Is the Brussels bubble embracing the new media landscape?

Brett Kobie

Update: see my note at the end about Politico’s entrance onto the Brussels scene with its acquisition of European Voice

Seasoned EU public affairs practitioners are no strangers to the idea of leveraging media to deliver key messages on a given topic. But the Brussels and wider European media landscapes have undergone monumental shifts—is the EU policy community shifting with them?

Paid and earned media are well-understood concepts and Brussels is well on board the social bandwagon. But what is owned media and how can it work in a policy context?

Paid, earned, shared and owned

I would be surprised if you haven’t heard these four words uttered in the same breath sometime in the last 12 months—they are what are typically considered to be the “four types of media” and are increasingly popping up in powerpoints near you.

In basic terms, paid media covers traditional advertising and things like advertorials (in Brussels, think Parliament magazine or banner ads on Euractiv). Earned media is when an established media outlet runs with a story for which you may have provided input and hopefully comes out with a clear reflection of the narrative you’d like to see spread (in pan-European terms, think Financial Times or Reuters).

Paid and earned media have long dominated the media sphere and as a result, we all feel quite confident that we understand them, what they mean and why they may or may not make sense for our messages.

Oh, and social?

Simply put, shared media is social media—and I would say that after five years of playing catch-up with other parts of the world, Brussels is “convinced that it should be convinced that social media is important.” People are eager to be on board, but still not quite sure how to make their social effort serve their objectives or why it justifies such a big time commitment.

What owned media can mean for the Brussels bubble

The EU policy scene is overflowing with niche policy issues usually of interest only to niche audiences (sometimes audiences that are even exclusively in Brussels). At the same time, the Brussels press corps is overflowing with time-strapped reporters looking to cover big-ticket EU stories for wider national audiences.

Clearly there is a mismatch here.

Brussels-based media like Euractiv, EU Observer and European Voice do a great job of trying to fill the gap, but given the staggering breadth of issues, cannot possibly cover everything in depth. Industry-specific trade press plays its own role, but again, the audiences are often too small to sustain them.

Covering niche issues for niche audiences just doesn’t make business sense for these outlets.

So who does have an interest in investing in the spread of information on micro-issues of potentially huge importance – who should think it is worth their time to stir debate on a given topic in way that is engaging and relatable to a tiny but influential audience?

Well those active in the debate themselves of course. Whether it’s a traditional corporate blog post or a more ambitious brand journalism effort, Brussels’ forward-thinking PA operators have set out to tell their own stories and beam them right to the people they want to read them. They’re building brand newsrooms to create news in ways they know make sense for their audiences (and importantly, in ways that don’t turn them off).

They get owned media.

Want examples? Take a look at some enterprising first movers herehere and here.

Update: We knew DC media powerhouse Politico was coming to Brussels, but we didn’t know they would buy European Voice. Will Politico be able to make their business model work in Brussels? Will they be able to fill the information gap on niche issues in new and unique ways?

Change happens slowly in Brussels, but over time and with ingenuity and resources, Politico may have the potential to really disrupt the EU media landscape. It will be fascinating to watch this play out and also fun to see which interest groups become early adopters of what Politico has to offer in terms of sponsored content that goes beyond models currently available here in the bubble.