Posts filed under ‘corporate communications’

FH Podcast: Alumni series – exploring PA #1 – Barry Lynham, Knauf

Lots of smart and interesting people have worked for FH Brussels over the years. Many of them are still here, but some have moved on. Over the next few months we’ll be chatting to a few of the people who fall under the latter, to explore how the practice of communications, especially PA, differs depending on the nature of the organisation, and how PA has developed over the years, in Brussels and beyond.

First up, we talk to Barry Lynham, who left FH in 2003 and went on to run an art gallery before joining Knauf insulation as Head of Public Affairs for Europe. In this podcast, he enthusiastically tells us how in-house and agency differ, how PA has become a more complex discipline over the years, and how the PA model needs to move on from Brussels-centricity to be truly effective.

Click here to listen to this edition of the podcast.*

Click here to subscribe to the FH Europe podcast on iTunes.

* If using Internet Explorer, you may have to right-click on the link and save target as, then play the saved file by double clicking it.


November 30, 2011 at 12:53 pm 1 comment

Reviewing our MEP digital trends survey: what it means for the PA professional

We recently published our 2nd survey on the online habits of Members of the European Parliament, looking at how MEPs use the Internet to communicate with constituents and other interested parties, and to inform themselves on policy matters. A few weeks back we analysed reasons for and consequences of MEPs’ use of social networks and blogging. This time, we’ll look at what the figures mean for the Public Affairs professional operating in Brussels.

1. Content strategy

It’s a given that MEPs use the web to conduct research and inform their thinking on issues e.g. 80% visit interest group sites every week. However, for the PA professional, it’s not just about sticking information on a site and assuming they’ll all come flooding.

There’s an overload of information available online and you’ll need to cut through the clutter. However, as PA professionals we’ve too often been so smug as to think that the tenets of good communications strategy – analysing audiences, testing messages, developing a content strategy – should be left to corporate communicators and marketers.

Absolutely not: provide dull content and assume MEPs will be interested at your peril. For instance, 80% of MEPs look for summaries online – more than those who look for position papers – so your content strategy may want to look at how to present key information in a more digestible manner, perhaps using video or info-graphics even. Likewise, what’s the public profile of your issue: is it a technical under-the-radar issue? In that case, technical argumentation works. Is your issue high-profile? In that case, you’ll need to show you’re aligned with broader opinion and make your content more “value” based i.e. more real stories, less facts and figures.

In terms of channels, more MEPs appreciate issue-specific websites than organisation websites (80% vs. 75%) so perhaps rather than looking at building a single site where you centralise all your content you might want to adopt a more scattered approach where you build issue-specific microsites and bring them together on your main site? Perhaps you might want to blog?

Then there’s Wikipedia, which needs to be incorporated in any content strategy (78% of MEPs visit Wikipedia every week.) Do you know what’s on all relevant Wikipedia pages? Are there Wikipedia pages which don’t yet exist which you could develop?

2. Driving traffic

99% of MEPs use search engines every week, 93% of them every day. Google especially is the gateway to content online. Step nr 1 to ensure that you have a presence when MEPs look up your issue is the content bit above. Next in line, you’ll need to think of search, which involves search engine marketing in the short term (e.g. Google AdWords) and Search Engine Optimisation in the longer term (i.e. making sure you appear high up in organic search.)

There are scores of other ways to drive traffic, from advertising on social networks (e.g. Facebook ads) to banner advertising on 3rd party sites (e.g. local news sites).

The best way is to produce compelling content which others are willing to spread for you (make it easy for them from the off e.g. send to a friend and Tweet functions next to your content.) Sometimes the content isn’t enough and you’ll need to develop campaigns, small and large, based around a campaign concept and a campaign “driver” (e.g. a competition?) which results in traffic if done well.

But always start with search.

3. Increasingly, you’ll want to engage and build relationships with MEPs (and others) online

The holy grail is direct interaction with MEPs (and their influencers) via channels such as Twitter, and this trend is on the up given that 69% of MEPs use social networks (mainly Facebook) and 34% are on Twitter. However, these figures need to be taken with a pinch of salt. MEPs might use the tools, but that doesn’t mean they engage and listen to what anyone tells them. Likewise, they might listen to constituents but not others. But certainly, the trend is for more of them to engage and listen: in a recent interview we published on this blog, Ryan Heath, Neelie Kroes’ Social Media Manager, outlines how eager he and Neelie are eager to receive valuable input via Twitter and yet PA professionals are often absent from the conversations.

The best way to start is to map the players, MEPs and beyond, and determine how they use social media and networks. Based on that, develop an engagement approach. Most importantly, develop reciprocal relationships: in return for attention you should be providing insight and content, not just you blurting out messaging.

4. No it’s not all moved online: integration is key

Let’s not get too caught up in the excitement. By all means, the web is essential, and will only grow in prominence. However, traditional channels remain core e.g. 95% of MEPs visit online versions of traditional newspapers several times a week whilst personal contact is also valued by 95%.

Direct advocacy and media relations won’t be replaced any time soon and remain key to any communication strategy in the Public Affairs realm. Having said that, the manner in which MEPs and their influencers take in information is so varied that ubiquity becomes essential: being present not in one or two channels, but five or six.

5. Beyond the bubble

Yes, events beyond the bubble have always mattered, especially at constituency level, but information transfer and exchange is so quick that an organisation’s broader reputation matters in the Public Affairs space more so than has ever been the case before. When 99% of MEPs look up your issue online, they may find good content you’ve produced, but if the other content all addresses a recent crisis half way across the world, it won’t matter. Meaning what? Get out of your PA comfort zone and think reputation; speak to the marketers, your brand people and the corporate communicators, because the disciplines are increasingly intertwined.

As ever, if there’s anything you’d like to add or remark on, please speak up in the comments below. Thanks.


March 21, 2011 at 9:16 pm 3 comments

A selection of recent posts on FH blogs

In my post A quick tour through the FH blogosphere, I shared some articles from other FHers writing on their own or team blogs. Here’s what some of them have been up to so far this year.

First of all we start by welcoming back James Stevens to Brussels. Having originally pioneered this blog back in the day, James has been in the Washington DC office for the past year and writing his own blog Bubble to Beltway. Here is his last post about the influence of interest groups in the legislative process and how more measurement is needed in Public Affairs – What I want is more data.

Which ties nicely with another colleague concerned with measurement from across the pond: Don Bartholomew, or MetricsMan, writes an excellent summary of the lessons learned in social media for 2011. Not strictly PA, but knowing what to measure in the digital realm is absolutely essential whatever the communications discipline, so definitely worth a read.

Steffen writes about reaching decision makers online, outlines ten key points that resonate with audiences when he presents on digital and PA to various audiences, and describes why campaigning more widely than the government relations comfort zone is important in a post entitled Campaigning to achieve PA goals, pay heed to the constituent consumer.

Outside the communications and public affairs arena, Michael Berendt gives his perspective on current affairs, specifically how Libya’s fate will have a major impact on Europe.

And of course I cannot sign off without welcoming FH Amsterdam to the blogging fold. They have been going for a couple of months now, writing about the digital and public affairs intersection. Definitely worth the Google translate!


March 16, 2011 at 11:59 am Leave a comment

To Twitter or not to Twitter: use of digital tools in public affairs

Last week saw Fleishman-Hillard host a panel debate on the use of digital tools in public affairs and politics at the European Public Affairs Action Day. The videos of the contribution of our three speakers (Alexander Alvaro MEP, Pat Cleary of FH DC and Mark Redgrove of Orgalime) are now available on our YouTube channel here.

Here is the contribution of Alexander Alvaro MEP in two parts. The Q&A session of the panel discussion will be uploaded in coming days.


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December 9, 2009 at 11:53 am 3 comments

Why don’t you picket a politician today?

During our European digital ambassadors meeting in Milan last week we spent two days exchanging notes on some of the cool new trends in the online space. These included augmented reality (digital car races on a pizza box anyone?) and Google Wave (collaborative computing that could be very useful indeed for all of us) among others. However, amongst the delights of the internet future to come one new tool stuck out that could prove to be a pain for both politicians and companies. It’s called Sidewiki and its brought to us – as with most cool things on the internet these days – by Google.

If you, like me, are new to Sidewiki here’s a brief overview that summises my understanding. It’s a tool you can add to your Google Toolbar on either Firefox or Internet Explorer, but strangely not Google’s Chrome. Users of the Sidewiki with a gmail account can choose to add commentary to webpages they are visiting. Commentary from individuals is pushed up to the top of the list depending on relevance and popularity (users can like or dislike). Despite the label ‘wiki’ it does not appear to have a group editing function to moderate spurious content.  Google acts as moderator for the comments and will take down comments that are flagges as inappropriate (fingers crossed). The commentary is held with Google, not on the website you’re visiting. Sounds neat. But think about it. Anyone with a Google account can tip up to your website and leave a comment for the world to see, over which you as the owner of the site have no control.

Back in our ultra modern hotel meeting room we were seeking to find an analogy for what this is like. Was it like parking your car on someone else’s front lawn? Perhaps not. After all users of Sidewiki don’t get to post their comments on your website as such. They are all on Google. Our thinking is that it is more akin to a stranger standing in front of your real estate holding a big sign that says that your house has dry rot and there are rats in the basement. Users of Sidewiki have the opportunity to picket any site they fancy.

A quick surf round some familiar sites underlines that, as yet, the use of Sidewiki is yet to catch on a big way. There are a few comments on but by no means a flood. But if it does, what could it mean?

Primarily, you can now challenge others on their turf.  Whichever side of an argument you’re on, now you have the opportunity to go to get your messages/facts directly placed next to the site of those whose argument you are seeking to challenge. And they can do pretty much nothing about it. Imagine an NGO challenging a company’s record on child labour. Now NGO activists can go straight to the website and point out where the corporate spin surpasses fact. Equally NGO group questions the safety of a company’s product? The company can go on the NGO site and directly challenge the science. Clearly tit for tat could ensue. This works both ways after all. But who has the most supporters and the guts to take this to its illogical extreme?

Of course, one could take an optimistic view. These Google folks have just come up with something that will allow us all to read what the community believes to be the truth on any website. Your MP has fiddled his expenses?  Post a link on Sidewiki so even if his party leader forgives him his constituents won’t forget about it. Has your MEP not showed up for months? A running commentary of his attendance record could be added to his sparkling new website. This could be a positive thing! Alas, those with the most extreme views tend to be the most persistent. What if all we get is the popular but wrong view? Nothing would seem to prevent this.

So what to do? Well for me at least, it would appear the only sensible thing to do would be to get in first and then manage the fall out as other join up. For example, others have commented that you can occupy your Sidewiki comments as the owner of the website. This would appear to be soon to become a must for any site. Finally, as Sidewiki commentary would appear to have an impact on search results, managing Sidewiki may become as important as managing Wikipedia. This is likely to be an ongoing process for anyone who cares about their online reputation.


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October 18, 2009 at 10:02 pm 1 comment

Welcome, The Lobby

We welcome another public affairs agency into the blogging world; Grayling EU has launched ‘The Lobby‘.

While possibly mistaken for the title of  John Grisham‘s next book (if only Brussels were so exciting), we eagerly await The Lobby’s contributions to the Brussels Blog-Bubble.

May 11, 2009 at 9:49 am 1 comment

Could you wait while I look for my hearing aid?

Can you Hear Me Europe? Really? That is the best name that MTV could come up with for their European Elections project?

As I noted last week, the campaign is initiated by European Commissioner for Communication Margot Wallström and MTV, who met earlier this week. It has received some press coverage.

I think the campaign’s name is misguided at the least. The Commission’s target of ‘young citizens between 18 and 24’ is the most recalcitrant and rebellious demographic. Their likely response to “Can you hear me Europe?”: No, and I don’t care.

Communications consultants frequently repeat the mantra : Don’t repeat the negative. If you’re writing a letter to the editor, you don’t restate the erroneous claim. If you’re writing a speech, then focus on hope and optimism not doom and gloom. If you name a campaign about voted engagement, don’t highlight the general lack of ‘sound’.

In addition to a Twitter stream, the most visible component right now is a set of faux-home videos in which kids climb up Big Ben, the Eiffel Tower and other monuments and hang speakers. I don’t understand the trend of faux-viral videos. Some group in Brussels did a faux video of Palais de Justice’s dome blowing off, and not even 4,000 people have watched the video. Though I am impressed with the CGI skills.

The ‘keystone’ of this campaign is something called ‘The Shout‘. MTV is inviting everyone in Europe to shout, “Can you hear me Europe?” at 15h30 on April 30. I couldn’t believe it was that simple, but it is.

I can’t help but think of that worn-out quote that it is;  “full of sound and fury; signifying nothing.”

April 10, 2009 at 1:22 pm 3 comments

We twitter on EBS2009, do you dare to care?

A year ago we posted on the European Business Summit 2008 and their use of video and blogs for their event. Well they are back again for another go – blog here and website here – and so are we.

This time we have decided not to comment on their blog, which seems to have more content that last time around, but instead to take up the challenge offered by New Europe this morning and to twitter from Brussels’ premium annual business/policy event. I know, you are about to all enter into existential angst about whether Twitter is a passing fad or actually useful for something. Debate away. However, it’s late and we want to go home. We know it’s working for some of our clients and that’s enough for now.

So if you are really interested (and herein lies the rub of Twitter) in what we think of events at EBS 2009, you can follow us at late next week, hashtag ebs2009 will be used throughout.


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March 18, 2009 at 8:20 pm Leave a comment

Internet has 8 times the influence of newspapers on Europeans

Our digital practice in Europe has recently launched the results of a piece of research conducted in France, Germany and the UK with consumers on the impact of the use of the internet on their decisions. The Digital Influence Index that results uses both the time spent on different media and the influence consumers say it has on the decisions they take to come to an index that we shall be using to track the growing power of the internet over time. The study was undertaken by FH with Harris Interactive.

Unsurprisingly, the study comes to the conclusion that the internet trumps both print and broadcast media in terms of the influence it has on consumer decisions. Clearly, there is a lot more to the study than that, so click here for the social media release with lots of further info, pics, speeches, exec. summaries and media coverage.

While the study focuses for the most part on decisions consumers take, rather than political decisions, it does address the latter. Interestingly our bods come to the conclusion that political decisions by citizens are less likely to be influenced by the internet than other consumer related decisions.

Having said this, it is clear, at least for me, that the study underlines the potential impact of digital on public affairs and politics.

1. The influence of the internet scores highly (61%) in terms of citizen behaviour of campaigning on an issue. This compares favourably to campaiging for a political party (45%) and voting in an election and way above voting in an election (18%). Speculating wildly, one might argue that this confirms the issue driven nature of the internet rather than the party political. This underlines the fact that on our issues, Brussels public affairs people might find rich pickings in finding and mobilising people around issues online. It should be our natural hunting ground for third party advocates. (see p. 11 executive summary)

2. Political parties/candidates need to be on the net. While the influence of the net on votes in elections may be lower than on other forms of political activity (see point 1. above), in terms of influence different kinds of sites have content from “sponsored sites” (i.e. party/candidates) scores highest of all 61% and non-sponsored sites score second highest 42%. (see p.12 executive summary). This suggests that the politically interested are going online to get their information and that more candidates/parties should invest online to get their message out to their core support – more work for Jon perhaps?

We hope to have some more comments from the people behind the research on here soon, in the meantime your views on the findings are most welcome.

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June 30, 2008 at 11:39 am 2 comments

It’s time to go .crazy!

If you have felt a burden upon your shoulders your whole internet-enabled life and it recently seemed to dissipate, leaving you feeling light and free, then Public Affairs 2.0 has just discovered why (thanks, of course, to another blog – Digital Daily). ICANN – the mysterious group who is actually the internet not on computers – has just unrestricted the part of the web address after the dot.

Yes, instead of being limited to .com, .org, .net,, .aero, .info, you can now be .whateveryouwant. Go .crazy!

A note of reassurance to our faithful reader(s): The fee to register a ‘top level domain name’ is in the “low six figure dollar amounts”, so you will not see this blog move to .publicaffairs any time soon.

For companies moving into the digital world, this adds a whole new set of complications. Many people are so accustomed to the .com that they will add this to any web address (e.g. – the .com is unnecessary). So on one hand, there is no immediate reason to use a new domain. On the other hand, it is important for companies to preemptively buy the top level domain name, regardless of their plans to use it, so that they can protect brands. Furthermore, as the use of microsites explodes to deal with specific issues, companies will have the weigh many more options for names.

And for the average web consumer, the new morass of addresses will continue to make the web increasingly confusing. One thing is for sure: we will soon need a new search engine, far smarter than Google, to organise the internet.

June 30, 2008 at 11:03 am Leave a comment

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A blog on politics, policy, public affairs and communications in Brussels and the European Union. The blog is written by the team at Fleishman-Hillard in Brussels. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect those of the company or its clients. You will find the contact details of our team at

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