Posts filed under ‘EP Digital Trends Study’

What does best in class public affairs look like?

Last week I came up with some top line thoughts on what a best in class public affairs function looks like in a Brussels context. I’ve based it on my experience in the market over the last decade. For some I am hoping it’s blindingly obvious, but I think it’s a point of view that could serve as a useful refresher of where we all want to be.

In summary it is something along the lines of proactive, externally focused and all about measurable outcomes. Being a consultant I felt obliged to develop a bit more than a sentence. Hence the nine things that I think effective public affairs functions do well:

1. Provide insights

The only thing public affairs functions have to make their case is the insights that they bring. Best in class public affairs functions have ready access to data, examples, and thoughts and are able to turn these into insights that are timely, relevant and useful for policymakers and wider stakeholders who are figuring out public policy. These folks are of course intelligent beings and will listen to others (with different facts, data, and thoughts) before making up their own minds.

2. Focus on policy formulation

Effective public affairs functions focus on the policy formulation stage more often than not rather than the legislative phase. Once the proposal is out you’re playing at the margins. Not where best in class finds itself that often (see this post on why successful public affairs should be like a Tom Cruise movie).

3. Develop solutions

Successful public affairs functions look to bring solutions to policymakers for the challenges that European society faces. Saying no aint an option, saying this is a more effective way to get to where we all want to be may well be.   

4. Conduct dialogue

Top of the class functions also have the mandate within their own organizations to be able to work on solutions with policymakers and stakeholders, even if their own position is not 100% defined. Policymaking is a process, if you can only start and end with the same position and all you can do is repeat it you’re of little use to all concerned once they’ve read your position paper.

5. Integrate all forms of communications

World class public affairs functions have the mandate and expertise to use all forms of communications in a public affairs context, from media and online to third party mobilization and one-on-one meetings. As our EP Digital Trends survey has shown, the folks you’re seeking to talk to get their information from all sorts of places (as you and everyone else on the planet does). The best in class public affairs functions get this and don’t see their role as restricted to one tactic (meeting people) but focus on how best to achieve the outcome.

6. Remain connected internally

Great public affairs functions are connected within their business in order to get the insights needed to create useful policy thoughts. They also have a functioning public affairs network across European countries that can do all of the other eight points– after all the position of one half of our legislature and much more besides is actually decided in national capitals.

7. Seek out partners

Brussels is based on consensus. As such, to be on top of your game you’re going to have to be able to find and motivate partners within industry, civil society and elsewhere of the merits of your insights and the solution you’re proposing.

8. Value reputation

Best in class functions are part of businesses that care about what they do and care about what people say about what they do. While the strategic direction of an organization is not normally decided by its public affairs function and the value that an organization places on the external world depends on many factors, I think effective functions bring the outside inside and can be an agent for change within their own organizations as much as outside it.

9. Provide value to the business

Really great public affairs functions are relevant to their businesses. What they do is relevant, timely and useful to the continued success of their organizations. What the EP Committee said today was really interesting to EU geeks like us, but a best in class function is able to say why it’s important for their organization, what impact it’s likely to have going forward and what they’re going to do about it. They answer the “so what” question on a daily basis.

James

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October 24, 2011 at 1:44 pm 4 comments

The MEP survey: six months on

It has been nearly half a year since we published the MEP survey into the digital trends of the European Parliament, looking at how MEPs go about communicating to their constituents and others, and how they conduct their research. The findings remain highly relevant to anyone communicating in the policy arena in Brussels, highlighting in particular the need for integrating online channels with well-trodden offline tactics like face to face meetings and traditional media relations. After all, if half of MEPs are reading blogs every week to research legislative issues then the validity of a  blog seems less questionable. And if 93% use a search engine daily as the starting point for their research, then presence in search engines quickly becomes a “must-have”. Likewise, if two-thirds of MEPs are on social networks, surely it’s worth exploring how to use such tools to provide relevant input and perhaps even engage?

If you wish to revisit the survey or indeed see it for the first time, click here for the full report. Embedded below is a presentation of some of the key findings, and for an analysis of the findings, I’d recommend Steffen’s posts here and here. As ever, if you have any comments and questions, please fire away!

Rosalyn

June 14, 2011 at 11:11 am 1 comment

Why successful public affairs should be a bit like a Tom Cruise film

There’s a moment in the Tom Cruise film ‘Jerry Maguire’ when Jerry (Tom Cruise) comes back to his wife Dorothy (Renee Zellwegger) as she’s complaining about how much she hates men. Before Jerry can launch into his speech about why he loves her and why she should love him, Dorothy stops him and simply says “You had me at hello”. For some reason I was reflecting recently that you’ll know when you’ve been successful in public affairs when the next time your organisation meets a policymaker they behave like Dorothy.

As our EP Digital Trends survey illustrated,  public affairs audiences form views about the challenges that society faces and the way to overcome them through reading newspapers, going online and listening to other important people in their lives (including hopefully the people who elect them). The idea that in a meeting you are suddenly going to transform your audience’s view on an issue is just not realistic. After all, the only tool you have is argument and it’s hard to persuade someone who has already made up their mind that you’re not to be trusted and wrong. Meetings may be part of the process, but you’ll know when you been successful when the meeting begins with a discussion of how the issue can be solved not whether they agree that there’s an issue to solve. To achieve this I’d venture you’re going to have to think about your actions and your reputation, how far what you’re saying is resonating outside that room (in media, online and with others) and whether your audience has already received your message and internalised it before you step in the room.

James

June 7, 2011 at 9:45 am 2 comments

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.

Steffen

March 21, 2011 at 9:16 pm 3 comments

Reviewing our MEP digital trends survey: fewer bloggers, more Facebook and Twitter users. Why (and so what?)

In our recently published survey on the online habits of Members of the European Parliament, we found that:

  • 69% of MEPs use social networks (mainly Facebook) up from 33% in 2009
  • 34% are on Twitter, up from 21%
  • 29% write a personal blog, compared to 40% in 2009

So we’re witnessing a shift towards the snappy interaction of social networks, and a move away from the more content driven blog.

I’ll look at two things here: i) what might account for this trend; and ii) some ideas on what the trends mean in practice.

Why the shift away from blogging towards social networks and the like?

It’s not hard to see why Facebook and Twitter appear more enticing than blogging:

  • They both have ready-made audiences which may likely include MEPs’ constituents. Why bother with blogging, which is more time-consuming and does not have a ready-made audience?
  • In that vein, Twitter and Facebook may just seem easier to maintain, given that there isn’t much content to produce. At first glance, writing 140 characters definitely seems a breeze compared to a full-on blog post.
  • Election frenzy is over. Back in 2009, MEPs running for re-election were presumably eager to do everything in their power to showcase themselves to their electorate. That incentive is obviously reduced beyond election time.
  • The EP’s social media team has been extremely successful on Facebook (their blog is also successful, to be fair). Presumably a shining example to MEPs?
  • Facebook is all the rage. 500 million and users and that. Everyone’s talking about Twitter too. So presumably a fair bit of bandwagon hopping has taken place.

What does it all mean?

This is the trickier question. What does all this mean in terms of MEPs’ communication with constituents and others?

On the surface, it seems like good news: MEPs are eagerly adopting tools that connect them to people at the click of a button and provide Europeans a channel to engage in the political process through dialogue with decision makers. Indeed, some MEPs like Marietje Schaake and Sophie in ’t Veld, or Commissioners like Neelie Kroes (no coincidence they’re all Dutch) are engaging in conversation and using Twitter to ask questions and learn, and presumably thus improve their ability to do their job.

However, in another sense, the figures are misleading. Another finding in the report shows that MEPs who blog and tweet think “expressing views directly” is more important than “engaging in dialogue” (by a margin of 60% and 30% in blogs and on Twitter respectively). Clearly, listening, learning and conversing play second fiddle, and you could ask: what’s the point of telling people stuff if you’re doing so in a Facebook feed or in 140 characters? Not much.

As for the drop in blogging, personally speaking I think it’s a shame, although understandable: I know from experience just how hard it is to maintain a blog. However, blogging is a fantastic medium to express views and opinions in more detail, and some MEPs reach large audiences through their blogs, like Dan Hannan and Holger Krahmer. Is the fall in blogging a trend? No, I suspect we’re in a consolidation phase, where the MEPs who appreciate the medium carry on and others who like the idea of blogging give it a go, but where fewer experiment because it’s in vogue.

Another thought is that blogging is a way to kick start conversations on Twitter or Facebook. Which begs the question: if MEPs are not blogging but are instead using Twitter and Facebook, yet many are not engaging in dialogue, what are they using the tools for? Probably to post press releases, or to state that they’ll speak an event and other such information.

In conclusion, although the findings indicate that a number of MEPs are using the channels to engage, we should take them with a slight pinch of salt. Having said that, the trend is for more MEPs to start using the tools “properly” and I have no doubt that the more they see others gaining from engagement, the greater the appropriate adoption rates will become.

Equally, I have no doubt that I’ve missed some observations, so – as ever – please feel free to add, expand, agree or disagree in the comments below. Thanks.

Steffen

February 23, 2011 at 6:48 pm 7 comments

How do MEPs use the web? FH’s 2nd European Parliament Digital Trends Survey

Our survey of the digital habits of Members of the European Parliament is now live at www.epdigitaltrends.eu.

The findings show that MEPs are increasingly using digital channels to reach out and to inform themselves on issues of importance. In parallel, the survey also indicates that personal contact and traditional media remain essential, highlighting to anyone engaging in communications that digital is not replacing established modes of communication, but living alongside them.

Here are ten key findings:

  1. 69% of MEPs use social networks whereas previously only 33% used social networks extensively.
  2. 29% write a personal blog, compared to 40% in 2009.
  3. 34% are on Twitter, up from 21%.
  4. 57% of Twitter users say the greatest benefit is ‘expressing views directly’ while only 28% chose ‘engaging with people through dialogue’.
  5. 30% of those who blog and 33% who tweet use two or more languages (English being the predominant second language).
  6. 99% use search engines every week, 93% every day.
  7. 80% are looking for simple summaries of issues when searching online.
  8. 78% think specific issue websites are important when informing their opinion on policy, more than the organisation sites.
  9. 90% name coverage in national media as an important source of information, 51% of those very important.
  10. 86% state that position papers from stakeholders are important, while personal contact with stakeholders is still the most important channel for interaction at 93%.

When we last conducted the survey, we were at a pivotal moment: digital in politics seemed to have gone mainstream following the French presidential campaign in 2007 and, in particular, Barack Obama’s successful campaign in 2007-08. Eighteen months on, given that enthusiasm from across the pond had abated and the European Parliament was no longer in election frenzy, we were being asked if 2009 had just been a blip. It’s great to have the figures to confirm that the trends we first detailed in 2009 have persisted, and that MEPs are increasingly connected.

Over the next few weeks we’ll be analysing a few of the findings in more detail e.g. the rise of Facebook vs. the fall in blogging. I hope many of you will be involved in the ensuing discussions, and please, fire away with comments and questions.

Steffen

January 26, 2011 at 3:33 pm 7 comments

Coming soon: Fleishman-Hillard’s European Parliament Digital Trends Survey

A short note to announce that we will be launching our second study on MEPs’ use of the Internet on January 25th. In the study, we explore their use of digital channels to communicate with constituents and others, as well as how they use the web and other channels to inform themselves on policy matters.

After the success of our previous study in 2009, we wanted to repeat the exercise to see how much the new parliament differs from the old, and how the MEPs’ usage has changed now they are no longer in an election year. What’s more, it is interesting to note how much impact the last 18 months of social media publicity has made on MEP habits.

The report will be published at www.epdigitaltrends.eu. Sign up now if you wish to be notified on the day or watch this space!

Rosalyn

January 21, 2011 at 2:44 pm 1 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 www.fleishman-hillard.eu

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