A colleague and I were recently discussing what organisations operating in Brussels look for in agencies in pitches, and we both agreed that the one thing we hear the most from their side is this: “we want the agency to understand our issues REALLY well.”
I wonder though: clearly, it’s absolutely key when an organisation is looking for policy counsel and support on other core government relations activities. However, they’re saying the same thing when they’re asking for help in areas like positioning and pan-European awareness raising.
Does a detailed understanding of the pertinent issues and industry matter as much as expertise in the relevant fields of communication (campaigning, branding, positioning etc.) I’d say no: if they’re looking for help in getting stakeholder group X in Greece and Finland to wake up and smell the coffee, who ultimately cares about Regulation Y. Surely an understanding of how to identify, target and engage audiences in far-flung places matters more?
Then again, it’s only natural that government relations professionals in Brussels see things through their prism: when their consultants speak their language, they feel more comfortable when judging them; more so than they do when they are recommending a programme that encompasses areas of communication which Brussels folk have managed to steer clear of for so long.
The challenge is for consultants to not simply frown and grumble in unison – “they don’t get it” – and instead improve the sell. Clearly demonstrate value: develop insights based on real facts and figures e.g. break-down audiences in Greece and Finland and determine what message, and who and what channel, is likely to reach them. Use case studies. And most of all, show them how you’ll make it happen, clearly, and step by step. This latter point is crucial: if people are out of their comfort zone, the best thing you can do is reassure them by demonstrating that you have what it takes to guide them, and not make it appear too complicated.