August 25, 2013
A thought raised by a colleague in a meeting earlier this week: “why only show our own case studies? Let’s also showcase the work we wish we’d done.”
I like this. Sure, it’s someone else’s work, but you exhibit the following by showcasing it:
- You’re curious enough to look beyond your own backyard
- You’re humble enough to admit others might have done it better
- You know where to set the bar for excellence (and presumably, it’s the bar for where you want to go)
What’s the work I wish I’d done?
Here’s a start:
June 10, 2013
In government relations, online listening is often only used to conduct traditional media monitoring. I’d argue there are other ways of using online listening platforms that are more directly related to GR activities, such as:
For instance, when looking to carry clout with MEP X, assess the issue, company or sector’s saliency in their constituency by carrying out searches specific to that constituency only. Who is talking about it? What’s trending? What’s the prevailing sentiment? The insights can be used to target more narrowly.
Tracking a select group of online stakeholders vs. key issues
“We only care about max 100 people,” GR professionals will spout: a small hotchpotch of politicians, officials, media, analysts etc. In addition, they only care about the 100’s view on the few issue(s) that matter to the organisation in question. Given this, online listening is deemed too broad to be of interest. In this case, set up alerts to be notified only when any of the 100 mention the organization or any of the issues of interest. It’ll probably only be a few times per day if that, but will allow you to cut through the clutter and pick up highly relevant material only.
Identifying new influencers
Maybe it’s not just 100, but 101? But the 1 you’ve never heard of because they’re a new online influencer based beyond the usual sphere of interest, and yet they’re communicating around your issues and appear to be increasingly influential. Listening platforms will allow you identify them.
Assessing the impact of own activities
By aggregating mentions of terms, online listening platforms can help determine trends over time: people spoke about company X & issue Y this much in June, but less so in July. And so forth. If you’re trying to convince Brussels and a couple of national capitals of something or other through GR, you can track the impact you’re having by measuring trend development even among a highly select group. For instance, you’re spreading “message x” in Brussels and 3 national capitals. Use your platform to track the diffusion of “message x” in Brussels and the 3 national capitals week by week, and only among the select group of stakeholders you care about. And in contrast, track the rise/fall of your opponent’s “message y”.
NB: listening platforms can do lots more, but the thoughts I list relate strictly to supporting the government relations function.
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 to 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 whether 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 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
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.
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.
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 compelling yet not all exactly the same as on TWW i.e. bright and fast-talking yet quirky, high-strung and useless at personal relationships. Plus it lacks the syrupy moments featured too frequently on TWW.
What could Public Affairs practitioners in Brussels learn from Birgitte, Kasper, Bent et al?
Reflect public sentiment
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”
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).
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.
December 30, 2012
The starting point for digital in Public Affairs, and other disciplines no doubt, will often be very tentative: “we’d like a little bit of digital please.” In practice, it may mean no clear strategy, a single channel, one junior person within an organisation given part-time responsibility for it, limited or no input from experienced practitioners and no measurement. Essentially, experimenting to see how it works.
In theory, I agree in taking baby steps and seeing how it works as it’s a good way of getting people started when they might otherwise never do so, but the fact of the matter is, doing it small means it probably won’t work.
Set up Twitter but tweet infrequently, set up a LinkedIn Group and expect external members to do all the work, have a new site but don’t promote it, have a new site but don’t update it, produce one great piece of content but don’t follow up, do one channel when your audience is on three, monitor social media but don’t respond? These are all examples of doing it small.
Would you get an intern to write a position paper in a day? Organise an event but not get good speakers? Build a coalition but never meet? Monitor political developments but ignore one of the institutions? Probably not.
Doing digital with no clear strategy – i.e. no reason other than “we should be doing this” – and no real resource commitment is essentially the same thing as any of the examples above, and thus a waste of time if not a ticking time-bomb.
Having said all that, I’d still recommend it as a means of at least getting people started, but insisting strongly on the following: “this is just a start, don’t expect much, to reap the rewards you should be doing more.”
December 14, 2012
Interesting thought emanating from a recent conversation: Public Affairs is probably the communications discipline that more than any other is tactic-centric. Meaning that in PA, you can propose all manner of tactics without much research or strategy, and people might not notice.
This may sound trite, but it’s probably because Public Affairs can sound clever even when overly tactical, while in other disciplines, that’s not so much the case. If you’re selling cereal and you state “let’s set up a Facebook page” without having done your homework other than knowing your target demographic is on Facebook, you’ll rightly be told off.
However, if you’re trying to defend a cereal manufacturer’s ingredient from regulation and you know the institutions’ calendar inside out and who sits in the relevant committees, simply putting together a set of meetings sounds more clever than “let’s do Facebook” although it really isn’t.
Clearly, I’m over-simplifying to prove a point – Public Affairs servicing usually involves far more than a meeting programme – but you get the gist.
November 23, 2012
Although it can be extremely effective at driving traffic and raising awareness of one’s activity, we often scoff at advertising in Public Affairs, usually for one of more of these reasons:
- We know our audiences so why advertise?
- Advertising is not targeted enough
- Advertising is too expensive and we can’t control what we spend
- Advertising can sell detergent but our clever audiences would never fall for advertising
Each is tosh:
- We hardly ever know everyone in our target audience anymore: as the scope of Public Affairs becomes increasingly broad, so does the set of people we need to reach and convince.
- As uncomfortable as it may make some people, advertising can be very targeted. In particular, online advertising, which allows one to target via variables such as where people live or what sector they work in, as long as they themselves have provided the information (e.g. Facebook or LinkedIn ads) or what they look up online (e.g. Google AdWords).
- No, it’s not necessarily expensive. Many people’s advertising paradigm is TV, which obviously is very expensive. But delivering a thousand clicks to a website via a social network can be dirt cheap. And you need only pay per click and can cap spending.
- “Our clever audiences never fall for advertising.” Again, this is the TV paradigm. In online advertising, as well as much offline advertising, you’re not trying to drip-feed your brand to unknowing consumers who will soon worship it: you’re only trying to drive someone somewhere else, where yes, perhaps you may try to convince them of something or other.