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Protocol is the term used to describe the formalities and courtesies that lubricate relationships between institutions. Most notably used in an international relations context, organizations often observe protocols whenever any VIP conducts an official visit. The U.S. Department of State has a protocol department in charge of facilitating state visits and ensuring the smooth reception of dignitaries throughout the U.S. embassy system. State and city governments also frequently have protocol offices, as do military commands.
An essential duty for protocol officers is advising organization staff on etiquette and courtesies expected during official visits. For example, they may publish guidance on customs regarding bowing, shaking hands, interacting with the opposite sex and exchanging gifts for offices expecting visits from foreign dignitaries.
The duties of protocol officers may include generating welcome letters, arranging for small gifts and tokens of appreciation or making phone calls to facilitate dignitaries' travel plans. Occasionally, protocol officers may plan elaborate ceremonies marking the arrival of foreign functionaries. State dinners are a major and frequent protocol function at the White House, for example.
An understanding of event logistics helps protocol officers carry our their role as event planners. Officers must also exercise judgment, poise and interpersonal skills as they interact with everyone involved.
After visits from dignitaries, protocol officers frequently ensure proper follow-up with thank you notes and tokens of appreciation such as commemorative photographs, plaques and trophies. The objective of this follow-up is to leave the dignitaries with a feeling of good will.
Jason Van Steenwyk has been writing professionally since 1998. A former staff reporter for "Mutual Funds Magazine," he has been published in "Wealth and Retirement Planner," "Annuity Selling Guide," "Registered Rep." "Bankrate.com" and "Senior Market Advisor." He holds a Bachelor of Arts in humanities from the University of Southern California.