Posts tagged ‘public affairs’
Any regular reader of this blog knows that we tend to take ourselves pretty seriously. I mean, we’re serious consultants with serious work to do and serious policy areas to ponder! We’re passionate about the issues of the day that will affect our work, our clients, and life in general out there in the wild blue yonder; whether it be how the German elections could impact the direction of energy policy, or how the twittersphere is chiming in on Europe.
We’re also passionate about cake. Yes, you read that correctly, cake: the edible foodstuff that is sweet and moist and can be blamed for ever-expanding waistlines of office workers, worldwide.
Now it seems, as the resident baking enthusiast here at FleishmanHillard (and instigator of semi-regular, now infamous ‘cake competitions’), I’ve begun to get a bit of a reputation. So when colleagues spotted an opportunity to form a team to participate in the BritCham Great Brussels Charity Bake Off competition, they knew exactly who to call. We pulled together a team of bakers (me, Jane, Sandrine, & Maria Chiara), gave ourselves a name “FHun in the Oven” (apparently makes Brits chuckle – thanks James), and decided to bake a good ol’ fashioned Hummingbird Cake – a specialty of this famous London bakery (Like a carrot cake, but not. See the recipe below).
After some fun Sunday-evening adventures (Batter tasting! Bowl licking! Icing-testing!), and one happily-averted mishap that almost ended with the top layer of our cake on the pavement of Rue Goffart, we were feeling pretty good (read: in a sugar-induced coma) about our handiwork…
…Until we started checking out the twitter feed #BxlBakeOff and saw the seriousness with which our competitors clearly take themselves.
The competition was fierce and I mean fierce. 24 cakes. There were cakes with squirrels and acorns fashioned out of chocolate-covered macadamia nuts…
There were orange=frosted covered Halloween cakes that tasted like my childhood and were adorned with creepy little edible marzipan bats and rats!
There was even a cake depicting an EU legislative timeline! I mean, these people really do EAT, breathe and sleep their work!
Needless to say, our humble little hummingbird cake, despite its deliciousness, found itself a little out of its league amongst the worthy competitors.
The winner was a 3-layered cake, with each layer representing a color of the Belgian flag. It was wrapped in a Belgian flag banner, covered in what I think was chocolate ganache, and had a 3D edible version of The Grand Place atop its chocolate & edible-flower be-carpeted self. Hmpf. I know it’s hard to believe. I didn’t get a picture, so recommend checking out Judge Emma Beddington’s instagram’d capture for photographic evidence. She has also written, in hilarious fashion, about her experience as a judge in a post on her own blog, Belgian Waffle – and it’s well worth a read (plus there are more pictures!)
Ok, so we didn’t win this time. And we’re not sore losers. (No really, we’re not!) But now that we know what we’re up against, well let’s just say: challenge accepted!
Roll on November, where ‘pie’ features as the next competition category….and watch this space for further tales of our competitive baking adventures!
The Hummingbird Bakery’s eponymous cake
What you’ll need:
300 g caster sugar
300 ml sunflower oil
270 g peeled bananas, mashed
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, plus extra to decorate
300 g plain flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp salt
½ tsp vanilla extract
100g tinned pineapple, cut into small pieces
100 g shelled pecan nuts (or walnuts) chopped, and whole, to decorate* (we used both, pecans in the cake, walnuts on top)
3 20cm cake tins, base-lined with greaseproof paper
250g cream cheese
100g unsalted butter
600g icing sugar, sifted
Preheat the oven to 170 C/325 F/Gas 3.
Put sugar, eggs, oil, banana and cinnamon in a freestanding electric mixer with a paddle attachment (or use a handheld electric whisk) and beat until all the ingredients are well incorporated (don’t worry if the mixture looks lightly split.) Slowly add the flour, bicarb soda, salt and vanilla extract and continue to beat until everything is well mixed.
Stir in the chopped pineapple and pecan nuts by hand until evenly dispersed.
Pour the mixture into the prepared cake tins and smooth over with a palette knife. Bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown and the sponge bounces back when touched. Leave the cakes to cool slightly in the tins before turning out onto a wire cooling rack to cool completely.
In a separate bowl, beat icing sugar & bitter together in a freestanding electric mixer with paddle attachment (or use a handheld electric whisk) on a medium slow speed until the mixture comes together and is wel mixed. Add the cream cheese in one go and beat until it is completely incorporated. Turn the mixer up to medium-high speed. Continue beating until the frosting is light and fluffy, at least 5 minutes. Do not overbeat, as it can quickly become runny.
When the cakes are cold, put one on a cake stand and spread about one quarter of the cream cheese frosting over it with a palette knife. Place a second cake on top and spread another quarter of the frosting over it. Top with the last cake and spread the remaining frosting over the top and sides. Finish with pecan nuts and a light sprinkling of cinnamon.
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.
Public Affairs in Brussels has traditionally centred heavily on government relations, namely the practice of communicating with policy-makers. In a digitalised world, however, organisations and industries are increasingly finding that reputation issues that have little to do with the legislative, often very technical, debates that take place in Brussels, are having an impact on how they are perceived here.
For that reason, Public Affairs professionals are increasingly required to appreciate and incorporate elements of reputation management in their work.
In this interview, Dan Baxter, Senior Vice President and Partner at FH in Brussels, tells us more about why reputation management matters and provides some pointers on how to successfully conduct reputation management.
Click here to listen (if using Internet Explorer, you may have to save the file – right-click and save file as – and then play that file separately.)
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
The other day I attended an event on the Future of Mobility and Transport in Europe and a quote from an MEP, who was on one of the panels, got me thinking about ‘storytelling’ in public affairs. While discussing Intelligent Transport Systems, the MEP asked fellow participants whether they have ever thought – while having breakfast – where each of the items on the breakfast table comes from, and what journey they have made. What’s the supply chain of a jar of marmelade, where has it been and by which modes of transport? Were there any regulatory barriers on the way or were its travels facilitated by the existing legislative framework? Such a simple example or story can bring a discussion on transport to life, as it links the world of the audience to the issue.
In fact, one of the many challenges we face as public affairs consultants is talking about inherently technical (and dare I say, sometimes unexciting) topics to policy-makers. However, usually they have anything on their mind but the very detailed requirements of products A, B and C that can potentially have far-reaching effects on a client’s business – and ultimately, citizens. And when you’re looking for someone to advocate on your behalf, there are certain issues that will always gain support and others that, well, don’t. As an MEP, would you, for example, want to be the champion of a ‘single administrative electronic document for the im- and export of goods to/from the EU?’ Not a very imaginative topic perhaps, but incredibly important for anyone who supports the completion of the single market.
Following up to James’ post regarding the use of position papers (see: Time to throw away the trusty old position paper?) and the need to tailor material to what your audience cares about, rather than drafting everything from your organization’s perspective – I’d like to add the need to tell more stories. (Note: stories, not fairytales ;)). There has been a lot of buzz on this particular point in the PR realm and it is equally applicable to PA, see some excellent posts on this topic by our colleague Steffen on his personal blog (Get off your high horse – tell a decent story and Develop a content strategy to succeed in public affairs). Some of the perks of storytelling include:
- It’s an easy way to avoid using overly technical or business jargon .
- The exercise will force your organization to think out of the box.
- Stories can create emotional involvement in an issue.
- Stories provide the opportunity for a more personal and targeted approach.
- The method is refreshing and allows you to be creative – and your material will be more appealing as it stands out from the crowd.
Obviously with the usual caveat that on most occassions – straight up technical information, facts and figures are still desirable, but it is worth bearing in mind that real-life examples and stories can make your ‘characters’ come alive.
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.