Posts tagged ‘fleishman-hillard’

Your starter for 10: life as a EU public affairs consultant

Some would call it a life sentence. Others would call it a vocation. Many would argue I need more than an annual summer vacation. It’s been 10 years this August since I left the European Parliament (and working for someone I miss on a daily basis) and joined Fleishman-Hillard. Here are ten reasons why I’ve been here ten years.

1. It’s personal

I have a personal stake in the EU. I was indoctrinated at the College of Europe (I’m one half of a College couple). I still get hacked off when people talk down about the European Parliament. I’m happy to admit to being a ‘believer’ in ‘the project’ of EU integration. I may not work in the EU institutions, but my chosen career allows me to participate in EU integration every day of my working life. There are few that can claim their personal interests coincide with their day job so happily.

2. It’s about the real world

The great thing about consultancy is you get to help folks from the real world understand the EU and vice versa. There’s something intrinsically fascinating about understanding different sectors and being able to translate EU jargon and arcane processes into something that means something to someone. One of the most fascinating parts of our job is getting to go up air traffic control towers, visit chemicals plants and tour breweries as part of getting to know our clients businesses. Without gaining that understanding, we’d be pretty poor consultants.

3. It’s doing well by doing good

Explaining the EU to business and business to the EU helps democracy and makes for better policy at the end of the process. Over the last ten years I’ve lost count of the number of EU citizens I’ve had to teach crash courses on the EU, its benefits and how it works. Equally, much of our work involves ensuring that our client’s insights about their businesses and what’s affecting them are translated for policymakers and presented to them in a way that’s understandable. It strikes me that we’d have pretty rubbish policy if stakeholders didn’t have a voice in the debate. And they’d be a lot less informed EU citizens out there if we weren’t around too.

4. It’s a journey

My job has changed immeasurably over the last ten years. From the issues I’ve covered to the sectors I’ve worked for and the tasks I undertake, every day is different. From following issues to managing clients, to managing people and now helping run a business, it’s been a journey. The great thing about this consultancy is your role can evolve over time, while still doing the things you love (generally all listed above).

5. It’s about thinking and doing

I like to think that I can think with the best of them, but to be honest I still wish to get my hands dirty. Whether it’s drafting a position paper, media release or getting out there to events and speaking to folks, I like the doing as much as the thinking. Generally our job is a mixture of both.

6. It’s about outcomes

All communications is about change, either in behaviour or perception. It’s great to be able to measure the success of what you do, not by counting outputs but by measuring a change in a behaviour or perception of those we’re seeking to reach.

7. It’s a business

Someone once said to me that (EU) Brussels is the least commercial town on the planet. That may be true, but in a town of policy wonks (something I’d class myself as) consultancy is probably the most commercial thing going.  Once again there’s a measurable outcome in there.

8. It’s the people

Intelligent, committed (or need to be), experienced, interested, passionate… I could go on. From my boss to the latest account executive to wow me with their knowledge, as we don’t produce crisps or indeed anything else it’s the people that are the firm. I’ve been fortunate to count some of the best amongst those I’ve worked with. Many have become and stayed friends, even after they’ve moved on. It’s always great to see Alumni at events – funny how often they speak as if they’ve come home. As I note that the average lifespan of a management team member here is well over 10 years I conclude that we must be doing something right.

9. It’s fun

It’s hard work but at the same time I’d have to say I laugh out loud at least once a working day. Ten years of doing so probably says I enjoy coming in every morning.

10. It’s not just about Brussels

Increasingly our work looks at issues from a European (national capital) and even international perspective. It’s great to be able to have conversations with trusted colleagues about how the issues are playing out in London, Berlin, Beijing and Washington. It reminds you that much of what we do here is affected by and affects others parts of the world. It takes you out of that comfortable Brussels bubble which we can sometimes inhabit.

If you too fancy a life sentence, applications can be made here.

James

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July 25, 2012 at 2:55 pm Leave a comment

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

October 24, 2011 at 1:44 pm 4 comments

An American in Brussels

It’s that time of year again. The time of year when the populace of the EU Quarter abandons Brussels like rats from a sinking ship and those few of us left on board are trying to wrap up all of the ‘admin’ tasks that we’ve put on hold for the several previous, hair-raisingly busy months.

It’s also the time of year when I, as an American, have to go through the annual bureaucratic rigmarole that is renewing my Belgian work permit. This is now my third time down the path of renewal and every year it’s the same somewhat maddening procedure (though the first time is always the worst!). This year, however, I’ve found myself pondering  the question that I always find myself answering for curious Europeans who say something like ‘But, it’s normal for Europeans to want to go to the States, but you’re an American, how did you find yourself here, in Brussels?!’, and so I decided to take a little poll around the FH Brussels office to see why the other Americans (there are 5 of us in total!) are here.

Carey Evans, from Los Angeles, California

“I came for the weather… clearly.”

Jessica Henderson, from the Twin Cities area (Minneapolis/St. Paul), Minnesota

“Because I couldn’t afford London, Paris, or Geneva.”

Tatiana Hulko, from Evergreen, Colorado

“I blame the Brit in my life for trading in sunshine for rain.”

Katie Wolicki, from Asheville, North Carolina

“Belgian chocolate, frites, waffles, and the little boy peeing….what more could you ask for? ”

That leaves me. So why am I here? Well, I can’t say I came for the weather and I, too, am probably unable to afford the luxury of life in London, Paris, or Geneva. Nor can I claim that it was the infamous beer, waffles, or chocolate that lured me here – though they didn’t hurt. And although my colleagues have all provided (what I like to assume are) tongue-in-cheek responses to my query, I have to say that I originally landed in Brussels sort of through happenstance and, like most Europeans here who are not natives to this fair(ish) city, I guess I got sucked in. It started innocently enough, with an internship here during my undergrad studies, but living in Brussels piqued my interest in EU affairs and the policy making scene. I returned after graduating to do a Masters’ in Leuven, got a job in a public affairs consulting firm in Brussels, then another job, et voila, little by little, before I really realized, the exciting world of the EU had gripped me and the slightly more laid-back lifestyle of the Brussels-scene kept me close. Despite the rain and the endless red tape, the lack of friendly service, and the inconvenience of much of everyday life (I’m sorry, but it makes NO sense that all of the shops and stores close on bank holidays when people actually have time to spend their money!) I find myself willfully going through this renewal process that keeps me here for at least another year.

And so, as much as this writer likes to complain about the above mentioned issues (and more!) I have to accept that actually, we do have it pretty good here. The international work environment that I’m lucky enough to be  a part of is a unique one. The friends I’ve made who live here and who depart to the far reaches of the globe are largely friends and contacts I’ve made in Brussels. The proximity to the heart of European policy making and the opportunity to have interesting interactions with policymakers means that my job is interesting every day – not something that can necessarily be said even for my counterparts who live and work in America’s version of Brussels, Washington DC. These are the things that brought me here and which keep me here still.

That said, for now I’ve had about as much of Brussels as I can take for 7 months at a time without ‘escaping’ and I’m off on hols back to New England as of Monday. So ‘bonnes vacances’ everyone! See you in a few weeks when I’m back – refreshed by the warm weather, sunny, blue skies, and ocean breezes of the Maine and Massachusetts coasts and ready to face the gray skies and Bruxellois lifestyle that we have all come to, err, know and love.

Lindsay Hammes, from Augusta, Maine

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July 20, 2011 at 7:32 pm 5 comments

European Parliament goes mobile – when to choose a mobile website over a native app

Earlier this month the European Parliament launched the mobile version of its ever popular (at least in the Brussels bubble) website. Hooray! Forgot the room number of the MEP you are meeting? Well now you can go on your mobile device and find it with ease.

In seeing the new site, we asked ourselves why an organisation would choose a mobile website rather than one of those trendy apps we spend far too much time (and money) downloading for our iPad/iPhones? Well, call us curious, but we decided to phone a friend far more knowledgeable than ourselves to find the answer. Gwen Foutz, SVP and Director of Mobile and Social Platforms in our Washington D.C. office and global co-chair of FH Mobile practice group happily picked up the phone. Here’s what she had to say.

What’s the difference between a native app and a mobile website?

A native application is an application designed and built for a specific operating system, e.g. iPhone iOS, Google Android, RIM BlackBerry, etc., that users download and install to their devices. A mobile website (or mobile web application) is essentially a mobile optimized website – a site designed specifically for the smaller screen and mobile context. Mobile websites are accessed through a URL and work across all web-enabled mobile devices.

Is there anything you can do with one that you can’t do with the other?

Mobile websites provide the best opportunity for a single platform to reach a majority of mobile devices with an enhanced experience, including lower-end devices not considered smartphones. Mobile websites can vary in complexity from static, information-based experiences to more robust, feature-based experiences similar to those of native applications.

Mobile apps provide the most feature-rich approach for mobile as they offer access to native device features such as GPS functionality and cameras. An app generates the highest level of engagement through an ideal mobile user experience that is tailored to the specific device it was built for. However, with the advancements that HTML5 has brought to the mobile space, the line between what is possible with mobile web vs. native apps continues to blur. More and more developers are building application-like experiences via the mobile web that can be accessed through the browser.

When would FH’s Digital Practice counsel an organisation to use one rather than the other?

We first ask the organization three critical questions before recommending a mobile solution:
1) Who is your target audience?
2) What are you trying to achieve with mobile and how does that fit with your overall business objectives?
3) How will you tell people about it?

Based on the organization’s goals and resources as well as audience research and insights, we may recommend an optimized mobile website, a native app, a text message campaign or all of the above.

Mobile optimized websites really should be seen as a starting point for most organizations before jumping into the mobile app space. Main company “.com” websites should be viewable and usable from any device, especially as mobile browsers become users’ primary browsers. Furthermore, mobile web provides the largest reach, regardless of the type of phone people are using and allows you to be found the same ways users find you on the desktop web (via direct URLs or search).

Native apps are recommended (as an addition to a mobile website) to serve a focused purpose that addresses a user need – usually in the form of providing utility or entertainment. Apps are chosen over mobile web when there is a need to offer robust functionality and features, such as those that are transactional in nature (e.g. shopping, banking), highly customizable or account-based services (e.g. photo tools, cooking/recipe assistants, travel tools), entertainment focused (e.g. streaming video and music, games) and those that are used frequently (e.g. social networking, mapping/navigation services).

What’s the easiest to develop, mobile website or app? Is the process very different?

Mobile websites typically require less overall effort to design and develop, and have a much larger reach than native apps alone. They are also easier to update and maintain once released, as updates can be pushed to all users at once and accessed via the browser, rather than a user having to download and install a new version.

Native apps have to be built platform by platform (i.e. iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, etc.) – there is no one size fits all – which requires a significant investment. Each version of the app across platforms can and should share similar user experience and design aspects, but ultimately will be built independently. Another factor is that apps have to be selected by the user, usually from an app store, which requires a significant investment in promotion and awareness-building to make people aware that it exists.

Is it common practice for public institutions to use mobile websites rather than apps?

Yes, it is fairly common for public institutions to provide mobile websites rather than apps. This is due to usually having limited development and promotional budgets and a desire to reach the widest audience possible. If the public institution desires to provide a more robust experience, they may go the native app route, but at the cost of reaching less people with their content.

Where can we find out more?

Check out these two posts from other FHers in the mobile space:

“Are You Really Ready for a Mobile App?” by Erick McNett, FH Kansas City

“There’s An App for That! Cutting Through the Clutter to Find the Best Branded Mobile Apps” by Radu Iancu, FH Cleveland

James

July 20, 2011 at 2:22 pm 2 comments

Brussels traffic worse than Beijing

As you may know we work from the Brussels Bubble but our firm is global. As such, we’re lucky enough to have the opportunity to work with and meet colleagues and friends from around our company’s 80 odd offices on a pretty regular basis. Our recent 20th anniversary celebrations of our Brussels saw representatives from pretty much every continent (except Antarctica) visit us. One of them was our esteemed colleague Wang Lei from FH Beijing. A former MOFCOM official, Lei has been with us for over 2 years and provides a world of value with his insights on China from our Beijing office. Upon his return to his home country we asked him to answer a few not too cutting quickfire questions about his visit.

The thing that most surprised me about Brussels was…

The traffic. I thought Beijing was the worst city in the world for too many traffic jams and cars but Brussels seems to be even worse.

If there was one thing I’d change about the EU it would be…

To streamline the EU bureaucracy and make it simpler, quicker and more effective.

If I were a European I’d want to be a….

Belgian. They enjoy the freedom of having no government.

If you want to understand China…

Please learn some Chinese, stay in China for a number of years and spend time communicating with locals. If you do not understand what they are saying, and that’s not because of the language issue, please resort to some history books for the answer.

The next big thing to come out of China will be…

A big hug. China is embracing the world with goodwill and money.

If you ever go on a business trip to Beijing don’t forget to…

Climb the Great Wall, for only by doing that will you become a true man! And you will not be surprised to see that the Wall can’t be seen for true men.

July 7, 2011 at 3:52 pm 1 comment

US-EU relations are worse than managing three small children

You know all hope is lost for a normal life when a paper from the US Chamber of Commerce drops into the inbox at midnight and you decide to read it on the iPad before getting some sleep. You would have thought three young children were enough to keep one awake. Damn those good people at the Chamber.

During my brief sojourn in the United States the US Chamber’s European programme was a revelation. It may not be the part of the Chamber that grabs the headlines, but it’s chock full of thoughtful Atlanticists (Gary Litman, Peter Rashish) who are doing their bit to ensure that the trans-atlantic agenda does not disappear into the equivalent of a political Bermuda triangle. A triangle that’s somewhere between the intercine warfare of Washington, an almost morbid fascination with the rise of China and an attitude of ‘benign neglect’ from the Obama Administration.

Yesterday’s paper – which you can find here – provides yet another policy option for restarting what is generally thought to be a generally dormant EU-US relationship. It’s a variation of mutual recognition of standards, which starts with integrating the impact on both sides of the Atlantic through each jurisdictions’ regulatory impact assessments. Its starting point is that in terms of product safety the desired outcomes of our regulatory regimes are pretty similar – even if our routes to achieving them are somewhat different. Something which I reflected upon by suggesting last year that we may be able to agree that neither the EU nor the US wants to kill its citizens. It seems from reading to be a decent approach.

My problem (US readers: I mean challenge) with the Chamber’s paper is two fold. First, I wonder whether there is a risk that the Chamber is diluting its own focus and that of those it is trying to convince by coming up with too many ideas at once. It’s only this time last year that the Chamber heralded a zero tariff agreement as the way forward on US-EU trade issues.  Is this now yesterday’s failed idea? Secondly, I’m of the opinion that it is not a lack of policy options that is the issue but a lack of political space. It doesn’t matter how many policy options we come up with. A clear message and an identified constituency needs to be created in Washington that will allow EU-US trade to rise up the agenda and take root there. Frankly speaking, outside of our good friends at the Chamber the educated and influential people I met in my time there just didn’t have Europe on their radar. It’s a non-issue. We may be fascinated by policy in Brussels, but I’d suggest in Washington politics is somewhat more important. It’s the latter that the Chamber and the EU need to get right.

James

June 28, 2011 at 10:22 am Leave a comment

Going Dutch: does the internet split the difference between public affairs and government relations?

Koen Droste over at FH Amsterdam recently appeared in the Financieel Dagblad on the subject of the effect of the internet on lobbying. You can check out his take on what the internet means for the practice of public affairs and government relations here.

James

June 7, 2011 at 7:16 pm 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 www.fleishman-hillard.eu

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