Building a strong comms culture in the Brussels bubble means getting out more

Brett Kobie

We know that comms matters in the Brussels bubble, but we also know its needs to matter more. With events like last week’s first-ever European Digital Advocacy Summit (H/T Andras Baneth of the PAC) signalling a concrete convergence of public affairs and communications, it’s clear that comms is inching its way towards lasting relevance in BXL. Now it’s time for us to make sure we’re worth keeping around. It’s time to share our ideas, successes and missteps. It’s time to taste our neighbour’s burrito.


Comms lessons from the Tex-Mex community?

There’s this one city block in this one city I know where there are nine burrito places. Burrito joint A was the first one there and their burritos were so-so, but then burrito joints B through I opened up. Burrito joint D became the media darling, burrito joint F the copycat and burrito joint G the gourmet price-gouger. Burrito joints H and I were shut down by the health department.

By the end of this four-year burrito war, burrito joint A had come to be known for its dramatically improved burritos and vintage charm – suddenly they had the best burritos on the block.

How did they get there? Well, they tasted everyone else’s burritos and made theirs better of course. And that’s what you should do if you want to know if your burritos suck. And by burritos, I mean your ideas.

Yeah, thanks but…that’s kind of obvious

It’s common sense in any business to compare your product with your competitors – this I acknowledge. But you’d be surprised how many of us—especially in the Brussels comms world—continue to operate inside our personal comfort zones of creative monotony. We get caught up in vicious cycles of creating ideas that we know will garner the broad support of our organisations without actually testing the limits of what’s possible—usually we’d rather get on with the execution of a project than go to battle for what’s really best.

And when we come up with a comms approach to a problem that is NEW(!) and EXCITING(!) it’s often old and boring because it’s been done to death by peers who we haven’t bothered to check with.

Making it ok for Brussels comms folks to get out more

A big obstacle in the Brussels comms world is the feeling that comms folks are back office types. That they should be kept in cages writing copy, editing press releases and aligning the headers on powerpoint slides. We rank maybe one notch up from the IT guys on the hierarchy of “employees who have a legitimate need to get out of the office and meet people.”

Sure, we’ve got the internet to keep us plugged in to what’s going on but that’s no match for face-to-face exchange with outsiders. And only talking to comms people is also not enough – meeting people from different disciplines is essential to producing well-informed communications that take account of the real world around us. In Brussels, public affairs people and comms people often think they shouldn’t mix, but the strategy that goes into both has so much overlap that it makes sense to swap stories. Don’t put yourself in a box Brussels!.

I’ve been fortunate enough to work in environments where this kind of outdoor activity is encouraged and to work in cities where others are also keen to get together and talk about creative successes and failures. But I recognise that many tightly wound organisations – those keen to recruit only type 1 communicators—would never even entertain the thought that their comms people have any business talking to outsiders, especially during working hours.

So here’s to creating a comms culture in Brussels where we can reach out and touch each other (and our PA colleagues) and explain how a certain campaign went sour, how the KPIs were set wrong, how it pulled in bad press instead of good. A culture where we can talk to our comms and PA peers and push ourselves to make something better than what’s been made before – a place where we can taste our neighbour’s burrito.

A version of this post first appeared on Views here are my own and not those of any present or past employer or client.