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.
November 12, 2012
My colleague from Fleishman-Hillard in Washington DC, Bill Black, was in Brussels a couple of weeks ago to host an event on the use of digital in the US presidential campaign. Good thing that Obama was triumphant, given that the presentation centred on extolling the phenomenal development of the digital element of his campaign since the last election. It’s getting less air-time given that it’s so 2008, but certainly, the campaign’s use of data in particular is truly ground-breaking.
I was asked to round off the presentation with a couple of brief insights on how the principles of the campaign could be applied to Brussels. Slightly tricky given the considerable differences in scale, critical mass, funding and the fact that we had people with drastically different communications needs in the room (political parties through to embassies and perm reps through to corporates).
Nonetheless, there were 3 points in Bill’s presentation which are unquestionably applicable to Brussels, which I summarised as follows:
Data can also extremely valuable to a Brussels crowd, albeit usually for a different reason. In the US campaign, as with most large campaigns, the prime purpose of mining data is to understand audiences so as to better target them. In Brussels, in most instances, we know our audiences pretty well, or they’re so small that we can find out about them using more cost effective means (a survey or even just asking them directly). However, exploring and breaking down data can pay great dividends in another way, namely building stronger argumentation.
In short, if you represent the interests of an organisation, country, party, region etc. you can use data collected through various means online to understand the views of people in relevant constituencies, and where relevant, align your position so that it reflects these same views, thus strengthening your case significantly. Too often in Brussels, argumentation is based on assumption, or what you’d like people to hear, or it’s too basic to actually matter. In the private sector, how many organisation, for instance, prattle on about the number of people they employ or the percentage of European GDP they account for?
Instead, imagine you’ve used data to determine – hypothetically – that there are 3,000 people in constituency X who have voiced support for you or are likely to support your position, proven through data indicating what these people have said, published, read and shared. I’m sure some people concerned with privacy will shudder, but there’s sure no better argument winner. In addition, analysing a broader set of stakeholders through data can help identify influencers beyond traditional stakeholder groups.
Smarter about content
Old news no doubt but still worth emphasising: with the mass of information being published, being more personal, conversational and publishing material in a variety of attractive, relevant and concise content types is essential if you wish to break through the clutter. This as ever remains a message worth repeating in Brussels, where we remain enthralled by the highly cerebral, overly detailed report or paper as the sole publication type worth thinking about.
Getting senior people involved in social
Again, hardly rocket science, but an interesting insight from the election. The likes of Axelrod were far more involved in social media this time around than in 2008, and this resulted in more stuff being shared and spread. To be frank, although social media lowers the barrier to entry to communications, often allowing people who are smart and interesting yet not high in the food chain to gain an audience, the fact remains that high-profile people usually carry more immediate clout when engaged in communications. This is a valuable lesson to the organisations in Brussels, both public and private, who farm off social media to the intern or even a 3rd party, when ideally, the figureheads of an organisation should at least be somewhat involved.
August 10, 2012
I recently helped a client develop a framework that defines multiple phases of development in digital comms, broadly and in specific disciplines (e.g. content marketing, social media or search, for instance). The thinking is that it’ll show where the organisation currently lies and where it ultimately wants to get to – a very useful exercise indeed.
For my own amusement (I’m that sad) I’ve drawn up a simple (and slightly sardonic) grid for communications and communicators in Brussels
NB: I treat comms and policy work – i.e. traditional advocacy – as separate activities given that it’s usually how they’re approached in Brussels. The pedant in me would say advocacy is just one channel in an organisation’s communications suite.
|Mind-set||Comms is for idiots who don’t get policy||We understand the value of comms in informing traditional policy audiences||We appreciate the value of comms in shifting the pin in Brussels and beyond, which in turn can affect policy-land||Comms will be as important – often more important – than traditional advocacy, if it isn’t so already|
|Brussels bubble||Nothing matters outside Brussels||Sometimes stuff outside matters, but we tend to ignore it||Stuff outside matters, and we work actively with people at national level||We make no distinction between Brussels and national level interests when necessary|
|Structure for communications||No structure (or the intern does it all)||Mid-level comms manager and limited support||Senior level comms manager and good support||Senior level comms manager fully integrated in organisation’s leadership|
|Channel strategy||Comms = press releases to the entire Brussels press corp||Mainly owned and earned media (e.g. events, website, newsletters, media relations that isn’t spray and pray)||Full array of channels (paid, earned, shared and owned media) i.e. include more marketing and social media||Full array of channels, part of a single overarching strategy, fully integrated|
|Integration with traditional advocacy||There’s policy work, then separately from that we’ll do a press release when we host an event||We have our basic positions available publicly but don’t update regularly||We regularly communicate around our policy work in all comms channels||Policy work and comms are fully aligned|
|Targeting||“Decision makers and the general public” i.e. no idea who we’re talking to and why||We have given serious thought to who we’re talking to and why but don’t have data||We did some initial analysis (polling, focus groups, interviews) to understand our audience||We did initial analysis and do ongoing tracking based on specific KPIs to make sure our comms is always relevant|
|Content production||What’s content?||Regular content updates, but ad hoc and limited senior level input||Regular scheduled content updates, some senior input||Very regular scheduled content. Senior expertise apparent in all content items|
|Measurement||Huh?||Basic KPIs for core activities measured manually or with basic tools e.g. media coverage, event attendance, website hits – but tracking without consequences||KPIs for an array of activities and use data to inform future comms activity||KPIs for an array of activities and use data to inform comms activity AND overall strategy|
Forrester’s Social Technographics Profile Tool is superb; take a look if you haven’t previously. In short, it breaks down social users into different categories, ranging from inactives (don’t use social) to creators (produce and publish stuff). The figures can be broken down further by demographic variables (age, sex and location) which makes it useful reading for marketers and communicators. Looking to reach German men in their 30s? Focus on content more than engagement, given that they read lots but don’t like to share and interact. Italians? Go for engagement and even user generated material, cos they love the stuff.
What if we applied a similar model to Brussels, with the following variables:
- Sector/area of expertise (health, financial services, tech, environment, trade etc.)
- Organisation (Commission, Parliament, Council, Perm Rep, in-house, NGO, agency, trade association etc.)
What would we likely learn? No doubt there’s extremes: a southern European male, aged 45-55, specialised in financial services and working in the institutions would likely be an inactive (although there’ll certainly be exceptions). Meanwhile, a young Swede working at an agency on tech issues would probably be at the other end of the spectrum.
But what about the less obvious middle ground? A 40 year old Hungarian working on trade issues at their perm rep? OK the critical mass of data to get that specific would probably be lacking, but as a basic indicator, I think it’d be fascinating nonetheless.