May 16, 2013
Last year, I produced the digital PA wheel, which, building from three core components of traditional Public Affairs (intelligence gathering, information provision, relationship building), showed how each can be supported by a variety of digital and social channels, tools and methods.
While I still think the wheel is valid, I think it’s missing a few things, and will be developing the visual on the left further, resulting in an updated digital PA wheel (or matrix perhaps.)
What’s different now?
Management and skills
All organizations are affected by the speed and ubiquity of social media. All functions within them, including Public Affairs, will require new skills and processes, and sometimes updated technology and resourcing, in order to manage. Although not strictly a communications discipline, a competent Digital Public Affairs professional should be able advise on how the PA function should adapt. In the commercial world, the term social business is usually applied to describe this area of digital and social competence.
In PR and corporate communication, digital often owns creative. Not sure it’s because creative output channels are frequently digital, or perhaps digital types tend to be more comfortable with creative simply because they have embraced a medium that is a bit manic and unkempt, much like the creative process. Or perhaps no one else wanted it.
Creative has tended to be imbedded in content, and although I think content is its closest ally in the mix, I think it deserves a separate category. Developing a creative concept, whether for a single visual or catch-phrase, or a full-on campaign, should not be an afterthought, even in PA. For starters, the process should involve multiple iterations, concepts should be underpinned by data, and they should be tested. And although process can’t produce creativity, organizations should have a method, from how they structure a creative team through to how they brainstorm, plan and implement.
Intelligence beyond monitoring
Although not detailed in the visual above, intelligence in PA should go beyond monitoring, which has tended to be the core of the offering. Granted, it remains key, but the multiple new tools and methods we have at our disposal to collect and break down data can provide ammunition for the PA professional, from influencer identification through to identifying data that will enable tailoring of message almost per single audience member (e.g. data specific to a decision-maker’s constituency?)
May 8, 2013
Mildly pretentious and righteous mini-rant coming up.
Scores of PA professionals are creative now, it appears, given that they film talking heads or ask a designer to decipher some data and represent it in visual format.
There’s a discrepancy between creativity and publishing in content formats that traditional audiences aren’t accustomed to, however.
By all means, experiment with new content formats, but creativity doesn’t lie in format, but rather, in developing a smart, relevant, snappy, memorable, thought-provoking and possibly funny (depending on the subject matter) creative concept. If it’s good, it can be translated into whatever format you want, whether in written, spoken or visual form.
In short, the creative process is not deciding on a content format, but rather, developing a creative concept, and it will likely be a lengthy, arduous and frustrating process.
April 23, 2013
Clearly this is tongue in check, messaging is useful; but it’s not the be-all and end-all:
- It’s often not used although organisations spend ages developing the messages
- It needs to change every few months
- It’s often often based on what organisations want to say rather than what others want to hear, which in the age of social media and 24 hr news cycles makes little sense
Sure, develop messages, but don’t obsess, and more importantly, ensure processes and resourcing are able to deal with a far more fluid communications reality.
April 2, 2013
In short, we all know reputation matters in Public Affairs, but there are multiple potential scenarios at play: some PA professionals struggle with reputational issues yet only have a PA remit, others can do more far-reaching reputation management beyond Brussels, while others have an excellent commercial reputation which they need to “translate” for a Brussels audience. And within each scenario, there are many nuances: trade association vs. company, for instance.
I ended up focusing on principles and ideas applicable across the board, but shied away from real “reputation management” seen as an exercise beyond mere communications. I also presented a few findings from Fleishman-Hillard’s imminent Authenticity Gap study, which compares how industries are expected to perform vs. how they actually do perform across nine drivers of reputation. Any questions, fire away.
March 19, 2013
Even just a couple of years ago, a fair few people in the Brussels bubble were getting excited about the prospect of online grassroots campaigning.
Their logic was as follows:
- Regulation increasingly reflects public sentiment
- Public sentiment lives beyond the bubble
- Being able to showcase public support in member states is thus key to success
- However, building, showcasing and/or somehow aggregating support is very difficult
- The web is by nature cross-border and quick: a silver bullet for mobilisation, surely
The concept is no longer in vogue, given that, clearly, it was highly unrealistic in the first place: the assumption amongst a fair few PA pros was that there are people out there willing to be mobilised on any issue overnight as long as you looked hard enough.
This ignores the following:
- Many organizations are either too unpopular or too obscure to rack up support overnight
- Many regulatory issues are highly technical, making it difficult to create a “narrative” that makes mobilisation realistic
- What’s more, even with suitable issues, many decisions will likely be based on consensus rather than who has most friends, especially if the Commission is the key player, making the whole premise pointless in the first place
BUT (and it’s a large BUT) that’s not to say there aren’t instances where it can be very valuable to showcase support or that it can’t ever work:
- It can if the issue has a very clear public interest angle and the EP is a key player e.g. see the recent fish discards campaigns
- Clearly, if an organization is popular, it’d be easier to drum up support
- And in some cases, mobilisation can even work for an unpopular or obscure organization if it goes about it sensibly i.e. keeping expectations realistic and giving it time; and usually focusing on a single key constituency, rather than “general public”
As a side-note, personally, I’m pleased people aren’t seeing it as a silver bullet any longer. On one level, it shows we’re moving from hype to maturity. On another, it means investments in digital PA are being funneled into areas where it is more likely to provide a real benefit, such as analytics, content strategy and search.
March 17, 2013
I’m running a session on reputation this week at the Public Affairs Action Day and although it’s a subject I’ve been dealing with for years, I’m always slightly unsure of how to approach it in a Brussels context.
The starting point we can all agree upon: companies’ and industries’ reputation beyond Brussels is increasingly having an impact on what happens within the bubble.
That’s easy enough, yet the Brussels-based PA professional faces 1 of 3 fairly different scenarios:
- Scenario 1: Poor company/industry reputation but reputation is owned and done (if at all) by someone far from Brussels (and the 2-person Brussels team is overworked as it is)
- Scenario 2: Poor company/industry reputation but Brussels owns (or is a major player) in how reputation is defined and managed
- Scenario 3: Good company/industry reputation to harness in Brussels
Clearly, there are multiple nuances within each scenario e.g. a company can have a better reputation than its industry or vice-versa. Alternatively, a company can have a great reputation full stop, while others have a sound commercial reputation yet are unpopular among regulators (think certain tech giants).
Although there’s always plenty of overlap, each scenario necessitates a different emphasis by PA pros:
- Scenario 1: Here you’re not really doing reputation management in the traditional sense, but rather, tackling reputational issues in your Public Affairs work
- Scenario 2: Is the nuts and bolts of reputation management i.e. ambitious, involving multiple stakeholders and multi-disciplinary (communications and beyond, ideally right to the core of how a business operates)
- Scenario 3: Will centre on strategies that “translate” a great reputation into a narrative that carries weight with decision-makers and will likely involve mobilising or at least harnessing the people that have meant a company/industry has a good reputation in the first place
The conundrum is: do I do all 3 or just focus on scenario 1, which is the most common? My current thinking is probably doing all 3 but with more emphasis on 1.
December 31, 2012
To anyone who hasn’t seen (or indeed heard of) Borgen, you’re missing out. Think The West Wing but better: the characters are utterly compelling yet not all exactly the same in all but appearance like on TWW (where everyone is bright and fast-talking yet quirky, high-strung and useless at personal relationships). Plus it lacks the syrupy ick moments featured frequently on TWW.
Its unbridled excellence got me thinking: what could Public Affairs practitioners in Brussels learn from Birgitte, Kasper, Bent et al?
Reflect public sentiment
Duh. PM Nygaard succeeds when her views are somewhat reflective of prevailing public sentiment. However many times they fail, some Public Affairs practitioners still believe in wars of attrition: say it enough times and you’ll wear them out and win. Doesn’t work that way: you need to show your world-view is the prevailing one – or at least that you’re moving towards it – not just repeat insular clap-trap a thousand times.
Put yourself about
Whenever our heroes need to win an argument, they raise the noise levels and put themselves about, usually starting with a feature interview on the fictitious TV1. Public Affairs folk take note: don’t hide in case you put a foot wrong, or think everything is decided face-to-face. Get out there.
In Public Affairs, things are often put off, even when the legislative calendar makes it pretty clear when stuff should happen: “we need to consult everyone before we decide on anything: we’ll do so at the next meeting” (in 3 months’ time). In Borgen, Birgitte and her band of merry men and women meet at any time, day or night, and put a plan into action there and then.
Express emotion not “messages”
God I’m tired of “messaging”. Birgitte doesn’t always need it, why should we? She often wins by talking from her gut and showing emotion.
Hire smart communications people
Kasper, the brilliant sidekick, is a comms guy. He gets policy inside out but his job is to package it. In Public Affairs, comms is frequently treated like an afterthought or left to the most junior person in the room (if they even get into the room in the first place). Big mistake.
Leave the Bubble
In an early episode, Birgitte visits Greenland, and only then truly understands the issues facing it. Who says Public Affairs folk can’t leave Brussels once in a while and visit local communities, factories, trade unions, churches, farms etc. and get a sense of real world issues?
Work with opponents
Our crafty protagonists will often work out deals with parties or individuals that in no way share their world-view in order to get things done. In Public Affairs, we often refuse outright to even acknowledge the other side, let alone work with them on compromise measures. More of it please.