Tag: public affairs
Gone are the days where Public Affairs took place in a vacuum. Increasingly, the work of PA professionals must be conducted within the prism of an organisation’s or industry’s broader reputation. This was the message of my presentation at the 2013 European Public Affairs Action Day, now a permanent fixture of the PA calendar.
Speaking at the 21 March event organised by the Parliamentary communications and political information firm, Dods, I explored, through 10 principles and 10 ideas, the way in which PA can adapt to this new paradigm. Admittedly, it’s a tough nut to crack in Brussels as actual reputation management tends to be beyond the remit of Public Affairs. There are however a number of things PA pros in Brussels can do either to mitigate a poor reputation, or harness a good one. Take a closer look at the presentation below.
View the presentation here: EPAD – March 2013
Of particular note, allow me to introduce FH’s “Authenticity Gap” research showing the difference between expectations and experience in the 9 areas we’ve identified as the DNA of authenticity (and thereby trust).
March 26, 2013
Davos_Vista (Photo credit: aschaefer77)
Davos is a nirvana for public affairs junkies like me. On arriving, I faced the kid-in-the-candy-shop syndrome: which sweetie jar should I dip into? Aside from the obvious keynotes (David Cameron, Angela Merkel, Dmitri Medvedev, Christine Lagarde, Mario Draghi, Henry Kissinger) which sessions should I be attending? The session on digital infrastructure or on the role of banks in the real economy? Or on social issues of youth unemployment, ageing preparedness or gender balance? Or on global risks – food security, energy security and cyber security? The choice is endless at a forum where all the issues affect one or other of our clients or are simply issues you care about as a citizen. By the end my WEF moleskin notebook was bursting.
Much is reported through the press, but I came away with three key ‘notes to self’. The first is that the immediate Eurozone crisis may be over, but there is a long road ahead. Critical policy measures and reforms need to be implemented, not just promised; and low hanging fruit needs to be effectively captured, notably the completion of the single market particularly in services and energy, the pursuit of bilateral free trade agreements and the rationalization of the EU budget, before the Eurozone can expect growth. In the meantime road bumps can still be expected, not least with Italian and German elections this year and the uncertainty of the UK referendum looming. Christine Lagarde of the IMF and others warned repeatedly against any hint of complacency.
The second is that the US was notably absent from the political keynote stage (barring the WEF old faithful, Henry Kissinger.) This is understandable given the timing of the inauguration of Obama’s second term, but it also hinted at the fact that the US is pulling back from the international stage to focus on domestic issues. The boost from shale gas to domestic production and energy cost reduction and the US’ desire to be more energy self-sufficient came up regularly in conversation.
The third is that Asia and Africa are active and increasingly engaged in world affairs: the former had leading senior officials, academics and business people on many panels, and there was much celebration of Africa’s growth of 6% and promise of more to come.
Beyond the dense content, there is also the PA celebrity factor that makes Davos special. Not footballers or popstars, but the people I get really excited about seeing live in action, such as the prime ministers of Italy, Netherlands, Denmark and Ireland together on a panel debating Europe. And later I witnessed EP President Martin Schulz at a single lunchtime roundtable with UK Finance Minister George Osborne, Commissioners Almunia and Rehn, German vice-Chancellor Roessler and former EU High Representative Javier Solana…all addressing ways to stimulate Europe’s competitiveness. As one speaker put it, we know what needs to be done, we just don’t know how to do it!
Key media editors such as Martin Wolf of the FT were omnipresent, busy chairing discussions. Others participated in debates such as the ‘From Tabloid to Tablet’ session with Stephen Adler of Reuters, John Gapper of the FT and Richard Edgar of ITV News, looking at the future of traditional media in the online world. The conclusion, happily, was that quality journalism with its verified facts, critical judgment and analysis still has an important place in an era of information overload.
NGOs of all kinds were active and engaged: Huguette Labelle of Transparency International had particular prominence as one of the Co-Chairs of the WEF 2013 meeting. And Transparency was a key theme running through the speeches of both David Cameron and Christine Lagarde in both political and economic contexts.
Last but not least, the Magic Mountain was bestowed with glints of royal glamour as I caught sight of Prince Andrew, HRH the Duke of York, Prince Philippe and Princess Mathilde of Belgium, and Crown Prince Hakon and Crown Princess Mette-Marit of Norway, all actively representing their countries, causes and charities.
The dimensions of Davos are hard to describe, with so many leading figures from all parts of the world gathered for an intense five days. The event admittedly comes in for much public scrutiny and criticism on many levels, but my sense is that the veil of secrecy is beginning to lift as WEF faces its own Transparency debate, reconciling its Chatham House rules with the legions of Tweeters from the conference. On the other hand it reminded me how fortunate those of us are who work in public affairs. While many people go to Davos for an annual fix, those of us engaged in public affairs in Brussels on behalf our clients are effectively surrounded by these global debates, personalities and interest groups on an ongoing basis. Perhaps that is why I felt so at home in Davos.
January 28, 2013
In the week before Christmas we brought together a selection of Brussels’ trade policy community to discuss the EU’s future role and relevance in the in the global trade system. FH Brussels’ Senior Policy Advisor and former Counsellor at the Danish Permanent Representation, Martin Bresson took the chair on this provocative topic and invited representatives from both inside and outside of Europe to comment on whether the EU will continue to be a global trade leader, and more importantly, how this can be ensured.
Our speakers; Ms. Signe Ratso, Director for Trade Strategy and Analysis, as well as Market Access at the European Commission’s DG TRADE; Ms Carolyn Irving, Trade Counsellor at the Australian Mission to the EU; and Mr Luciano Mazza de Andrade, Head of Trade and Economic Section of the Brazilian Mission to the EU; first explored the EU’s current role and status as an important global trading partner.
While it was acknowledged that Europe has faced economic difficulties that could be seen as threatening to this status, we were reminded that the EU remains one of the largest and most diverse economies in the world, the largest importer of many global goods and services and an important source and destination for investment. Furthermore, the EU has the ambition and political capacity to push the free trade agenda – the success of the EU-Korea FTA being an important example, as well as numerous others in the pipeline which are projected to add over 2% to GDP and create more than 2 million jobs.
Similarly, Europe’s trading partners around the table echoed the continuing relevance of the EU, insisting on symbiotic nature of trading partners – that each economy’s health is reliant on others.
However, challenges certainly remain that may be hampering the realisation of the full benefits of global trade. One concern was the complexity of the EU’s political structure and ambitious regulatory agenda, which can bring rigidity to trade processes and positions. A further specific example is Europe’s protective position on agricultural markets; a topic that it was humorously noted is often ‘politely ignored’ in trade discussions. Challenges for business focused on more detailed issues; namely the enforcement of FTAs once implemented and regulatory cooperation with trading partners to increase business certainty.
Despite the challenges of the EU’s complex institution structure and politics the resounding message was that the EU continues to be more than the sum of its (27) parts and has a role, if not an obligation, to continue leading on the global trade agenda. That being said, it will be necessary for the EU not to lose sight of the details which can trip up trade even in the context of the broadest and most comprehensive FTA.
Fred & Ed
January 3, 2013
Last week saw a veritable festival of events here at Fleishman-Hillard Brussels. We held a discussion on climate change and energy with NGOs on Wednesday as well as a talk from our very own DC colleague Bill Black on how the Presidential candidates in the US are using digital tools in this week’s election on Monday. For the US election event our own digital strategist Steffen Thejll-Moller sought to bring us down to earth by explaining how some of the principles of the digital approach employed by the candidates could be used here in our EU public affairs setting.
Surprisingly given last week was a school holiday and interrupted by a ‘pont’ in the shape of the 1 November on Thursday, we had a packed house for both events. If you were one of the few to escape the Brussels dark grey, here’s the slides from Bill that had attendees from industry, political parties and the EU institutions glued to their seats.
If you’re interested in future FH Brussels events, go to this page and add the RSS feed to your reader. We would be happy to have you along.
November 5, 2012
Fleishman-Hillard Brussels was particularly enthusiastic to welcome Li Hong, President of Fleishman-Hillard China, as he visited the capital of Europe last week. While almost 8000 kilometres separate Brussels from Beijing, the upcoming leadership transition in China is poised to have a dramatic impact on the economy here in Europe, as in the rest of the world. His visit was thus the perfect occasion to discuss, with a handful of EU public affairs professionals from a broad range of industry sectors, the challenges the country is facing and the outlook for various industry sectors moving forward.
Trade policy is an exclusive power of the EU which means that it is the EU, and not individual member states, that legislates on trade matters and concludes international trade agreements, covering services, intellectual property and foreign direct investment. With the globalisation of the supply chain, China has become a major, if not the most important, production hub for multinational companies operating in Europe. Any shift in labour or environmental legislation taking place in China has an impact on foreign companies producing in China. Similarly, China is looking at the EU as a landmark for matters like the classification of chemicals substances or product safety legislation.
The fruitful discussions further confirmed the global dimension of EU public affairs. As influence operates from multiple pressure points and sources across different time zones, a silo approach to public affairs is no longer viable. Companies navigate in a globalised system with global challenges (trade, environment, food security, energy scarcity): what happens in China impacts the EU and vice versa.
In view of the current global economic slowdown, all eyes are expectantly turned on market prospects in China where a burgeoning economy and growing middle class still offer untapped opportunities for foreign players, from the pharmaceutical and retail sectors to logistics, automotives and chemicals.
On November 8th at the 18th Party Congress, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) will see new faces in many of the top leadership posts. Given the importance of the Party’s leadership to the functioning of the world’s second-biggest economy, these major generational changes will strongly impact the margin of maneuver of foreign companies operating in China. It will also have a critical influence on the future of EU-China political and trade relations and therefore on public affairs in Brussels, Beijing and beyond.
Stay tuned for a comprehensive analysis of what the upcoming Chinese leadership change can bring to the industry, European consumers and EU policy makers.
October 23, 2012
In the spirit of the upcoming review of EU waste policy, here’s some secondary raw material that you may have missed the first time around. It still, hopefully, has some value.
5 years ago: I considered the potential for public opinion to have a greater impact on EU public policy. Has much changed in five years I wonder? Answers on a postcard (or in comments).
2 years ago: Our tech team led by Teresa Calvano put out a paper on cloud computing. With a Cloud Computing Communication released by the Commission only weeks ago, Teresa and the team are holding a luncheon on the subject matter later in November. Keep an eye on our Brussels website’s events page for details.
1 year ago: Anita Kelly reversed roles by interviewing the European Voice‘s Ian Wishart about the use of digital tools in media. You can hear his thoughts here. Or follow him on Twitter here.
October 15, 2012
It has been said, admittedly by me, that the REACH Regulation (EU chemicals law) is a lot like the Airbus A-380. The first time you saw it you stood in amazement at the sheer size of the thing and thought to yourself that there’s no way on God’s earth that it was going to fly. It’s all too big. It’s all too complex. But fly it does. And while it doesn’t get there any quicker than the thing it replaced, it just gets more folks there and that may be enough to justify the rather exorbitant ticket price. Yet despite living with the regulation for 5 years, industry is only just coming out to tell us that the final destination is worthy of the tiresome journey.
Recent statements by Commission officials suggest the arrival of the review of REACH (delayed from 0612) is approaching its final decent. It’s expected to cover everything from registration requirements of polymers to a report on the functioning of ECHA. And while we’re all still waiting in the arrivals hall, Guido Sacconi, the wily old EP rapporteur from ENVI Committee, has already taken to praising his creation in a recent European Chemicals Agency newsletter article. Perhaps more surprisingly for some the chemical company even ran a love-in of an event complete with Commission and NGO actors here in Brussels to talk about the success of the Regulation. A recent luncheon with a friend of mine, who was involved in the legislative process within the institutions, touched upon the subject of the event. My lunch companion used it as evidence that DG ENVI was right all along. I would suggest her surprise at BASF’s public position is an example of how wrong the chemicals industry has been all along in its positioning on REACH post-adoption.
Don’t get me wrong. There’s a lot that’s wrong with REACH. Its ambition, scope and complexity have consumed huge resources of industry that could be better spent doing more productive things than regulatory compliance. The regulatory certainty that companies need to invest has been undermined on a number of fronts. There’s some pretty subjective criteria (article 57f anyone?) in the existing regulation. The legislator has continued to seek to address chemicals in other legislation, often without due regard to how it fits together with REACH. A concerted campaign is underway to undermine the confidence of all in REACH’s ability to deliver a high level of consumer and environmental protection by highlighting new areas of concern from endocrine disruption to combined effects and chemicals at the nano-scale. From this (Belgian) taxpayer’s point of view, I do wonder how I feel about my Euro being used to examine substances under REACH evaluation, restrictions and authorisation that have already been subject to numerous reviews by EU regulators (I noted for one substance I used to work on that the REACH authorisation process would have been its fifth EU level review of recent years). I also wonder whether we would be served better if they looked at substances for which we didn’t have lots of data and prior regulatory assessments. But then again such substances are not in that ‘political’ class of chemicals that gets media attention and European Parliamentary questions.
But I digress. REACH was needed and somewhat deserved. Any industry that plays defence, can’t explain its products and doesn’t communicate its own value to society is going to get regulated (heavily) eventually. Whether you’re the chemicals industry or the financial services sector, the same rule applies. But more importantly, I think the chemicals industry is missing an opportunity now REACH has been adopted to reset the reputational clock. The world’s largest piece of chemicals legislation offers an opportunity to start afresh with the support of all stakeholders who, with the possible exception of certain NGOs, have a vested interest in the law being seen to work. It’s sad, but something tells me that if the Commission were to make a legislative proposal to amend the text today the end result would be worse rather than better. It’s sad, because I know how many good people, how much money and how much time has been spent making this big bird fly. Paradoxically it would appear that the industry has spent so much time trying to make REACH work, it is forgetting to communicate it to the folks that matter (as underlined by a piece of work we did for CEFIC last year on the industry’s reputation in town).
As such, BASF should be praised for taking the lead in communicating with passion to those that matter how successful REACH has been. If only the industry as a whole would expend a fraction of the effort they’ve spent on complying with REACH communicating about it. Then maybe we’d could start appreciating the benefits chemicals and the chemicals industry bring to our lives. Before industry does so in a concerted manner, all the regulatory compliance in the world will not overcome continued concerns about its products’ safety, or frankly concerns about the industry’s integrity overall. And the industry will continue to face ongoing regulatory threats.
September 28, 2012
Back in 2005/2006 I got annoyed with hiring highly competent people with several degrees as interns, most of whom really wanted a job not an internship (if you’re in that boat read this). In a spasm of proactivity I went about setting up our lovely undergraduate internship programme together with my alma mater, the University of Newcastle Upon Tyne. The idea being that we got keen and intelligent interns for an entire academic year (long enough to be of value), while our interns got an unforgettable year of (hard) work in their third (Erasmus) year of University.
With living expenses covered and the opportunity to be a fully paid up member of a leading public affairs firm, I reasoned that I would have jumped at the chance back when I was 20 (a long time ago). After all, the principal value of my Erasmus year was that I got to know all the greatest kebab joints in Strasbourg and spent time hanging out in an Irish bar. As it turns out, I was not wrong. Six years on our programme has seen nearly 30 students go through our office and become part of the FH Brussels family (some would say cult). Two members of the programme are current members of staff after we hired them post their final year (Ed Ratcliffe and David Turier) and others remain good friends of the firm.
After saying goodbye to the likes of irrepressible Ms. Cracknell recently, the beginning of September saw our sixth generation of interns arrive with us. They’ll be here until the end of June 2013…by which stage we’ll be wondering how we ever survived without them. Here they are with the name of the teams they are joining in brackets and their universities.
- Lauren Beaty (Manufacturing & Industrials) – Kings College, London
- Alexandra Necula (Financial Services) – University of Essex
- Roisin Carlos (Manufacturing & Industrials) – University College Dublin
- Thomas Murray (Energy) – University College Dublin
- Vassia Popova (Digital and Media Specialist Services) – University of Warwick
- Jack Tabner (Healthcare) – University of Warwick
- Matthew Scott (Financial Services) – University of Sheffield
- Paulius Vainauskas (Technology) – University of Sussex
If you’re wondering how the experience is for this year’s crop, Jack is writing a blog called “a Yorkshire sprout in Brussels” that promises to be an interesting read about his time here. And if you’re a student looking for next year, our website has details of how you can badger your course leader to linking up with us for 2013. The application process starts towards the end of this year for September 2013.
September 17, 2012
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.
July 25, 2012
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.
October 24, 2011