EurActiv: Moving forward, with strong values

The Efficiency of Brussels-based media relations is a long-standing topic of conversation in European circles. How to best reach out to the various media, whether traditional or online, and most of all make sure that by doing so you will reach out to your key target groups. Often an uphill struggle for decision-makers and interest groups…

The Brussels bubble seems relatively sheltered from revolutions, it works more in evolutions. Media are taken at a different pace, they are generally looked at sceptically before being tried, adopted more or less reluctantly and then used extensively. Changes do not happen overnight.

One of Brussels’ other peculiarities is that things here are clearly focused on advocacy, on sharing ideas, opinions and positions, and on trying to convince: call it corporate diplomacy, activism, lobbying or representation of interests… No matter what name you give to your approach, the media in Brussels are expected to play more of an advocacy role than anywhere else. To support this, digital advocacy is on the rise, to match the increasing number of online media and users.

Using traditional media however, has always proven rather difficult for pressure groups based in Brussels. Understandably, editors back home prefer the national angle to the Brussels one in any story. And Europe as such, is often a difficult subject to sell to the average reader. Brussels therefore seems to have developed its own media scene, where on the one hand online media like EurActiv have developed their own approach to European issues, with analysis, various language versions, a focus on videos and interviews or a link with other capitals. The online aspect has proven crucial in keeping a substantial share of the market compared to older print-based Brussels information tools which used to be the daily must-read and have now vanished form the media scene. On the other hand, Brussels-based organisations, companies, associations, consultants and think tanks have, in a way, become media owners. They aim to help shape discussions, without any intermediary and often without any filter but their own. They use owned, paid or social media to reach their goal more or less successfully.

Because targeting is of course key.

The development of social media was not a snap of the finger episode amongst interest groups generally speaking, who took their time to embark on the online adventure, but now they are all tweeting, profiling themselves on LinkedIn and in some cases even proselytising on Facebook! Other social media will eventually follow, despite the reluctance of some players. It is interesting to note however, that a lot of interest groups have started their digital advocacy approach only as an answer to the initiatives taken by policy-makers (often members of the European Parliament). They rarely were leaders. Following that example however, all wannabe influencers now follow and engage with their target groups.

Targeting is the big challenge in an environment like Brussels, where everyone is trying to catch the attention of specific people, to shape the debate and have their voice heard. There is no such thing as targeting the “Under 50 housewife” group of several millions. We are talking individuals: targeting means that you carefully select the listeners/readers who will be impacted by your arguments, those whom you know will listen to you for various reasons. Powerful supporters. Potential multipliers.

This is how organisations and key players in general, seek to establish their presence, show their importance and their relevance.

How does this fit in with the next generation of policy-makers and influence seekers? In parallel with the evolutions mentioned above, we are also witnessing a gradual shift to images (as we already see with the increasing use of infographics and videos). The younger generation predominantly uses YouTube as a search engine. The information we consume has to be not just fast but quickly digestible so we can move on rapidly to the next item. Tomorrow’s decision-makers and interest groups will embrace these rules. They will demand synthetic and to-the-point information material, not just substantiated by figures but also supported by ethics and a degree of emotion. Communications and media relations are shifting more and more to the human dimension. Out go the big figures, statistics, turnovers, etc. and in come the people, the personal stories, the sustainable aspects of policy-making and decision-taking. Spinning is out and bonding is in.

So going from a general to a personal approach, targeting and distributing contents directly means that decision-makers and interest groups will reach European policy-makers more spontaneously and more rapidly, with direct arguments. It also means that they will be more directly accountable for what they publish in the media they own or pay for. But will online exchanges of opinions or one-sided advocacy really improve the debate or convince anyone? Can it replace a neutral analysis of arguments by a third party, a journalist for instance, to help readers understand issues and exercise their better judgement?

Florence Ranson
Director of Communications, FoodDrinkEurope

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