Posts filed under ‘politics’

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

Is Europe’s drought a symptom of climate change?

Driving across the rolling farming country of northern and central France, as my wife and I have just done, you might think that French arable farmers have never had it so good. Grain prices are high and the landscape as far as the eye can see is bright yellow with rapeseed and brilliant green with wheat, barley or potatoes, the very picture of a healthy agriculture.

It’s not really healthy, of course. Unless rain falls within the next week or so those rolling hectares will lose their bloom. Drought has hit the cereal regions of the UK, France, Germany and Poland, which together account for two-thirds of European grain production. Already forecast yields for wheat, barley and rape are down by 10-20 per cent, while the prospect of a dry summer threatens a greater shortfall and a further escalation in food prices, which have already gone up by 30 per cent since March.

This is bad news for Europe. High grain prices mean rising costs for milk, meat and egg production, as well as bread, beer and other cereal-based foods, putting more strain on shop prices. Food price inflation has a direct political impact which will put additional pressure on EU governments at a time when household spending is already squeezed and unemployment levels remain high.

In France 42 départements have declared water control restrictions. The Polish government has been pressing the European Commission to raise the support level for wheat in support of its arable farmers – a plea which was rejected in the recent farm ministers council.

There are unexpected consequences. As rivers levels fall or even run dry I see that French nuclear power stations, which rely on river water for cooling, may have to cut back on generation capacity.

The global picture is no more comforting. With the US also suffering from drought there is little prospect of recovery in world supplies, let alone the building of stocks, during 2011. China is also affected.  Russia and the Ukraine are the only northern hemisphere producers which have decent prospects for grain production this year.

The political implications are far-reaching. All those countries which depend on grain imports to feed their people, which include most of the Maghreb and much of the Middle East, will face a further food price crisis at a time when their political systems and their economies are undergoing revolution.

A succession of climatic disasters in the US may lead to recognition in the United States that climate change is happening and that something must be done, although it is a big step to acknowledge that human activity is the driver. As for Europe, after the driest and warmest April in parts of our continent since records began the argument that the climate is undergoing fundamental change seems incontrovertible.

Michael

May 26, 2011 at 10:02 am 3 comments

Twitter turns five

Last night – at 8:50pm GMT – Twitter turned five years old and it got me thinking.

I openly admit to boycotting Twitter when it was launched (echos of protesting “I don’t care what Betty ate for breakfast” spring to mind). But I equally admit to being a convert five years later.

Some thoughts on why

1. Twitter can help sort the headlines from the fun stuff, and the urgent news from the background material.

A useful tool in tracking the latest news out of Libya or Japan, Twitter can also draw your attention to an article you might otherwise have missed by browsing a webpage. Case in point: I only came across the Financial Times’ rave review of EU Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva through their tweet of it:

@ftbrusselsblog: “The Accidental Commissioner http://on.ft.com/hAk8fG”  (She is also on Twitter @k_georgieva)

(Fun stuff: It also alerts you to the fact that Robert Redford is coming out with a new biography and perhaps the most hilarious review of a Parisian restaurant I have ever read: @Vanity Fair

2. Twitter brings together people with similar interests and can be a tool for identifying key communicators on a given issue.

Twitter is great for communicators. But it is also great for listeners. While searching for who was tweeting on Twitter’s birthday, I came across this from European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek:

@jerzybuzek: “Happy 5th birthday to #Twitter – one year+ for my account, essential way for me to communicate”

Buzek –or the person who manages his Twitter account- averages some five tweets a day and talks about everything from current events to internal Parliament decisions. But he also takes an obvious interest in anyone who responds to his tweets and regularly responds. True to the 2011 EP Digital Trends study, the EP is waking up to social media.

3. Twitter can bring on the funny – but more importantly, the creative.

Reducing a message to 140 characters can be challenging, but it also encourages communicators to have a clear and attention-grabbing message. It is a great tool for creativity in sectors that might not immediately be considered creative – just ask mutual fans of logistics and Salt-N-Pepa:

@cwarroom RT@makower: “Ship it. Ship it good: RT@EDFbiz: Carbon Data Driving Freight Decisions

Funny. Informative. And a reference to a 80s music “classic”.

Point is, as Tris Hussey of the Vancouver Observer keenly observed, “For something that was so geeky when it started out that even geeks didn’t know what to do with it, Twitter sure has taken off like a rocket.” And I find it useful, both professionally and for the fun stuff.

Where will Twitter go from here? The Guardian gives a few interesting indications: “40% of tweets originate on a mobile device […] with 5.3 billion mobile phone users in the world, and 90% of the world’s population in reach of a mobile phone network, Twitter has a far better chance of reaching everyone first…”

Jess

[Just starting out on Twitter? Here are some tips on how to get started.]

 

March 22, 2011 at 6:46 pm Leave a 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.

Steffen

March 21, 2011 at 9:16 pm 3 comments

The end of “Sarkozyism”?

Just 3 years ago, newly elected President Sarkozy named a broad-based government which included an unprecedented number of women, minorities and members of the opposition. This openness was one of the defining features of “Sarkozyism” which drove the President to power in 2007. When this election rhetoric was transformed into ministerial appointments, the new government was hailed by some at the time as the beginning of a new period of openness and cooperation in French politics, and heavily criticized by certain members of the majority UMP party, like Patrick Devedijan, a key member of the UMP inner circle, who mockingly urged Nicolas Sarkozy to “open up the government… all the way to Sarkozyists!”.

Jolting back to political reality, the most recent government reshuffle has signaled the end of an inclusive government and the return to insider rule. Nothing highlights this shift better than the departure of several token ministers including frontbenchers Jean-Marie Bockel, Fadela Amara and in particular Bernard Kouchner, who was one of Nicolas Sarkozy’s star signings. Now the only remaining survivor of bipartisanship experiment is Culture Minister Frédéric Mitterrand, whose presence in the government is as symbolic as his name.

This government reshuffle also means the return to power of the traditional right. The re-appointment of Prime Minister François Fillon is a telling indicator of this swing to the right. Although considered by some as a moderate, at heart he has more conservative tendencies, and will most probably use his next period as PM to continue his deficit reduction leitmotif. We have also seen the return of many of the grand old men (and women) of the Chirac era to government, as for example Alain Juppé, former Prime Minister under Jacques Chirac (and a recurring figure in right wing governments for the past 25 years) or the talismanic Michele Alliot-Marie whose political longevity is rivaled only by her dominance of the big four ministries (Defence, Foreign Affairs, Interior and Justice) over the last nine years.

The reshuffle also sees a restructuring of the power relationship between the Prime Minister and the President. Despite rumours that Francois Fillon might leave the PM spot, it is a sign of his growing power and popularity that President Sarkozy has reappointed him. To see how far Fillon has come, at the beginning of his time as PM in 2007, President Sarkozy described Fillon as a mere colleague whereas now Fillon is described by journalists as a sort of “Super Prime Minister”. Their roles, as well as their relationship, will be changing after the reshuffle. Fillon, who is more popular with the electorate and the majority representatives, will focus on domestic policy, including the final important reforms of the mandate. Even if President Sarkozy will still be actively involved in these issues, he will concentrate on international issues and will be preoccupied with the euro zone crisis, nuclear disarmament and France’s presidency of the G20.

This reshuffle can be seen as a capitulation of sorts by President Sarkozy, who has realized that he will not be able to push his agenda through parliament without the support of highly experienced key players on the right.  The jury is currently out on whether this strategy will weaken or strengthen the President’s position and that of the majority UMP party with the 2012 elections coming.

The FH Paris team

December 8, 2010 at 1:13 pm 2 comments

From fighting corruption, to reuniting refugees, to keeping councils accountable – Personal Democracy Forum Europe 2010

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The Personal Democracy Conference (PdF), which Fleishman-Hillard co-sponsored, took place last week in Barcelona. PdF is the biggest conference of its kind, leading the way in providing a forum for analysis of how technology is changing politics.

We had a great time hearing passionate and inspiring people from all walks of government, business and civil society speak and debate about how the Internet can make Europe safer, fairer, more transparent and open, and in particular, how citizens themselves increasingly play a role in the process.

It’s hard to choose amongst the plethora of great speakers (see all here) but I’d first highlight the following amongst speakers representing government. Alec Ross, advisor to Hillary Clinton, who spoke about the struggle for open society; Constantijn van Oranje-Nassau, Cabinet-member of Commissioner Neelie Kroes, who spoke about the potential the web has to improve public participation (and the fact that the Commissioner has become hooked on Twitter!) and Jimmy Leach, whose engaging talk described the advancements made by the UK Foreign Commonwealth Office in communicating through social media, addressing the challenges of bringing a bureaucracy only five years younger than the USA into the modern age! On the company/entrepreneur side, we had a range of speakers, from Randi Zuckerberg on Facebook’s peace initiative to our new friend Jens Steensma’s smartphone app Buitenbeter, which can be used in the Netherlands to report problems to councils. It is the first initiative of this kind to gain nationwide agreement with every council agreeing to follow up on problem reports.

Other highlights of the conference included the announcement of a $2.6m donation to Refugees United from the Omidyar Network to help them improve their technological platform, a powerful search tool to help refugees find families torn apart by conflict; Birgitta Jonsdottir, Member of the Icelandic Parliament, outlining the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative which aims to use transparency legislation to make Iceland a ‘haven for freedom of information, speech and expression’; and Purpose, an organization that helps start and coordinate campaigns for social or political change, also took the opportunity to announce the future launch of their new venture ‘All Out’ which aims to establish a global movement to improve LGBT rights around the world.

Particular mention goes to our fabulous panel, Julius van de Laar, Marietje Schaake MEP, David Lowey and Jon Worth. They helped to facilitate excellent debate on the European Citizen’s initiative.  Their insights were invaluable and we appreciate them having taking the time out to join us. If you were unlucky enough to have missed it you can listen again here (the video will be available soon.)

Overall thoughts? It seems the conversation has moved on from the particular tools to the bigger picture: issues brought up by the proliferation of web tools, issues of freedom and openness, and perhaps most importantly, what we are doing with the tools and how they can be used to empower citizens across the globe.

Credit to the organizers Andrew Rasiej and Micah Sifry for all their hard work in running the conference and leading the PdF community on to great things: rumour has it they can next be found in Santiago, Chile for Pdf Latin America!

So all in all, I finish as I started, it was excellent. Oh and Barcelona wasn’t bad either…

Rosalyn

October 11, 2010 at 1:39 pm 3 comments

And the winner is …

 

Election night in the Netherlands was quite ‘hot’; at some point the NOS television program  ‘election night’ announced that Twitter was overloaded and inaccessible due to the vast interest of the people in the probable results.

The Dutch parliamentary elections on 9 June in all probability resulted in a victory for the liberal VVD in terms of the most seats and a victory for Geert Wilder’s party PVV in terms of the most seats gained compared to the last elections. Former Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende immediately resigned as leader of the Christian-democratic party CDA as his party almost lost half of its seats.

Coalition and compromise have always been at the heart of Dutch politics and governance. This time around, the political parties really have to live up to these Dutch principles as the amount of seats per party are quite evenly spread. The labour party PvdA for instance, only has one seat less than the VVD, so getting a credible majority is a bit of a challenge. One option now speculated upon in the Dutch media is a combination of the VVD, CDA and PVV leading to a small majority of 76 seats out of 150 (the absolute minimum). Formally speaking, the results are still to be reviewed by the election control council (the ‘Kiesraad’) and final results will be announced in parliament on 15 June.

So for the moment, the winner is democracy. Now let’s see how civil this democracy is in forming a government. VVD leader Mark Rutte wants to have a new government by 1 July, which is 21 days from now. FYI,  since 1946 the average coalition process in the Netherlands takes about 87 days… 

Esther

Enhanced by Zemanta

June 10, 2010 at 10:18 am Leave a comment

Posts I’ve enjoyed on this blog

After nearly eight years in our Brussels office and coming up to three years posting on this blog I’m off to our Washington D.C. office for a couple of years at the end of the month.

Before I leave I thought it not a bad idea to indulge myself just a tad, forgive me folks, and point to some of the blog posts I’ve enjoyed writing or reading on this blog. I say enjoyed because, as my wife (sorry, my luv) will testify, relaxation of an evening has become me on the laptop tinkering with this blog, the twitter feed or various other websites that are in some way work related.

Which MEPs use Twitter?

Part of our hypothesis when we started the blog was that digital communications was changing how policy-makers were interacting with voters and stakeholders. To support our view we created a long list of MEPs, the good folks at Europatweets aggregated them a couple of months later on their nice website, Digimahti had another go at listing them and finally we’ve now created our own Twitter lists to categorise them by Committee on our twitterfeed in recent weeks.

65% of MEPs use Wikipedia at  least twice a week

Spotting MEPs that tweet was one thing, but we wanted to go a little deeper in understanding how they use the internet and how we may be able to use it to communicate to them. Our EP Digital Trends study sought to do this in 2009. The results led to three conclusions on how our results influence our thinking on public affairs here. It also turned out that MEPs aren’t the only ones who rely on Wikipedia – seemingly the Commission services have a penchant for it too

Grayling’s EU office starts it’s own blog

We are known to say that to be a thoughtleader one has to have thoughts and they have to be leading ones. Well one measure of thoughtleadership may well be that others follow where you have gone. Grayling’s team has a super blog. We wish more agencies in town would join them (and us).

Helen Dunnett explains the value of blogging for trade associations

Helen’s views on how ECPA was using its blog in Brussels was enlightening and uplifting. It underlined that there are organisations out there who do recognise the value of using digital tools in Brussels.

Scoop: European Parliament talks about European Parliament

Wordle is a great tool. Never more so than when reminding us of the fact that the Bubble likes to talk about the Bubble. The outgoing EP President’s speech was a classic.

Parallels between a Mel Gibson film and the President of the European Council

Sometimes it’s just been fun writing. No more so than one Sunday morning over coffee when I delighted in the fact that the nomination of the President of the European Council was like a seen from a 1980s US action film.

James

April 9, 2010 at 1:06 pm 3 comments

Zero growth offers no relief in euro crisis

Zero GDP growth in the eurozone for the last quarter of 2009 and a feeble recovery in the first quarter of 2010 is not what Europe’s finance ministers might wish to hear, but that’s the latest message from the OECD.  It just shows what a challenge Europe faces in restoring the strength of public finances, most especially in Greece and other eurozone countries facing massive budget deficits.

There is certainly no sign of growth in the Greek economy. Yet without economic revival there is no way that Greece’s euro crisis can be settled.

It seems clear that the package of “support” announced by Europe’s leaders on March 25-26 will do little to resolve the crisis. The package was so hedged about with conditions that the markets have given it little credence. The spread between Greek and German interest rates on ten year bonds has continued to widen, from three to four percentage points since the summit – not a sign of market confidence.

The summit statement is more of a threat than a promise. Bringing in the IMF as the first potential source of funding echoes the family threat – “just you wait till your father comes home” – the disciplinarian who can put on the pressure which European institutions cannot. And if bilateral support is required from fellow members of the eurozone it will be offered at quite explicitly penal rates of interest, despite the fact that the high cost of borrowing is a significant element in the Greek crisis.

Many commentators have identified the summit as evidence that Germany has turned its back on European integration. Indeed, it was quite a shock to see that even Charles Grant of the Centre for European Reform, a staunch supporter of European integration, could say that “not until this year’s euro crisis did I think the EU could go backwards”. He saw the summit outcome as symptomatic of deep divisions between Germany and France, of the isolationism of Germany, and of Europe’s introspection.

The summit did confirm beyond a peradventure that there will be no economic government for Europe. Any ambitions France might have in that direction are clearly thwarted despite a commitment in the summit communiqué to strengthen economic governance. President Sarkozy presented the outcome as a triumph for Franco-German co-operation; in fact it was largely Chancellor Angela Merkel’s work.

Germany’s dominance in European affairs is evident. Berlin is now more important to Paris than Paris is to Berlin. The economic challenge of German reunification has been met and relations with Russia have become a new priority. The German constitutional court has put the brake on any federalist tendencies. People may criticise Germany for its failure to boost domestic spending, but there is little sign of any response in Berlin.

Today’s OECD report has made one politician very happy: UK prime minister Gordon Brown. He can rejoice at the news that the British economy is predicted to grow at an annual 2 per cent rate in the first quarter of 2010 and by 3.1 per cent between April and June. Not bad timing for him, just one day after calling a general election. He can also take comfort from the fact that at least Europe is not likely to pose any problems for him on May 6 election day. After all, it was he that resisted Tony Blair’s wish for the pound sterling to join the euro in 1997!

Michael

April 8, 2010 at 10:17 am Leave a comment

Older Posts Newer Posts


About this blog

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

Subscribe to this blog

FH Brussels tweets

FH corporate reputation

Error: Twitter did not respond. Please wait a few minutes and refresh this page.

Archives


%d bloggers like this: