To mark the 10-year anniversary of both Communication Director magazine and the European Association of Communication Directors (EACD), we've turned to the heads of the EACD Working Groups – groups that meet regularly to discuss a specific topic or industry, from Brand Leadership to Finance and Insurance – to describe the changes that have occurred in their area of expertise in the past 10 years.
Béla Dajka, head of the EACD's European Insitutions Working Group, explains how the EU has faced the challenge of communicating to its citizens - a challenge, as recent events show, which remains as urgent as ever.
Looking at communicaiton in EU insitutions, certain developments over recent years stand out as especially noteworthy. There is a growing trend in government organisations at both national and municipal level to adopt corporate communication concepts such as integrated communication, reputation management, branding and even marketing. The EU institutions are also trying and testing these concepts in order to develop stronger institutional communication. As a result, there has been a shift away from “EU communication” as an umbrella concept. I think the institutions realise that unless they clearly explain their individual roles (and differences) in the EU system, people's understanding of the EU will not significantly improve. Nevertheless, there is still a debate between those who make the case for coordinated “EU communication” and those who think the institutions should rather emphasise their differences.
"The institutions realise that unless they clearly explain their individual roles (and differences) in the EU system, people's understanding of the EU will not significantly improve."
The most important and probably underrated change has been the recruitment wave of communication specialists under the Barroso I and II Commissions, originally initiated by Margot Wallström as Commissioner responsible for communication. We now see the advantages of the in-house communication capacity and expertise that have been built up as a result of this recruitment wave. In-house capacity not only improves the way we do things in communication, it has also an organisational impact in that professional communicators tend to challenge organisational inertia and culture: the way policies are made and communicated or the way people interact with each other within the organisation.
"The most important and probably underrated change has been the recruitment wave of communication specialists under the Barroso I and II Commissions, originally initiated by Margot Wallström as Commissioner responsible for communication."
These changes have had a direct impact on my work, inasmuch as my current job has been created as a result of the corporate communication approach that the Commission is now pursuing. The Commission is making a stronger effort to coordinate communication activities across its many departments in order to improve the effectiveness and cost-efficiency of our communication. More frequently than before, I also find myself in good internal discussions about communication governance, further professionalization and improved internal communication. I'm happy to see that communication is being seriously considered from an organisational development perspective.
"I'm happy to see that communication is being seriously considered from an organisational development perspective."
Of course, some trends that were heavily promoted did not work out quite as expected. Ten years ago institutional communicators genuinely believed that improving direct communication with citizens would improve the understanding of the EU. We see from Eurobarometer surveys that this is not the case. The actions of the EU institutions are still largely explained and interpreted by national and local communicators, including political actors and the media. Despite of being strong on digital pull communication, the EU institutions still do not have appropriate means to push messages and to reach out to very large segments of the population, let alone to defend themselves with a strong voice in the face of unjustified criticism.
Looking to the future
As I look towards the future of EU insitutions communiations, I hope first that communication will be recognised as a strategic management function in the EU institutions and communication will not just be used to convey policy messages but also to help define policies. Second, I hope that the EU institutions will make an even stronger effort to explain what their work is all about. Ideally, they would start consciously managing their organisational brands. Third, I hope that EU institutions will do visible communication campaigns with simpler and clearer messages to explain policies. Let’s call it policy marketing as opposed to political marketing which has traditionally been a domain for political parties. We already saw examples of this by the European Parliament in the run up to the 2014 European elections or by the Commission in both corporate and sector specific campaigns. Government institutions at national level use marketing, including paid advertising and I do not see any reasons why the EU institutions should not do it. The challenge remains the same: how to reach out to 500 million citizens. Press releases, citizen dialogues and organic social media posts alone will not do the trick.
Views contained in the article are those of the author and may not reflect the views of the European Commission.
This year, the European Association of Communication Directors (EACD) and Communication Director are celebrating their joint 10 year anniversary. To find out more about EACD Working Groups, visit the website here.