Posts tagged ‘brussels trade associations’

Seeing the plastics wood for the trees – PlasticsEurope gets it right

An interesting interview with the Executive Director of PlasticsEurope, Wilfried Hansel, over at Euractiv on changes to advocacy and communications in Brussels. It’s great to see an organisation as important as PlasticsEurope taking the approach advocated in many of our posts. All Brussels based trade associations should have a read of what can be considered a best practice approach.

However, one point in relation to the comments on “position papers”. It’s always been our philosophy that the very notion of calling your principal advocacy document a”position paper” is a bit misleading. The document should be less about the position of your organisation and more about talking about the nexus between the interests of those you are seeking to convince and what you wish to achieve. Good advocacy is about hitting this sweet spot. As such, the PlasticsEurope approach is not new, it’s just well thought out best practice. Not many policymakers care about the obscure issues you want to talk about, but they do tend to care about all sorts of other things. It’s those things that your “position paper” should talk about. (In this vein, see our recent post mentioning advocacy’s three Ps)

However, the move towards informing the citizen in an effort to eventually create the conditions for successful advocacy is an interesting new one in a Brussels context (if not in a US or national one). We wish them luck, it certainly is an approach that may have come of age when policymakers worry about being connected to the citizen and the digital world brings that citizen closer to the decision-maker in Brussels than ever.

BTW – if you like the PlasticsEurope approach, you should give them a ring. We hear they are looking for a new advocacy and communications director. An interesting post indeed given the above.

March 30, 2008 at 5:01 pm 1 comment

How do you get a million readers for a trade association blog? Ask the Beltway Blogfather…

We’ve returned to the Old Continent this morning after an eventful couple of weeks elsewhere in the world (hence lack of posts); the last few days of which have been spent in Washington D.C. at our annual Global Public Affairs Practice meeting. The gathering, held this year in the second most famous hotel in the US capital, saw a great panel debate on the US presidential elections from some well-known D.C. insiders as well as a good slice of digital in the form of a panel of e-campaign strategists from both sides of the aisle in the current elections.

Some of the insights on offer in the digital panel can be caught on the blog of panellist David All, TechRepublican. It was interesting to note that the panelists sometimes find inspiration in the activities of European politicians online, such as Sarkozy, and face the same challenges in integrating digital into US politics as we find in intergrating digital into public affairs in Brussels. It seems that even in the US, convincing folk that digital can complement, enhance and sometimes be more effective than traditional offline activities can still be a challenge.

Chairing the blogger panel was FH DC’s Pat Cleary, SVP for digital public affairs or the “Beltway Blogfather” as he is apparently known. Meeting Pat you can’t help but be bowled over. He has experience and enthusiasm in equal bucket loads. Pat is the man behind, a blogging platform launched recently in D.C to some acclaim (Politico, ABC) for trade associations to express their views online.

Currently eleven associations are signed up (for free) with the only rule that the associations must post at least once a week. Pat is honest enough to admit that for some of those blogging the whole experience is like taking the first tentative step on the digital ladder. The trick, he feels, is to not get lost in wikis, blogs and social media but to concentrate on how these tools can drive the organisation’s message towards an organisation’s key audiences in an effective and efficient manner.

In any case, should you be taking those tentative steps, who else would you want at the bottom holding the ladder steady but Pat? He’s the man who in a previous life created a public policy blog for the (US) National Association of Manufacturers that hit a million readers after two years…it continues to this day (just without Pat).

Thankfully at the end of our meetings the FH Brussels team didn’t walk away from the Mayflower Hotel with nothing more than a room number plaque with the digits 871. We’ve convinced Pat to come over to Brussels in early May to share some of his experiences. Two events are in the pipeline; one aimed at Brussels based trade associations who may wish to learn from Pat’s experiences with the NAM and a second where Pat will appear on a panel with Brussels based decision-makers to reflect upon recently completed FH/Harris Interactive research into the way European citizens are using the internet to inform their political decisions. More information about the two (free to attend) events will follow here and on our FH Brussels corporate website in next couple of weeks.

March 21, 2008 at 2:53 pm 1 comment

Use of blogs by Brussels trade associations triples!

An interesting survey from the folks at Euractiv on the use of the internet by European trade associations was released late last week.  While we weren’t present at the launch event, we are happy to note that FH was represented at least in spirit by Sylvain Lhote (who spent 8 years with us before moving to plastics company Borealis).

As with all these things, the survey’s sponsors have sought as far as possible to draw the conclusions they are looking for from the results. One example is the ‘fact’ that the proactive use of blogs by European trade association has tripled in the last 12 months (from 3 to 9 percent!). Speaking to a member of Euractiv’s blogactiv team recently, it seems that this reflects the issues that they have been in getting trade associations to go past the stage of initial interest to actually signing up to write regular and interesting blog content on their platform. As we know all too well, blogging can take a significant time investment. If this investment was stated up front it could put the frighteners on many of those who pay the bills (thankfully in our case FH CEO Dave Senay has a healthy enthusiasm for all things digital). 

There of course could be other factors at play in the lack of proactive use of blogging by Brussels based associations. A natural inclination to rounds of necessary consultation and the lowest common denominator does not bode well for fast paced reactions in blog format. Nor does an tendency to focus on ‘the issues’ for the association and its members in an already hectic workload. For an association’s blog to build reputation is a long term process and one where the organisation will have to share expertise on a subject of interest to the policymaker (e.g. how best to communicate on chemicals to consumers) rather than the position of the association on a particular dossier (e.g. why labelling our chemical in the current legislation won’t move consumers). One blog post that’s a (hopefully shorter) rewrite of your position paper just won’t do. 

In any case, despite the disclaimer about the research not being scientific, it also underlines a few other interesting ‘facts’. One on one meetings are seen to be the best way to get your message across; not surprising given the fact that this is a government relations town and there is a limited number of policymakers likely to be interested in any one issue. This is closely followed by a good website. Media work comes somewhat further down the list, perhaps reflecting the fragmented nature of the Brussels press corps. 

 On the institution’s communications, associations do not frequent the Council’s website as often as the Parliament or Commission’s; not surprising as a little bit like the Council as an institution, it is designed to confuse and obsfucate…Underlying a longstanding view that if one wanted to tackle transparency in the EU, one would start with the Council’s website.

March 4, 2008 at 4:23 pm 2 comments

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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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