Marmite and 23 other things I learned at europcom day two

Day two of the Europcom event saw discussion, argument and some more tips for comms people. And a few polarising views.

by Dan Slee

There’s a jar of food you can buy in Britain that serves as a lovely piece of understatement. It’s called marmite and you either love it or hate it.

It’s a yeast extact you spread on toast in the morning and divides opinion.

As day two of the Europcom event staged by the EU for communicators there was a taste of marmite from closing plenary speaker Simon Anholt.

Simon's biography states that he is a professor and an independent policy advisor to government.

Europe is a community, not a corporation, he said. Okay.

Public service is not business, added. Can see that.

Instead of thinking ‘what can we say to them’ think ‘what are we going to do together?’ No, for me it’s both.

Some civil servants talk about the public as though they were the enemy. Can see that too at times.

But Government is not management? Not really, it is. See how you manage when you don’t pay your taxes or drive the wrong side of a motorway.

Branding is fascism. Really? 

Leadership is not customer service. Did anyone say that it was?

State organisations spending money on comms was also wrong, he told the audience of comms people. It should be left to the Press to communicate with the people, by and large. Not the state.

There are just the three flaws in Simon’s argument. For that to happen the Press needs to be fair and balanced, well-staffed and plentiful. Get one of those, many would say, and  you are doing well.

There’s also an elephant in the room to the argument, too. It’s called the internet. In particular, it’s called the social web where people are holding conversations and discussions about a whole stack of things. The EU included. They’re, in the words of the Cluetrain Manifesto, not waiting. But they would like us to be involved in the discussion.

Simon thinks the internet is a bar full of drunks. That’s plain hooey. If you want it to be it is. If you want to connect with people you can and I’m just not buying the idea that council magazines is a sleepwalking step towards tyranny.

Interestingly, Simon doesn’t seem to be on Twitter and didn’t stay for questions. A cunning ploy.

But the good thing about the marmiteness of the approach was that it made me think of what good comms should look like. It should be human. It should be timely and relevant, useful and in a platform where people want it.

So, thank you for the reminder, Simon. Challenge is always good.

As an experience, covering Europcom as a social reporter with Darren Caveney was excellent. There are some brilliant people in Brussels.

Here’s some other things that I learned:

  1. Anthony Zacharzewski of the Democratic Society is quite right when he says that the EU – or any bit of government – should be planning for the next election the day after the polls are closed and the results are announced. It should be relevant every day.
  2. Comms people have a massive role in making that happen.
  3. Research and stats can back up a communicator’s hunch.
  4. Having awareness as the point of a campaign or a bit of comms is a bit pointless. Don’t do it.
  5. The EU should think of doing more of it’s communicating at a local level. At a really, really local level. At a county, city and parish level.
  6. Everyone in Europe has something to be thankful to Europe for. Whether it’s that summer holiday, or the bottle of wine on the table or the job that has been safeguarded in Wales by the engineering project in Italy.
  7. Europcom trended in Belgium two days running. Along with Bruno Mars, Paris and Windows 8.1.
  8. Ogilvy PR say you should allocate five per cent of your budget to evaluation.
  9. Forty per cent of Europcom attendees came from outside Brussels.
  10. It would be great if there were tighter ties between the EU and local government.
  11. I do wish I’d been in the storytelling session. It sounded great.
  12. Trust is built through repeated action.
  13. The best social media advice remains: ‘don’t make your boss look stupid.’
  14. Failure is Europeanised and success is nationalised.
  15. There is a Northern Europe way of doing things and a Sothern Europe way. The northern way involves jokes and being self-deprocating. The Southern, is being serious with facts and research.
  16. Comms people based in Brussels would do well to visit and talk to colleagues from different parts of Europe. Like in a kind of exchange scheme. Or town twinning.
  17. French people trust their government 18 per cent and the EU 21 per cent.
  18. EU people would be well served to read Jim Garrow’s post on trust. In short, no-one trusts the people at the top. They trust more the people at the bottom.
  19. Ignore email at your peril.
  20. Tom de Smedt from the EU is just one of several really good people in that organisation.
  21. Do your evaluation before you start communicating.
  22. ‘Out with hate, in with love,’ is a good breathing exercise.
  23. Google hangouts at the next Europcom could be a good way to bring in speakers who can’t always get there.
  24. Just because you make controversial comments at a conference doesn't mean you are right.

Dan Slee is co-creator of comms2point0.

Picture credit.