Why the Brussels PA bubble isn't embracing the web

gorilla1Smug online consultants in Brussels (and elsewhere no doubt) are constantly saying that traditional communicators are not embracing the web because they just “don’t get it.” What a load of tosh. However, web uptake has been slow, but it’s not because thousands of smart people have suddenly gone dim. Sure, plenty think that the web isn’t important because “MEPs don’t use it” or “surely only lonely teens use Facebook” etc. However, they’re not in the majority.

Instead, I’d split the majority of web naysayers into three groups:

1. The people who generally don’t value campaigning. Those who think all decision-making takes place in cramped offices with key stakeholders while everybody else is happily getting on with their lives with little knowledge or interest in complex matters of politics. These people “don’t get it” more broadly: they think comms plays second fiddle; they split PA professionals and communicators into two different camps and consider the former far more important (and clever no doubt.) Are these people dumb? Generally not. Their model has worked for decades and I’m sure backroom dealing is still the most important tactic out there, especially for issues that haven’t made it into a pressure group’s in-tray.

2. An extension of the first point – let’s be honest, there are people who don’t really need the web. The experts whose job it is to really explain the nitty-gritty of policy to legislators. They still make up the majority of communicators in Brussels and they’re pretty essential.

3. Those who appreciate the value of the web in communications terms but can’t see the ROI (i.e. primarily the agencies). The thinking here is: “I can charge 100K for an event but Twitter is free. It’s a no brainer.” They’ve got a point, and until they’ve got clients that will happily pay for events and see more value in a trade-press article than a blogger relations campaign, they’ll stick to it. And rightly so. They’ve got a business to run, after all.  Two points I’d make though. First, mastering the web is difficult: selling really competent web strategy, putting together the pieces, mapping online conversations and how to react to and shape them (and so on) doesn’ t come cheap. And as for billable hours, sure, setting up a Twitter account is quick and easy, but following conversations, engaging in them, producing content for multiple platforms, engaging with bloggers etc. takes a lot of time! Second, you’ve got the risk of the client one day saying: my competitor is doing really good work online, why aren’t we? What do we do? You want to be proactive now rather than reactive later.

What’s my vision? The scenario is really not a showdown of traditional vs. modern models. They key lies in integration of all tactics in the most suitable manner considering an organisation’s communications objectives. However, I do think any approach should embrace the web, whether its simply the place where information is centralised and made easily obtainable for all stakeholders; or the focal point of an engagement approach in which an organisation seeks to listen and engage in wider debates that can ultimately dictate the pace and nature of regulation (or ideally both…)

The said model has worked for decades and I’m sure backroom dealing is still by far the most important tactic out there, especially for issues that haven’t made it into a pressure group’s in-tray.

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