Being an online communications consultant in Brussels: annoying conversations

These aren’t transcripts of conversations I’ve had, by any means, but not too far off.

Co = consultant   Cl = client (existing or prospective)

1. Being an online comms agency/consultant

  • Cl: Could you build this cool new flashy online gimmick for us please?
  • Co: Why? What are you selling? Whose opinion are you trying to shift? Who are you mobilising? Where does this fit in?
  • Cl: Ummm. I just want the gimmick. You’re an online agency/consultant, right?
  • Co: Yes, but we should figure out what we’re trying to do first, then think about the tools later.
  • Cl: But I’ve got a proper agency that charges €900 an hour to do strategy. Can you not just build the gimmick?
  • Co: …. (lost for words).

2. What’s the point of campaigning?

  • Cl: We’ve got a really contentious issue, but we should own it. We’re doing the right thing, we’re safe, we provide jobs and growth, we’re cutting edge.
  • Co: But politicians are screwing you?
  • Cl: They know we’re right, they’ve told us so. But the issue is super political they say. The public thinks we’re scum because pressure group X has done a really good job and the media has eaten it up. They need to keep their constituents happy. Politics, what can you do?
  • Co: Shouldn’t you campaign..?
  • Cl: No we lobby. We don’t need to campaign: we know all the relevant legislators and other stakeholders, so they know where we stand already.
  • Co: Clearly that’s not working though. Why not mobilise people in your industry? Answer people’s questions, alleviate their concerns? Try to shift the debate? Use the web more: why not bring all your arguments, 3rd party endorsements and relevant external content together in one place online and market it heavily to constituents?
  • Cl: Ummm. I told you, we don’t need to show politicians our arguments. They know them already. And anyway, politicians aren’t on Facebook (snigger, snigger).
  • Co: …. (lost for words).

8 thoughts on “Being an online communications consultant in Brussels: annoying conversations”

  1. Your second point sounds all too familiar Steff. Hope you feel better for getting that one off your chest. It does beggar belief that the vast majority of lobbies that I hear about, still think that politics and legislation is only offline and behind closed doors; far too important and complicated for online channels. Meanwhile the EU institutions visitors who came to our Pesticide Information blog stayed on the site three times longer than other visitors (Google Analytics). Good content from respected sources is key in political campaigning.

    EU institutions are most definitely online and reading the content that is available on their political issues. So if you are a lobby and are not online, that is your loss.

  2. Thanks for your comment Helen.

    True, very true. They’re online, and if not, their assistants are, or the people who write for their favourite newspapers are.

    Most bizarre though is that some organisations overlook the importance of campaigning – whether online or offline. By providing excellent, accessible, engaging content; arguing their points honestly, openly and convincingly; and engaging against their “opponents”, they could over time shift opinion and in turn the legislative environment. That’s the clincher.

    In truth, lobbying probably remains the most important tactic, and I’d admit that in some cases there is actually no real public debate, so shifting opinions isn’t as important as sitting down with decision-makers. But in many cases where the issues are more contentious (like those you work on), engaging in public debate whether on or offline is arguably far more important than straight lobbying.

  3. Yes that’s very true about overlooking campaigning. But it’s not bizarre, there’s a couple of good reasons for it:

    – lobbies are dominated by traditional regulation experts & ex-technical industry people,
    – the communication staff in lobbies often have a political and European studies education rather than a training in communications or marketing.

    Neither are campaigners.

    Therefore both of the above lead to a great deal of knowledge and understanding of the workings of the EU institutions but can also bring a blind spot to other ways to influence.

    1. Yes you’re right – there’s plenty of communications professionals who actually want to do hard-core regulation and are given the comms gig as a stepping stone, as if it were that easy. No offence to them – it’s the culture of their organisations that’s at fault. It implies that they think communications is easier than mastering an issue and arguing about the nitty-gritty of directives. Arguably, I’d say building a full integrated communications strategy in which advocacy is just a tool is arguably far more complex.

      Having said that, I don’t want to label everyone in Brussels as misguided and oblivious to campaigning! That’d be unfair. The majority of organisations – yours too – employ a suitable mix of tactics to inform stakeholders and in turn influence the debate and reach decision-makers!

  4. Hi Steffen,

    I completely agree with your first point. Although I did myself call for more hi-tech PR tools and strategies on the Brussels scene in a recent post, there has to be serious thought behind any ‘flashy gimmick’ is implemented, whether for lobbying or campaigning purposes.

    Being based in the UK, while working for a Bxl based client, do you see a big difference between Brussels and where you are (London?) in terms of comms strategies and tools? Would be interested to hear your views.


  5. Hi Emil,

    To be honest, I’ve never worked for a London agency, so I can’t give a definitive answer. Based on word of mouth and what I read I’d say the big agencies (H&K, BM etc) have real digital “hubs” in London that are only matched by some of the big US HQs. In addition, there are plenty of good agencies that actually specialise in digital e.g. We are Social, Speed, Berkeley, so that helps to set the pace for other more traditional agencies to play catch-up.

    However, I’m not convinced that the H&Ks and all applying everything they’re learning in PR to PA, so in that way London is a lot like Brussels, but I may very well be wrong.


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