (Official DHS photo by Barry Bahler)

#RealDeal Interview: Blue Campaign Teamwork Fights Human Trafficking

The Department of Homeland Security engages the public in a number of ways. Whether it be at our borders, airports and ports of entry, or helping during times of emergency and disaster, the people at America’s youngest cabinet department are some of the most visible public servants anyone will ever encounter or see in action.

But as much as the nearly 230,000 DHS employees are working 24-7, 365 days a year in securing the homeland, sometimes the department can use an extra set of eyes and ears to help it fulfill its mission.

That’s where a small office within DHS’s Office of Partnership and Engagement plays a big role. Michael “Mick” McKeown is the executive director of the Campaigns and Homeland Security Advisory Council (HSAC) office. Besides looking after the 40-plus members of the Homeland Security Advisory Council as it provides counsel to the secretary and DHS’s other executive leaders, McKeown and his team are also responsible for leading several public engagement campaigns that have tremendous visibility and exposure nationwide.

Two of those campaigns include the “Blue Campaign,” which combats human trafficking, and the “If You See Something, Say Something” campaign, which asks for the public’s help in reporting suspicious items and/or behavior. Both campaigns are direct pleas to the public by DHS and its partners to keep watch and be proactive in helping keep not just the public safe, but also helping public safety as it works to stop those who may unleash harm in the community.

As a Trump administration appointee, the Philadelphia native has brought his own state and local government experiences with him as he implements campaign strategies that are both hands-on and straightforward. “Since no one knows a community better than the people who live within it, let’s have them help us by being part of our homeland security mission.”

That’s why these two public campaigns play an essential role in DHS’s operations at every level – federal, state, local, and tribal governments, the private sector and NGOs.

HSToday Editor at Large Rich Cooper reached out to Mick McKeown to get a better understanding of how these campaigns work and the difference they make.

Part 1: The Blue Campaign

Cooper:  There seems to be a greater focus and public awareness on the issue of human trafficking than ever before. How has the Blue Campaign been part of raising that public consciousness?

Michael “Mick” McKeown

McKeown: The Blue Campaign has been involved in raising public awareness since 2010. Social media is so huge and more relevant than ever before. We’ve recently ramped up our social media presence to connect with the various audiences. For example, our 2018 Wear Blue Day reached approximately 50 million impressions. In addition, we’ve maximized our reach by using Facebook Live and Twitter chat to connect with the public virtually. Be sure to keep an eye out for our future social media events.

Cooper: So how does the Blue Campaign work? How does its messaging and partnership development work?

McKeown: Teamwork makes the dream work! Collaboration is at the heart of what we do, because we cannot create national public awareness for human trafficking alone. Our team relies on our partners and stakeholders to extend our anti-human trafficking message. We work with law enforcement, government, and private organizations to share information on the indicators of human tracking, and appropriate reporting mechanisms in an effort to bring those who exploit human lives to justice.

Communicating and collaborating with our partners allows us to tailor our message on a national level to fit what first responders and advocates are seeing, as well as provide a unilateral and clear message for the rest of the country.

Cooper: What audience do you and the Blue Campaign most want to engage to hear your message?

McKeown: Our hope is to engage all the first responders, social workers, community volunteers, healthcare providers, teachers, law enforcement and so many others. These groups include a wide range of organizations – private, public, and nonprofit – who are committed to social responsibility and willing to speak out about this terrible problem. As much as possible, the Blue Campaign team wants to collaborate and share best practices with members of the public who, through the knowledge of their communities, can be the greatest asset in this fight.

Cooper: What’s been your biggest success so far and how do you and the Blue Campaign measure success?

McKeown: I think our biggest success to date has been the recent passage of the Blue Campaign Authorization Act, which established the Blue Campaign within DHS. This strengthens our ability to consistently target human trafficking. Most notably, both the House and the Senate unanimously voted to pass the Authorization Act, demonstrating that human trafficking is considered a universal wrong. With this bipartisan mandate to end human trafficking, we are able to move forward knowing that everyone in Congress has our backs. We’re really proud of that.

As to measuring our success, our best metric is in the diverse partnerships that we’ve made around the country.  These relationships are the best and most cost-effective way of reaching people and helping us in this fight. They bring energy, engagement and ingenuity every day.

Cooper: Who has been the Blue Campaign’s most effective messenger and what is the most effective platform for this message to reach people (e.g. radio, TV, social media, etc.)?

McKeown: Again, teamwork makes the dream work, so the success of the Blue Campaign can’t be credited to just one particular platform. Like our efforts to coordinate with a variety of organizations, our flexibility in using all media available to us is the reason for our successes to date. We will use all methods of outreach available to spread information about human trafficking, because our main goal is awareness. By not limiting ourselves to any specific platforms, and instead maximizing our exposure across all channels, we are able to reach more people.

Cooper: This is not an issue that is particularly comfortable for people to talk about. How is the Blue Campaign working to spur those conversations?

McKeown: No, it definitely isn’t comfortable, but by helping people understand that human trafficking is happing in their own backyard, we can generate greater efforts to act. The first step in combating the crime is educating the public and making them more aware that it’s happening. If people understand that it is an everyday phenomenon happening under their noses, they will be more invested in preventing it. If we can help the public, law enforcement and all of our stakeholders understand the crime of human trafficking, together we can put an end to modern-day slavery.

Cooper: Every audience is a target audience, but is there a particular audience(s) that you want to resonate with to spur greater engagement and action?

McKeown: Right now, we are focusing on two different audiences. The first is students. At the college level we want to raise as much awareness on these issues as possible, so they can spread the word. Our hope is that by giving them a deeper understanding of human trafficking, they can take that knowledge with them in whatever career they choose and help us look out for those who are victimized by it.

The second audience we are spending extra time developing is the hospitality-based industry. They’ve been a fantastic partner of the Blue Campaign – almost from its very beginning. Working with them, we’ve developed and introduced a toolkit for all employees in this service sector, who are often on the front lines of observing this issue to help us identify these crimes. We’re really proud of these relationships and the difference they’ve brought to the Blue Campaign.

Cooper: How can organizations become part of the Blue Campaign?

McKeown: For organizations interested in partnering with the Blue Campaign:

  1. Send an email to Bluecampaign@hq.dhs.gov;
  2. Tell us about the organization you represent; and finally,
  3. Share your name, contact information (e.g., phone, email) and the city and state in which your entity is located.

Our team frequently reviews partnership request for consideration. It is important to note, while partnerships are great, it is not necessary to be a partner to receive free materials.

Cooper:  And who are the partners you want to be a part of this effort that have not yet joined you?

McKeown: Whenever we reach out to an industry, or a particular group and brand, we always get a great response. We’ve never been ignored by anyone we have reached out to, and for that I am forever grateful, but I would really like to see us be more engaged with the modern-day influencers, like the Oprahs of the world. Specifically, people who are talking to large audiences and motivating them to take action. Their voices lend themselves to action on this issue, and action makes all the difference in the world.

Cooper:  Why is DHS the epicenter for the Blue Campaign? How did it get this role?

McKeown: DHS is one of the largest law enforcement agencies nationwide. Our operators are on the front lines at our nation’s borders, in airports across the country, and rural areas and cities alike. Components are well positioned to detect, intercept, and investigate instances of human trafficking. The core mission of DHS is to keep people safe, and this includes victims of human trafficking. The Blue Campaign provides critical awareness to the crime of human trafficking to ensure the public and frontline personal can work together to end modern-day slavery.

Cooper:  The president recently signed into law new legislation to aid the fight against human trafficking. How does this new legislation help the Blue Campaign in its mission?

McKeown: This legislation officially authorizes the roles and responsibilities of the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Blue Campaign. President Trump’s signature makes us the unified voice for DHS efforts to combat and raise awareness regarding human trafficking. Working in collaboration with law enforcement, government, non-governmental and private organizations, the Blue Campaign will supplement the department’s ongoing efforts to protect basic rights and freedoms, and bring those who exploit human lives to justice.

Cooper: How is the Blue Campaign public engagement strategy different from the other DHS public engagement strategies it has run (e.g. READY.gov; See Something, Say Something, etc.)?

McKeown: Blue is unique because it is more than just a public awareness campaign. It has a training component that helps people identify this crime as well as how to help victims. It also works across the federal government as well. Blue Campaign collaborates with other agencies that deal with human trafficking by pulling together agency expertise to educate, inform and call others to action, especially for the most vulnerable in our communities. Human trafficking can be combatted from the individual level to the federal agency level. This is what Blue Campaign is all about.

Rich Cooper is Editor-at-Large for HSToday. A former senior member of DHS’ Private Sector Office (PSO), Cooper has been a frequent writer and contributor to numerous media outlets. He is Vice President for Strategic Communications & Outreach for the Space Foundation and a Principal with Catalyst Partners, LLC. Cooper is also a former Senior Fellow with GWU’s Cyber and Homeland Security Institute and has also served in senior positions at NASA, the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation, SAS and several other profit and not-for-profit enterprises.

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