To communicate or not to communicate

OCTOBER 2017. Thanks to the European Association of Communication Directors for their cooperation in organising this joint session held on 26th October.

The speakers sat down to face a tightly packed Press Club. Natalia Kurop as moderator set the context of the session by providing three key themes to be addressed by the speakers, and in the audience Q&A session:

  • To communicate or not to communicate?
    The role of communications and media relations in EU association advocacy.
  • Feeling the fear and doing it anyway
    Why is media relations important to advocacy?
  • Working in the Twitter world
    Policy in 140 characters or less.

Natalia opened the discussion by painting a picture of the world that communicators operate in today. She made reference to the rise of populism within Europe and beyond, the risks posed by Brexit, the effects of climate change, and the increasingly dynamic and disturbed news cycles, thanks to social media. She stated that these factors affect the ways in which communicators in EU associations must engage in order to be effective. Click here to download Natalia’s presentation.

Natalia discussed how important the reputation of a sector is in achieving favourable policy outcomes in the EU. She underlined that if the sector has a poor reputation, it is more likely that EU decision makers would not take that sector’s opinion into account. She then referred to Ellwood Atfield’s recent research on reputation, which demonstrated that 74% of the 200 respondents of senior association leaders and members all agreed that reputation was essential to achieving public affairs goals. Another finding from EA’s research pointed to NGOs and activists as representing the greatest risk to a Brussels industry sector’s reputation. Natalia noted that journalists could write negative stories, but also quoted a senior policy person who was more afraid of the reaction of association members to a press release than any risks posed by a journalist. On the challenges of dealing with time constraints, she pointed out that it takes some European associations between 2 to 7 days to get a press release approved, whereas 1/3 of journalists working in Brussels might have 2 hours or less to deal with a story. To conclude, Natalia reported on original EA research which showed that the top 3 issues for association communications in the next three years include: addressing more audiences despite resource challenges, building and maintaining trust, and linking industrial strategies with effective communications.

Craig Winneker began his presentation on “How to cut through: effective messaging for associations” by stating, “Get to the Monkey!” meaning “get to the point”. He stated that an industry position is not “news” and that a short message will always have a greater impact. He mentioned tips on how to draft a press release and went on to provide examples of “bad” and “not bad” press releases. Finally, Craig asked participants whether, in the age of Twitter and LinkedIn, if anybody still read press releases. Click here to download Craig’s presentation.

Angela Pauly spoke of a case study in which a purely public affairs effort was turned into an advocacy victory. She described how she had been asked to edit a document prior to it being sent to an initial group of signatories. She noted that this was an opportunity to launch a campaign that would have the advantage of using the social media platforms of however many associations that joined in. In the first outreach of the “Industry for Europe” campaign, over 90 signatures were added to the joint declaration.

Angela then sought to leverage the Twitter accounts of the signatory organisations by drafting over a dozen tweets and about 5 different visuals that could be uploaded along with them, to be used by the respective associations. Importantly, she also provided the campaign multipliers with the Twitter handles of key decision makers and a suggested timeline. Within the first week after the launch of the campaign, the hashtag “Industry4Europe” had accumulated over a million impressions on Twitter. President Juncker mentioned the industrial policy in his State of the Union address a few weeks later. This was a prime example of how both the public affairs and communication teams were successful in working together for a common cause.

Natalia then engaged the audience by asking questions on which social media platforms they used and how to frame advocacy messages. She underlined the challenges of creating this framework in 140 characters. Participants shared experience on the use of LinkedIn as a tool for growing industry sector networks. Facebook could also be used for highlighting events linked to the sector. An audience member questioned whether Twitter figures really told the truth about the real impact of the message leading to a discussion about how to measure the impact of a campaign in public policy terms. Key Performance Indicators were considered elusive in terms of communications, but the speakers highlighted the selection made by decision makers in their choice of what to re-tweet, their reference to campaigns in their public statements, and the number of mentions of a campaign in traditional press articles. They also agreed that the Members of the European Parliament welcomed Twitter as an awareness raising tool whereas Commission officials might favour longer messages to be found more often in press releases.

Magdalena Wawrzonkowska aptly summarised the lively debate at the close of the session. She first reiterated the importance of the inclusion of the communications team in discussions about shaping, formatting and distributing public affairs messages. Whilst the communications roles in associations tend to be lower in number than their lobbying counterparts, working together to achieve common goals from the outset could offset the lack of staff.

Magda confirmed that there was indeed still a place for press releases and urged participants to follow the advice of Craig, in particular, keeping to the point, providing real news, and using the active voice.

Finally, Magda underlined that although the role of association communicators had become more complex use of social media, she pointed to this diversity as an advantage since it provided the means with which to reach a wider audience.

the speakers

Natalia Kurop, Senior Adviser at Ellwood Atfield, Partner at Dober Partners

Natalia Kurop has been active in communications and public affairs for 20 years. Over the last 10 years in Brussels Natalia has served as Director of Communications at DIGITALEUROPE, the leading European digital technology association, where she developed strategies to promote the industry to political and business audiences. More recently Natalia has been responsible for media relations on behalf of the EU manufacturing alliance AEGIS Europe, the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB Europe), and The European Technology and Travel Services Association (ETTSA). Natalia started her career as a broadcast journalist with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), and has produced numerous radio documentaries and TV programmes. She is former Treasurer and Board Member of the European Association of Communication Directors (EACD), and is currently a Director at Ellwood Atfield and Partner with Dober Partners, a boutique communications consulting firm.

Craig Winneker, Director of Communications at ePURE

Craig has worked as a communications professional and journalist for more than 25 years in Brussels and Washington. Since December 2016, he has been Director of Communications for ePURE, the European renewable ethanol industry association. Before this he was News Editor at POLITICO, where he edited the daily Brussels Playbook and ran a team of eight reporters covering EU politics. He has worked as Director of Public Affairs at the European Crop Protection Association, and as Director of Political Communications for the European Photovoltaic Industry Association. His journalism career included top editorial positions with the Wall Street Journal Europe and European Voice in Brussels. He was also Managing Editor of Roll Call in Washington. He holds a BA in political science from Texas Christian University. A U.S. citizen whose mother tongue is English, Craig also speaks French. When he’s not riffing at the keyboard, he’s playing guitar in a rock band called The Basement Apes.

Angela Pauly, Head of Communications at UNIFE

Angela Pauly is Head of Communications for UNIFE, the association which represents the interests of the European rail manufacturing industry. In her current role, Angela is responsible for overseeing UNIFE’s communications strategy, campaigns and media activities towards EU institutions, broadly across the EU rail sector and related stakeholders. Prior to this, Angela worked as a communications consultant in Brussels as well as in Washington DC. For several years’ she held the position of Social Media Manager and Communications Officer for the Brussels operation of Oceana, a global not-for-profit organisation which engages in campaigns that aim to protect and restore the world’s oceans. Angela, who holds both French and US passports, has a MA in European Studies from the University of British Columbia, and a BA in Political Science from Wellesley College in the United States.

Magdalena Wawrzonkowska, Communications Manager at IFOAM EU

Prior to working at IFOAM EU, Magdalena worked as Head of Communications at Orgalime, the European Engineering Industries Association. She’s an active member of the European Association of Communication Directors (EACD), and is the association’s Regional Coordinator for Belgium. Magdalena holds a Master degree in Political Science from the Nicolaus Copernicus University in Torun, Poland.


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