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(Taken from this month’s Espresso)

As Espresso and its readers are well aware, communication is key, be it when communicating to the press, externally or internally, or in times of crisis.  Sometimes a business shies away from communicating, sometimes it has a strategy to promote to the outside world, and sometimes it is forced to communicate out of necessity as a result of a crisis.

Everyone's revolutionary hero, Viviane Reding (Source: Wikipedia)

In this sense, the EU is no different.  After the infamous “non” and “nee”’ referenda on the EU Constitution in 2005 it was decided that what the EU needed to do was “communicate.” According to EU-logic, if it communicated what it was doing citizens would experience a road to Damascus moment and start voting “oui” and “ja” instead.

Five years later, and it would appear that citizens are still as apathetic as before.  Who’d have thought it?!

Time for a revolution – specifically, a “communication revolution.”

New Communications Commissioner Viviane Reding – an experienced operator on the Brussels scene and not to be messed with – wants to bring about a culture shock.  In a letter to President Barroso she outlines her vision for communicating Europe, some of which could be considered controversial by the very people she is willing to target.

Firstly she states that the EU project can only work if the Commission is perceived as the EU government.  An interesting notion, given that unlike every Member State government the Commission doesn’t have much of a democratic mandate from the electorate.

Similarly, the plan to centre communication in the figure of President Barroso – largely unknown outside political circles, the Brussels bubble, and his home country of Portugal – seems both ambitious and questionable, since President Barroso cannot be said to be democratically elected either.

Despite the fiery rhetoric then, this is far from being a revolution.

In response, Espresso would like to humbly propose that reforming how the Commission communicates should be preceded by reforming the EU institutions themselves; so if you want a revolution, here it is.

Firstly, Commissioners should be elected, either on the EU or Member State level.  This would immediately engage citizens, and whilst there is no reason to suppose turnout would be particularly high it would at least make the Commissioners beholden to their electorate.  This already changes the dynamics of the communication flow and provides the Commission President with more limelight than is currently the case.

At times of crisis the EU, like any business, needs to communicate – but an EU communication revolution cannot happen without a prior institutional revolution.  Since the latter is unlikely to take place, the former will be rendered redundant.

Food for thought, Ms Reding.

– Rob

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Let's do better than this, shall we?

Since Ivy Lee’s famous press release in 1906, media communication has evolved. Some would argue the pinnacle of this development is the social media press release. It’s nothing revolutionary in The Lobby’s opinion, but it does hit the nail on the head in one sense – in keeping with the times.

Digital is here to stay, whether you like it or not, which to a certain degree means that tools, plied for whatever trade, that keep up with the changing face of internet technology are probably more likely to survive, thrive, and get the job done.

Here are some mind boggling statistics to reinforce this point:

  • In 1995 there were 45.1 million internet users, at the end of September 2009, that same figure had risen to 1.73 billion.
  • On average 247 billion emails are sent every day.
  • There are over 234 million websites and 128 million blogs today.
  • 27.3 million tweets are sent on Twitter every day.
  • Facebook serves 260 billion page views per month, or 37.4 trillion page views a year.

Now then, back to the social media press release. The basics are straightforward and well established, especially for public relations professionals. It’s a digital news release that contains multimedia elements such as MP3 files or links to podcasts, graphics, video, RSS-feeds, Technorati tags and ‘add/share’ buttons for popular sharing platforms such as Digg, Reddit, Stumbleupon etc. Here you can see two examples of social media releases from Cisco and Symantec.

So what about the position paper, the staple food of the ever-so-non-digital Brussels public affairs scene? At the risk of upsetting our peers in Brussels, it seems the most avant-garde move that that public affairs professionals have done on this front is to turn a Word document into a PDF, ideal for – yes – printing. OK that’s not quite true, but you get the gist.

Where is the digital position paper? The tool that in the future will form the means to communicate with stakeholders (when we’ve finally evolved into a paperless society and when digital paper has taken off in a big way), the tool that will be read by Commission, Council and Parliament officials on Android powered pads. We’re not there yet, but the tools to create such a position paper are most definitely here or in the pipeline at the very least.

Imagine opening up a truly interactive and visual position paper. The key messages are there sure, but, for instance, the manufacturing process is displayed in crystal clear video, statistics and key figures come to life when clicked, diagrams and charts are smoothly plotted across your screen, the CEO of the company gives you a quick tour of the company’s upcoming priorities etc.

This vision might seem to be a simple attempt at daring to be bold, but, it could still be rather more effective when it comes to communicating with stakeholders in Brussels, than the traditional two-pager in black and white with a few logos in the header…

We’re curious to know what people think, both inside and outside of the institutions. Is the digital position paper part of the missing link? Could it improve communication in Brussels (and D.C. for that matter)?

– Emil

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Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2

The guy who outmanoeuvred Harry Potter (image by The Lobby)

The much anticipated, yet controversial game, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, broke all records when released globally on 10 November. The game, which was released on Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and PC, generated $550 million of gross revenue during its first five days on the market.

So what? Well, given that Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince movie’s five-day global box-office record was $394 million, this figure is actually quite mind-boggling.

Many of us might not know that Europe represents the third biggest gaming market in the world, after the US and Asia – led in particular by Germany, France, the UK and to a lesser extent Spain. The gaming industry in Europe encompasses more than 600 PC and video game studios and employs over 100,000 individuals in Europe. If history can shed any light on the future of the global (and European for that matter) gaming industry – things are looking up. The global worth of the industry was estimated at $5bn in 1981, $54bn last year, and is set to exceed $68bn in sales by 2012 – leading The Lobby to ponder whether this is perhaps one of Europe’s most promising industries of the future (creating jobs and tapping into the talent of young European game developers!)

Nevertheless, the creative industry, and the gaming industry in particular, will always have its critics, crying foul at the levels of violence depicted in today’s games, as well as its proponents.

So how about developing a game taking students, laymen, and professionals alike through the new process of comitology under Lisbon?

I’d play it. For a while anyway.

– Emil

On Saturday Claire Cain Miller of the New York Times published an article that has made the rounds of the blogosphere in quite some fashion (a Google blog search for the article generates just over 14,900 hits). The article “Spinning the Web: PR in Silicon Valley” is a well-researched and timely piece about how public relations (PR) execs in Silicon Valley propel new tech start-ups not by issuing press releases and calling up journalists – rather they court Web gurus, influential bloggers, and Twitter users.

The article mentions a few interesting examples, for instance, Brew Media Relations, the firm that began representing the popular photo-sharing site Flickr in 2004, never issued a press release for it, even when it was acquired by Yahoo. Ms Hammerling of Brew Media Relations explains “Flickr would publish news on its company blog, a few more blogs would pick it up, and two days later Business Week would call”.

But the piece does not tell the full story of the fundamental revolution PR is presently undergoing, as Brian Solis of FutureWorks aptly points out on his blog PR2.0. Solis explains how PR, particularly in Silicon Valley, is “much more potent than most entrepreneurs, investors, and executives realize”. He also stresses the degree to which PR today is under-appreciated and misunderstood. PR is not about ‘pushing’ news, rather it is about creating relationships “with the greater communities of influencers and users who can help extend a story, intentions, value, and sentiment as a means of driving awareness, building communities, and empowering advocates over time”.

Granted, Silicon Valley is more conducive to ‘new’ PR strategies, tools, and approaches, than say Brussels, for instance, but this should not stand in the way of PR innovation in a more ‘traditional’ arena such as the EU heartland. While there are excellent initiatives and a clear momentum towards true recognition of new PR (for example, in this year’s European Public Affairs Awards there is a new category for best Web 2.0 campaign), Brussels’ agencies are seriously lagging behind their US and continental competitors and partners. Yes, there are agencies that feature polished blogs (see Fleishman Hillard’s Public Affairs 2.0, ZN’s HyperThinker or our very own The Lobby) and there are trade associations that are successfully using Twitter or facebook (see Enviro.aero or Pesticide Information) but that’s about it. Brussels agencies are keen and the tools are all around us, but it remains to be seen whether Brussels and its opaque institutions are ready for them.

I challenge you to name a single senior Brussels PR executive who has 6 influential bloggers and 4 prolific Twitter users on speed-dial rather than 10 members of the Brusssels press corps (and who is willing to take his or her story to them rather than to the press)?

– Emil

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