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Disruptiveness matters

Over the past couple of days, I attended “Politicians in a communication storm, an event organized by the Media Directorate of the European Parliament focusing on recent communication issues, in particular:

  • Social media and trust: how to overcome myths and propaganda
  • What we’ve learnt from the US elections, Brexit and the peace process in Colombia
  • Politics and millennials

Apart from the outstanding networking opportunity (the attendance list was both huge and very diverse) it was good to make the point of the situation in European communication, challenges following Brexit, the (highly unexpected) Trump election and the current political crisis Europe is stuck in. The main lessons from the day:

“Brussels comms” is a bubble and doesn’t want to change: Autumn is “Comms Conf Season” in Brussels: EuroPCom, NATO SMIO, media4Democracy just to mention a few. Out of all the people in the panels I attended, there was neither a Brexit campaign manager, nor a Trump communication advisor or similar. These are huge conferences, but only displaying people that think “in the box” or “in the bubble.” That was a big let-down. The communication of EU institutions, whether we like it or not, is stuck in its own arrogance and instead of learning from winners, these gathering of communication professionals are more keen on listening to those who lost massively (in this case we had speakers from the Guardian and the Washington Post who supported Bremain and Clinton), whose only arguments are hypothetical scenarios (“If millennials had turned up to vote, if Florida voted differently, if Wales voted differently etc…). All these speculations are pretty useless and feed the bubbleS (whether we are talking about Brussels, London or Washington) with their own pleasing content. Talking about echo chambers….

Look East: For decades, Europe looked at itself as the second best in digital communication after the US. Well, it’s time to think again. South East Asia, the Middle East and South American institutions are using social media way more strategically and way more audaciously than in the old continent ( as presentations by Nestor Eduardo Chiliquinga Mazón, Secretary-General of the Andean Parliament and especially by Hiren Joshi, Social Media Advisor to India’s Prime Minister showed).  Especially the work of PM Narendra Modi ahead of his latest election has been absolutely outstanding and daring…and most importantly, successful. EU comms is too stuck into its own communication protocol, but this approach is making Europe lag behind in the latest communication trends in times where we need to urgently get closer to the citizens, not further. East Asian governments seem to set the bar very high in disruptive communication. Lots of things to learn from them.

Feed your attendees…and give them objects to engage: The most shared photos of the event were of the beautiful and delicious cupcakes, the organizers were distributing to participants. You may think this doesn’t really relate to the event, but guess what? The event’s hashtag #PICsocial trended in Belgium, Spain and Sweden. The end justifies the means and using hooks to raise visibility always pays off.

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Kudos to the colleagues at the Parliament for organizing this. I hope the experience will be repeated in the future.

The 2016 Mr. Olympia was a terrific bodybuilding contest, definitely the best in years. Not only because of the insane line-up of athletes who walked the stage in Vegas but also for the overall media attention (which grows significantly every year) and a huge drama element. Two top competitors (Dennis Wolf and Kai Greene) dropped out last moment for different reasons and Kevin Levrone, one of the greatest bodybuilders of all time, came back from retirement…at age 52, after 13 years of inactivity and after going through a number of complicated surgeries.

Now, this is not the first time a famous athlete comes back from retirement. We have seen this in football (Paul Scholes), basketball (Michael Jordan), rugby (Andy Goode), swimming (Michael Phelps) and others… if it wasn’t for the way Mr. Levrone came back. Firstly, we are talking about 13 years of inactivity, not a few months. Secondly, we are talking about a 52-year-old man competing against athletes half his age. Thirdly, the marketing and communication around the comeback was spot on.

Kevin Levrone has been incredibly smart, subtle and humble in his communication, in a way that, no matter his ranking on stage, he would come out as a winner. At the end of the day, he shone through (deservably) as an absolute legend, and a true inspiration for us all. I met him at FIBO 2016 and told him “Thank you for the inspiration you’re giving to athletes who love this sport” and he replied “Thank you Sir.” It’s that modesty that made me realize what kind of value I was witnessing.

He kept humble. Kevin has been very active in his social media during the build up to the Mr. Olympia. Still, he never, or hardly ever, showed his condition and progress. We had to wait until 10 days before the show to see his arms and only the day before the contest he showed his torso and legs. He worked in the dark and shone when it mattered.

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Photo Credit: The Official Kevin Levrone Facebook page http://bit.ly/2fMdmzQ

He honoured his commitment. There’s a place in life to think about your purpose and your goals. But this time doesn’t count for anything unless you get things done. Only after the show, Kevin talked about all the insane physical issues and injuries he went through in preparation to the contest. He had no excuses, nor he tried to lower expectations to the fans. So many athletes blame injuries for mediocre performances and career drawbacks but Mr. Levrone didn’t and talked about his tough time only after competing and in a very composed and objective manner. Injuries and accidents happen to everybody but it is the way you manage these difficulties that define whether you are making a great career or not. I believe this applies to all aspects of life. See below what he posted:

I’m posting this pic because it shows the date and time I had my 2 PRP knee treatment. Bottom line is I committed to competing before I started training hardcore. As my training progress I found it was impossible to squat due to quadricep tendinitis in my left knee. So I trained around it the best was I could. Everyone knows you need squats to build the mass. By the time I had my first and second treatment we were within 9-7 weeks from the Olympia. 2 choices I had one to give up and use this as an excuse or stay committed like a man not complain and do my best no matter what they say about me. Well I feel I made the right choice and will never regret going onstage because I’m not a quitter at heart. Good thing is it’s going to get better and eventually I’ll be back 100%. If you guys are suffering from tendon pain look into this treatment it works. Looking forward to my recovery. I’m confident enough that if I walk on stage 100% or 50% I am still Kevin Levrone. You have to experience it all, your failures and your triumphs is what produces the character to NEVER GIVE UP. Stay tuned SHAAAA BOOM!

This is truly inspirational and it’s hardly about the sport of bodybuilding. It’s about building a legacy, a career and an example. What he showed can be applied to all careers and goals we want to set. Head down and working towards your commitments is what makes people of value.

It was fantastic to meet the guys at the Digital Camp programme in Varese (Italy) yesterday. The formation is organized by Varese News an incredible local media outlet that every year organizes the Italian Festival of Digital Journalism. We talked about the European Commission’s social media activity with a focus on the Joint Research Centre, the challenges of science and institutional communication and bridging the gap between citizens and policy makers through social media.

These “kids” have incredible talent and will certainly go places. I was happy to see that these students want to make a difference at the local level, in a country where (including myself) everybody is leaving to international business and politics hubs to build a career. This is a good and positive spirit with our local authorities should invest in.

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Categories: Misc

Lately, I have dedicated a lot of my social media (and a lot of my life) to fitness. I still talk about my main field of expertise which is communication and public relations, but my passion for fitness and bodybuilding has somehow affected both my life and profession in ways that I did not expect.

Firstly, why bodybuilding? I suffered a significant amount of injuries, especially while playing rugby. The latest injury caused me triple foot and ankle surgery which ended my possibility to do any competitive contact sports in the future. Bodybuilding was an alternative I discovered while working at the World Expo in Milan last year. After surgery, apart from the physical situation, I was in a bad place emotionally for a number of reasons. I always enjoyed doing some heave weight lifting and hitting the gym regularly, but bodybuilding is a whole new experience, and I was totally hooked since day one.

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What’s the difference between “going to the gym” and bodybuilding? We can talk about this for ages but it all comes down to one very thing: Bodybuilders compete. It’s that simple. Even though you might find very dedicated people who study, grow and develop their ability to grow muscle, it is the pain, the dedication, the concentration and the mental sacrifice required to get ready for the stage that draws the line between bodybuilding and hitting the gym. This path has taught me a few things I try to apply in my working life:

Let results speak for themselves. How many people do you know talking about fitness and well-being that want to sound like experts…while being visibly overweight? “You know, you should follow this diet…” or “My coach (that I got just two weeks ago…) says cardio is better than weight-lifting to lose fat…” and other nonsense. Similarly, I see and hear so many people talking about best communication, management or community building practices while not actually getting results.

If you get great results, whether you are showing your beach body or running a communication campaign, you won’t need to explain what you are doing. Work in the dark and shine when it matters. Since I got into this beautiful world, I have noticed that the guys that kill it on competition day are those who are always silent at the gym. Hoody on, headphones on, meals packed and go lift some heavy weight. Not many shenanigans but a big mix of dedication and perseverance. Apply the same to your work and career. Your results will speak for you and people will come to you asking how you managed to get results.

Grow out of your comfort zone. I have been very fortunate to be prepared for my first contest by an icon of Italian bodybuilding and a two-times Mr. Universe. Apart from killing me, making me puke (from over-exhaustion) and helping me to reach failure at each and every workout together, these sessions have taught me a very simple principle that accompanies the way I now see life: “To be what you have never been, you gotta be ready to do what you have never done.”

How many people do you see at the gym who have been training for three, five or even ten years and display no change in their physique or strength or condition? Similarly, how many professionals do you know who are stuck in the very same job, who still have the very same skills and level of expertise they had years ago? That is because our body and brain become very quickly accustomed to stimuli, and the moment they plateau is the moment they stop growing. Whether you’re building muscle or your career, it is crucial to keep challenging yourself with new stimuli. To keep growing you have got to change your workout routine, your diet, your rest patterns every month. Similarly try to change your working methods and the way you look at things regularly. Especially if you work in communication, you are challenged by an insanely fast-paced environment where it is easy to lag behind on the latest technology. Sure, many times you will fail both physically and mentally but it is this continuous shock that will make you a more mature human being and a more complete professional on the long run.

The winning team is the one doing the basics best. When I was a kid growing up in a small village in the North of Italy, most of my time I would spend it playing football. At a certain point our team was pretty good. I remember we went on a 30 games winning streak and some of our players got called into pro teams. A local newspaper came to interview our coach who was asked, “How do you get 11 kids to keep winning?” – his response: “We do the basics, every training session, until it is impossible to get a single pass wrong.” I remember that for one year we were given a task: at every session we would count the amount of keepie-uppies we managed to do without the ball touching the ground. At every following session we were not allowed to start practice until we beat our previous personal record.

When you make a decision to improve your body it is useless to think about supplements before learning how to have perfect nutrition and training technique. Still, most beginners are more interested in how to consume creatine and BCAA before learning how to eat 6/8 times a day to increase muscle mass. The very same way, you can’t build a great communications project by skipping the basics of continuous proper copyright, user experience and SEO to go straight into Facebook ads or Google AdWords…unless you have infinite budget.

This is how this sport has helped me look at life differently and definitely more analytically. Has anything happened to you that made you change the way you see your life and profession? Share it with me!

I already written and tweeted about Brussels’ disgraceful customer service culture (in basically all realms) and I thought I had covered it all. But you know, sometimes you think you hit rock  bottom but actually someone manages to dig through the bottom and find another layer of low. This time though, it was an international brand that inexorably faces the distaste of the Belgian capital in providing decent customer service.

A few weeks ago, I desperately needed to get a suit for a wedding and went to the SuitSupply shop nearby my office. I entered, approached a clerk and said “Hi, I would like to buy a suit.” I didn’t say “I’m browsing” or “Mmmhhh, just checking.” I said I wanted a suit. The purchase was just a matter of minutes away. Usually, I’m more careful in displaying interest straightaway, but this time I didn’t have the time for it.

To my surprise, the clerk simply told me “Yeah, check over there” indicating, with utter boredom, the suits department…(right, I’m at SuitSupply…I guess there are suits :/) but I expected something more that a simple indication like “yes, we got suits here.”

Anyway, I look at the suits, pick a few models that could go and approach the man once again: “I’m off to a wedding in Italy. It’s gonna be very warm. Do you think this fabric would suit the hot weather?” – His reply: “Of course. (Full stop).” Looking bored and somehow unmotivated. I asked about some other items and kept getting the same attitude. I was the only customer at that time in the shop.

I decided, I was not going to buy a 600/700€ piece of clothing with such customer service and left. As an active Twitterer, I shared my experience. See below

With both pleasure and surprise, @suitsupply got back to me to know what happened. I was happy to explain. I appreciate when companies try to improve and listen to customers’ feedback. They apologised and asked me if I wanted to be contacted again by the shop manager in order to get a second opinion. I was happy to accept…and here is where the customer service / communication disaster happened.

I received this e-mail (I deleted the author’s name).

Let’s look at it:

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  • Debatable use of English.
  • Some text in black some in blue.
  • No apologies offered.
  • “…that is not the experience YOU SHOULD HAVE after a visit…”

OK, not everybody (me included) is a native English speaker, but if you manage a huge store of an international chain in a European capital, you should be aware of basic manners, especially with an unhappy client. Anyway, I gave him my number.

They call me a few days later but I was abroad for work and missed the call. They sent me this

“Dear Sir,
I tried to call you several times without being able to reach you.
Met vriendelijke groet, Kind regards,”

Let’s look at it again:
  • No greetings
  • They do not offer an alternative.
  • They just said they called and I didn’t reply

I explained I was abroad and they could contact me anytime as of now. It’s been two months and they never got back.

Unsurprisingly, they have 2.5 stars on Yelp.

Here we see how the social media manager of the brand made an effort to make up for bad service while the shop manager repeatedly displayed bad manners. Have you had a similar experience in Brussels or elsewhere?

My dad is one of the most IT illiterate people I know. Probably he is the worst just after my mom, who (I swear) still owns a Nokia 1112 and hasn’t learned yet how to read texts. He has always been a true man of action, spending his whole life working in the constructions business all over the world and working hard every day. He is one of those guys that wakes up at 5AM to work….on a Sunday.

A few months ago, he got interested in using LinkedIn and in how to keep in touch with his former colleagues and current working partners. At the age of 69, I found this very admirable so I gave him a crash course on the social network. The usual stuff: how to connect, how to comment, what kind of content should be shared, which kind of language should be used and so and so forth.

With my pleasure and utter surprise, a few weeks later I noticed how he was probably the most engaged user in my over 4000-connections network, and he certainly was the most passionate user. Contrarily to most people on LinkedIn, he gives honest, spontaneous and personal comments about his field of work. He doesn’t try to (over)sell himself his brand, his expertise. He just says what he thinks. This made me think that this is how all of us used to be on social media before we started being more concerned with personal branding. We would just say things and explore opinions, trends and reactions. Now we continuously sell ourselves, our image and our brand. We kind of become our own brand.

In my work I often bump into people saying “It’s too late to change” or “I’m not cut out for communication and social media.” My dad gives the example that all it takes is the will and desire to learn anything. Everything can be taught and everything can learned at all ages. Go on dad! You’re the man!

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I spent an awesome day at FIBO 2016 in Köln, the biggest fitness fair in the world.  FIBO is an incredible opportunity to get the latest info, news, products, marketing tips in the fitness industry. This fair is huuuuuuuuge. One day is just enough to get a little gist of the massive effort the organizers have put into this beautiful event.

Here are a few things I bring back from this amazing day that I got to spend with some new fantastic friends:

  • Style matters. We got to see 4 or 5 pavilions during the day. You know, in fitness, bodybuilding or lifting, there hasn’t been huge innovation in terms of training machines. If you watch some of Arnold’s videos from the 70s you’ll see that the machines in those videos are quite the same as you see in a regular gym now. But now people want style. We entered the machines and weights pavilion (can’t remember the official name) and I noticed how most people gathered around an Italian brand with super cool and flashy weights, bars, dumbells etc…I hardly believe lifting green, cherry or flashy pink disques instead of the regular black ones will affect your gains. Nevertheless, I admit that entering a colourful gym gives you a different taste, a different feeling. It might have something to do with cromotherapy but now, gyms and providers have to face this challenge. People want to be surrounded by beauty and style. Especially in that place where we look for peace, tranquillity and the possibility to toss a tough day at the office behind.
  • There’s always a new kid on the block…Goodness me. In 12 years of lifting I maybe used 3-4 supplement brands believing that kind of covered the whole market. Well, I was sooooo wrong. There’s a thousand brands out there, all endorsed by famous athletes and fitness figures. Even major brands can’t rest on their lorrels both in terms of product quality and marketing. I think it is positive to experiment with different brands and competition among brands is beneficial for the final user. To fitness enthusiasts my advice is to keep studying. Look at the different composition of each supplement brand and see the effect on you.
  • Fitness communication is mostly about lifestyle. As I discussed in previous posts, fitness is very much a matter of lifestyle rather than sports and health. This has always been the case inside bodybuilding for instance, but it is now that the spotlight is more about the way you conduct your life. Phil Heath said more than once “you can’t be a rockstar and a bodybuilder.”Fitness businesses are booming and standing out among competitors is tough. “Consumers” are now aligning themselves with sports and health brands that they feel share a like-minded perspective. See for instance the great work of Gymshark towards this strategy.

Next year I will definitely be back and hopefully I’ll manage to go to more fitness fairs. Stay tuned on my social media for updates.

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