Posts tagged ‘government relations’

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

Time to throw away the trusty old position paper?

A framework for thinking about how what you want helps your audience

It seems that the position paper is about as standard issue as a BMW 320D or a Blackberry Bold for the public affairs professional in this town. You simply would not leave for a meeting without one. I think it’s time to change all that. It’s time to throw away the rather haggard old position paper and replace it with the shiny new ‘Benefits Statement’. Ta-dah!

No, I’m not saying that we all need to be made unemployed; something which UK nationals may associate with benefits statements.  Just that one of the key public affairs document needs to be re-tooled and re-focused if it’s to do its primary job of helping convince our audience to go in our direction within any public policy debate.

There are of course good position papers and bad ones. Brevity good. German academic style papers with fifty million footnotes bad. A single point good. A list of twenty five things that are all equally important bad. General calls for support bad. Clear instruction on what to do if they support your point of view good.

My issue with the position paper is that given its name it’s a little hard to get past the general idea that it should all be about the organization writing it. What your organization thinks. How your organization is affected. While all these things are important to you, nine times out of ten I’m guessing they are not that important to the folks you’re trying to convince. So while you clearly need to work out what you think and why, when you come to putting it down on paper I’d suggest starting it’s time to focus your thoughts on the benefits for the people you’re trying to convince. What and who do they care about? Why is what you say important to them? Above and beyond persuading them you are right what are you going to say to make them act?

In thinking about these questions, I’ve come up with my own 4Ps of what policymakers care about in my humble view (see above). Clearly the emphasis one places on any one of the 4Ps depends on the assessment of the issue and the folks you are communicating to. However, I find it a useful starting point for thinking. I hope it’s of use to you too.

James

June 9, 2011 at 9:21 am 2 comments

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

They just don’t understand me!

As a consultant in the public affairs sector here in Brussels I am beginning to sound a lot like many representatives of other industries I meet. The recent furor in the UK over ex-ministers allegedly seeking lobbying jobs with journalists posing as fake companies made me let out a cry of desperation and exclaim “they just don’t understand what we do!”

Before I start don’t get me wrong, the ministers concerned may or may not have broken any rules but I think you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who doesn’t believe that they were just a little bit naive. Rather unhappily, they are not alone. I can’t speak for Westminster (having only ever worked here), but I would venture that any organisation that seeks to employ a public affairs professional in Brussels on the basis of their “access” is as misguided as our retiring former ministers. Alas, experience suggests that such organisations do exist.

Most policymakers in this town are reasonable people, who understand that they need input from the outside world on what they are discussing if they are to make good policy. Given the correct approach, most people of all levels will take the time to meet with you and give you a fair hearing. It is after all in their interests to hear your views. They are also intelligent people who will weigh what you say up with what they’ve heard from representatives of five other organisations that day, their own political stance and the people they represent. Securing a meeting with policymakers is as much about knowing who is working on a dossier, having something that is of interest to them to talk about and ensuring that you pick the right time to go speak to them as anything else. A good public affairs person in Brussels is going to be able to guide you on this through their knowledge of political  process and their expertise in political communication.

Existing relationships are of course useful and if you’ve been doing this any time you shall have them, but experience of working on some of the most bizarre dossiers in our legislative process suggests that they can be built relatively easily as long as you are giving useful insights. Indeed, sometimes having relationships work the other way round. As a former staffer of an MEP who I regarded as a friend, I have to admit on being harder on clients wanting to go see him than I would be on the same clients wanting to go see other MEPs. After all my friendship was at stake. Come along with people who wasted his time and our friendship may not have lasted very long.

James

April 2, 2010 at 3:03 pm Leave a comment


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

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