Protocol Q&A


Academia: College & University Protocol

A rare thing happened this past April at The University of British Columbia (Vancouver, Canada) when the Governor-General of Australia, Her Excellency Quentin Bryce, AC, CVO, made an inaugural visit—the High Commission sought permission for her to come on campus.

This was not a requirement of the University, but the Australian High Commission chose to follow First Nations protocol by writing to the Chief of the Musqueam, upon whose traditional ancestral land UBC is situated, to seek permission to come to their traditional territory.

The reason for the heightened sensitivity around seeking permission was because Her Excellency was travelling with indigenous leaders from her country and so when the visit was being planned, the University’s Senior Advisor to the President on Abo-riginal Affairs suggested that this gesture would be respectful and appropriate in their culture.

The Australian High Commission agreed, wrote to the Musqueam and received not only permission to visit the UBC campus but also an invitation for the delegation to visit the Musqueam Reserve and engage in discussion and dialogue with the Musqueam community about topics of mutual inter-est. It was the first time that such a significant gesture was made by a visitor of high rank and the gesture was extremely well received by the Musqueam, as well as by the aboriginal community of UBC.

Of course, there were all the usual elements that go along with a high-level visit such as: the appropriate flags were flown, the University guest book was signed, Her Excellency was met by our President—but the visit was deeply enriched by the welcome provided to Her Excellency by the Musqueam and all because they followed protocol and asked first.

– Eilis Courtney, PDI-POA member

Director, Ceremonies at The University of British Columbia

Business, Finance, Economic Development & Entrepreneurship Protocol

Q: How do you address an attorney or lawyer In the United States

A: Here’s how; On an envelope to an attorney on a legal matter:

(Full Name), Esq.

Name of Firm


Letter salutation: Dear Mr./Ms. (surname):

Esquire, abbreviated Esq. is a courtesy title, and as such is used by others when addressing an attorney. It is not by the attorney with his or her own name.

Individuals with a Juris Doctor will use the academic post-nominal abbreviation JD or J.D. in academic situations.

Are faculty at law schools are addressed as Dr. (Name) like their academic colleagues holding doctorates? In practice, legal faculty are typically addressed as Mr./Ms. (Name) in style of their practicing legal colleagues.

— Ask the Experts, PDI-POA newsletter

Diplomatic Protocol

Q: The Chargé d’Affaires at post will be hosting a reception. We usually place both the U.S. flag and the National Flag of the country where we are by the podium. However during the planning meeting the public diplomacy section suggested not to have the flags displayed. Your suggestions, please.

A: I know of no reason why the flags should not be there – nor why it would be preferred to not have them displayed. As long as they are displayed following proper flag protocol, for an event at the embassy it should not be an issue having them present. If the flags are traditionally displayed on the podium for official events, to take them away seems to make a negative statement which surely would not be the intent.

— Ask the Experts, PDI-POA newsletter

Military and Defense Protocol

Q: Do you know what precedence Gold Star Spouses (GSS) and family members hold? Today we had a ceremony to dedicate our Memorial Park to our fallen soldiers. A few Gold Star Spouses attended. One commented to us “Gold Star Spouses hold precedence over active duty for seating purposes.” We agree in that GSS should sit in the front at a ceremony dedicated to the fallen. BUT, if they attend a different type of ceremony (change of command, retirement, promotion, etc), do they automatically receive precedence over active duty members that are the same rank as their spouse had held?

A: “Medal of Honor winners” “POWs” and Gold Star Spouses receive special preference only at events where their medal or experience was relevant to the event.

According to a spokesperson for Gold Start Wives: Gold Star Wives “(GSW) usually receive preferential seating at memorial events such as Memorial and Veterans Day at Arlington, at the Vietnam Memorial and similar places. At other events we do not normally receive preferential status or seating. Sometimes individual members due to their personal status receive preferential treatment, and wear their GSW hat and jacket to the event if it is appropriate, but any preferential treatment is due to their personal status rather than as their status as GSW members. On many occasions we all sit together at meeting or other events, and all the yellow hats and jackets may make it appear as if we have some kind of preferential treatment when we do not.”

According to PDI-POA member, Diane Brown of Protocol Solutions, “there is no official precedence, bottom line is to make a determination on where to seat GSS based on their attendance at the event as “guests of the commander.”

— Ask the Experts, PDI-POA newsletter

Museums & Cultural Institution Protocol

Museums and Cultural Institution Protocol

Q: I would like to get more local officials to bring visiting delegations to our museum. How can I make that happen?

A: This falls under the saying, “If you build it, they will come.” And in this case, the “it” is a relationship. One of the best ways to attract these kinds of visits is to cultivate strong relationships with the local officials. You want to be sure that they are aware of all that your organization has to offer and how your museum can be a critical partner in showing hospitality to visiting delegations. So start cultivating and nurturing your relationships with local officials now – invite them over for tours, educational programs events, etc. Perhaps your museum could hold a special “meet and greet” for local organizations as a way to bring these important constituents into the museum and to introduce them to your collections, research and programming. Essentially, local officials will be more likely to bring delegations to visit if they have a good understanding of your museum and what sort of collections and touring opportunities might be available for their guests. If you can develop ongoing relationships even when there are no delegation visits planned, then when these sorts of visits pop up, the local officials are more likely to reach out to you. If you become aware of an upcoming delegation visit, then by all means, do a little research to see if your museum has collections and/or research specifically tied to the delegation, and reach out to the officials and show them the various opportunities your museum will provide them to engage in a bit of cultural diplomacy. So nurture those relationships now and they will likely bear fruit in the future.

Q: We host a large number of dignitaries and international delegations in our museum. Does the head of the museum always have to be the person greeting these groups? When is it okay to have a lower-ranking executive greet?

A: Who greets the dignitaries and delegations can usually be determined by the composition of the visiting group as well as by the purpose of the visit. Obviously, if a head of state is visiting, then it is appropriate for the head of the museum to welcome the delegation. If a lower-ranking official is visiting, then either the head of the museum or his/or delegate can welcome the vistor(s). If someone other than the head of the museum is going to greet the delegation/visitor(s), then care should be taken to be sure that the museum’s representative is of similar rank and/or a subject matter expert such as a senior curator. The important goal here is to make sure that the delegation/visitor(s) feel welcomed and respected. Also, regardless of the rank of the delegation, the purpose of the visit can also dictate who serves as the museum’s host. If, for example, your country is currently in negotiations with the visiting delegation’s country over cultural exchanges, then that might be an important enough reason to have the head of your museum, rather than a proxy, welcome the group.

Q: We are one of several museums in our city. When we have an important milestone, do we need to invite the directors of the other museums in our city?

A: Many factors go into the composition of invitation lists, including, but not limited to: the size of the event, the capacity of your venue, your budget, the nature and purpose of the event, the size of your constituents list, etc. Certainly you will only gain good will among the cultural institutions in your city if you include them in your milestone events. But you want to be sure that you are not excluding other important stakeholders in the process. So first identify all of your stakeholders and prioritize them for each event: who are the groups that would be considered “mandatory” and who are the groups that you’d like to invite if there is room (i.e. “optional”)? And within that “optional” group, are there any individuals who stand out as mandatory for this particular event? From there, consider the nature and purpose of the event: does the reason for the event have a major impact on the cultural life of the city? For example, if this is an opening of a brand new museum, that certainly has an impact on the cultural community at large, so it would be appropriate to invite the directors of the neighboring cultural institutions. However, if the event is one of many and is more museum-focused rather than cultural community focused, then it is less necessary to include these individuals. If this is a purely fundraising/donor cultivation event, then some organizations are reluctant to invite directors of “competing” cultural organizations. It is always prudent to review your stakeholders/constituents list with your management team to make sure they have considered all potential invitees, including their peers in your city’s cultural community.

Nicole Krakora, PDI-POA member

Assistant Vice President for University Events at The George Washington University, Washington, DC.
Formerly Senior Events Strategist and Chief Protocol Officer, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC,

National Government Protocol

Q: What is the difference between a chief of state and head of government? Are they the same thing?

A: A chief of state or head of state is the highest official and the most prominent public and formal representative of a country. It is neither a title nor an honorific. In many republics a president is both the chief of state and head of government. In an absolute monarchy the monarch is both the chief of state and head of government.

A head of government is the highest office in a country’s government. In many governments the head of government is also chief of state. In parliamentary governments the chief of state may hold various titles, but the head of government is usually a prime minister. However, the head of government can have many titles such as: chancellor, premier, chief minister, minister of state, or even – head of government!

Q: This afternoon I am to draft a congratulatory message for the National Day of Saudi Arabia to the King of Saudi Arabia. What would be the appropriate form?

A: The King of Saudi Arabia has a special courtesy title all to himself and there is a form of address to use it:


The Custodian of The Two Holy Mosques
The King of Saudi Arabia
Salutation: Your Majesty:
FYI – Two holy mosques are the Masjid al-Haram in Mecca and the Al-Masjid al-Nabawi in Medina.

— Ask the Experts, PDI-POA newsletter

Sub-National Government Protocol

Q. I have a question about the order of precedence for letters from officials which will be in a printed program. Would the order be:

1. Governor

2. County Judge

3. Mayor

A. Based purely on the titles themselves I would actually switch the order of the judge and the mayor. That being said, there may be some nuances beyond just the titles that the nature of the event would require a different consideration. For instance, what’s the nature of the letters? Of the three titles is one of them acting in the role of senior ‘host’ of the event? Is this event taking place in the city of the mayor (and I’m assuming it is in the state of the Governor)? What role does the judge have in the event? Are these letters directed to a particular individual (e.g., are they congratulatory letters) or perhaps are they celebratory in nature for an event? The answers to these questions would not necessarily require a change in the order but there may be some significant reason to consider justifying a creative rearrangement.

Based simply on the titles as listed though, I would recommend this order:

1. Governor

2. Mayor

3. County judge

Q: Regarding hanging a flag vertically, when working with the U.S. flag the union (blue field) should remain at the top left from the viewer’s point of view. This means the flag is rotated 90 degrees and flipped. But how do you approach a vertical display if the flag has symbols or writing on it, and is meant to be viewed from one side? The Georgia state flag, for example, features a blue field of honor in the top left, but ALSO features the state motto, which would be reversed in a typical vertical hanging. Which feature takes precedence?

A: If hanging vertically, you don’t want to flip a flag with text – you won’t be able to read it. From research based on several international events, shifting the flag clockwise to vertical position is best when text is involved. For all other flags though, one should rotate clockwise and flip, so that the canton is always in the uppermost corner- the position of honor- to the observer’s left.

As a general rule, if no rule exists for the flag’s vertical display, then you default to a single clockwise rotation and a flip so that the canton remains in the upper left-hand corner. It is important to remember that there are some flags that may never be displayed vertically — e.g., the Saudi flag. Always check with the embassy or consulate of a country or the appropriate office within a state or province before employing an alternative display of any flag.

Q: What is the correct style for the Mayor of Winnipeg?

A: The correct style for Canadian mayors is:
An envelope is addressed to:
His/Her Worship (full name)
Mayor of (name of city)
For the salutation: Dear Sir:
Verbally he or she would be addressed as: Your Worship
The use of his/her worship as a courtesy title for mayors also comes from the Brits. You will encounter its use (with minor variations) all over the world in current and former British Commonwealth countries.

— Ask the Experts, PDI-POA newsletter

NGO: Non-Government Organization Protocol

Q: If an organization is collaborating with a foreign country to host a conference, what is the protocol for placement of flags on the podium?

A: The flags you’ve described represent two different categories of flags: one is a country/national flag and one is an organizational flag. As you face the stage, the country flag would be on the left with the organizational flag on the right. Even if you were to have multiple country flags, the organizational flag would always come at the end of the line (right end).

— Ask the Experts, PDI-POA newsletter

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