Dodgy to amazing: where do Brussels communicators lie?

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.

  Dodgy Half decent Good Amazing
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

Thoughts welcomed.


2 thoughts on “Dodgy to amazing: where do Brussels communicators lie?”

  1. Interesting ideas.
    The next level from here i think is figuring out what % of Brussels organisations fall into which category. My personal guess would be that your ‘Dodgy’ category would be about 70% of them. Certainly, ‘the intern does it’ would ring true in offices across Brussels.

  2. Steffen,

    A good post that breaks out some of the key questions all those who claim to practice public affairs in Brussels (not just those who categorise themselves as communications people) should be asking themselves.

    I think however that’s part of the issue – my usual rant, stop reading now if you’ve heard this before – I’m afraid that trad p.a. people tend to dismiss comms as fluffy (as it’s not overly concerned about the details of policy) and leave it at that. However, the tendency to focus on policy for its own sake means that they forget that while helping others understand policy is one part of their job the other part is to move the needle on it. To do so requires communications. Yes, that meeting they just attended is ‘communications’ too but relying on meeting people for every policy issue means you’re unlikely to be as effective as you could be in your job.

    To get over what I can only think is a mental barrier, I’m of the belief we simply need to rebrand ‘comms’ to ‘public affairs’ in this market and stop drawing any distinction whatsoever between the two. Only when all of what you talk about above becomes understood as part of what we do in our day job will the public affairs professional be actually good at what he or she is supposed to do. Audience centric, tactic agnostic is the way to go.


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