The Dangers of Ineffective Statistics Communication

I was very pleased to be invited at the DIGICOM Final Event – Sharing Landmark Achievements in Communication and Dissemination to discuss a topic that especially in the modern times of post-truth, false news and high polarization of the institutional and political debate in Europe, is of the utmost importance for communicators and all those involved in producing and putting together statistics and official data from public and private organizations.

I myself am not a statistician and certainly I don’t have the level of competence and knowledge most of the people in the room had in this field. I am a communicator and I have helped and coached institutions, politicians and public officials in doing something different than what they did: getting messages across to others.

When I was contacted to give this intervention, the drafted title for this keynote was “Communicating official statistics effectively” and so I started read the relative literature on the topic including for instance the report “Communication of statistics in post-truth society: the good, the bad and the ugly.”

Thus looking at the work of Eurostat and other organizations in the field, I realized that a lot is already available in relation to communicating statistics. What is missing though; apart from some very interesting analyses, mostly from journalists, public speakers and sometimes some very dedicated politicians with a passion for truth and democracy, is a set a serious warnings about the dangers of ineffective communication of statistics, which then became the title of the intervention.

Why the reverse language? Why is it different to address good communication vs the dangers of bad communication? It’s the feeling that this triggers. Sentiments related to fear, concern and worry trump positive emotions and get more attention from any kind of audience. As a political communicator, and an open believer in a “United Europe”, I looked at the challenges that democratic institutions have had to face over the past few years. This is why, at the very last moment I have decided that my intervention should focus on this danger.

Even though, communicators and statisticians, at least in my humble experience, don’t often interact, the collaboration between these two types of professionals is today more important than ever. Some say it is a character difference – statisticians are more interested in things while communicators are more interested in people – but there be more behind that.

With the non-stop proliferation of social networks and digital features that spread information and content at a pace that was just unthinkable a few years ago, there is a strong need for the statistics community to modernize by accepting the importance of effective communication strategies and embody them as an integrated part of the statistical production process. The power of statistics is directly proportionate to the way they are communicated.

The ability of statistics to accurately represent the world is unfortunately in decline. A new age of big data controlled by private companies is taking over and is challenging democracy as well as the value of statistics. In theory, statistics should help settle arguments. They should provide stable reference points that everyone – no matter their politics – can agree on. Yet in recent years, divergent levels of trust in statistics has become one of the key schisms that have opened up in western democracies.

Shortly before the latest American presidential election, a study in the US discovered that 68% of Trump supporters distrusted the economic data published by the federal government. In the UK, a research project by Cambridge University and YouGov looking at conspiracy theories discovered that 55% of the population believes that the government “is hiding the truth about the number of immigrants living there”.

According to the Eurobarometer an absolute majority of European citizens do not trust statistics. These results are critical and follow a continuous declining trend, which, if not reverted, will have significant social consequences, as the gap between citizens and citizens’ trust in public administration and international institutions widens.

This trend is amplified by the deficiency of citizens’ knowledge of basic statistics literacy.

  • 25% of respondents could give a correct answer to the unemployment rate
  • Only 6% of European citizens know the GDP growth rate of their own country
  • none of the respondents were able to give a correct answer to the annual inflation rate of their country.

More worryingly recent reports on the perception of migration in Europe shows a very deep divide between reality and sentiment of society.

It is as if the era of evidential argument is ending and now knowledge is increasingly delegitimized and scientific consensus is dismissed.

The declining authority of statistics – and the experts who analyse them – is at the heart of the crisis that has become known as “post-truth” politics. And in this new situation, attitudes towards quantitative expertise have become increasingly polarized.

On one hand, grounding politics in statistics is elitist, undemocratic and oblivious to people’s emotional investments in their community. It is just one more way that privileged people in Brussels, Washington DC or London seek to impose their worldview on everybody else.

On the other hand, statistics are quite the opposite of elitist. They enable journalists, citizens and politicians to discuss society as a whole, not on the basis of anecdote, sentiment or prejudice, but in ways that can be validated. The alternative to quantitative expertise is less likely to be democracy than an unleashing of tabloid editors and demagogues to provide their own “truth” of what is going on across society.

Is there a way out of this polarisation? Must we simply choose between a politics of facts and one of emotions, or is there another way of looking at this situation?

Over the past few years, especially when it comes to understanding some pretty exceptional events, communication experts have often discussed and raised the issue of the power of emotions and the facts vs feelings dichotomy. Sentiment, perceptions, attitudes, unorthodox claims not based on actual numbers, play a bigger role than statistics in both politics and policy making.

While I accept it for politics, accommodating or appeasing electoral tendencies via the implementation of sentiment-based, rather than evidence-based policy making, is destructive, and as a pro-European, I don’t find myself particularly proud or at ease with recent policy actions undertook by a number of European governments in managing the economy, climate change or migration.

But now let’s talk communication. What seems to be clear from some of the most recent challenges for the European Union, the economic crisis, Brexit, migration, the current state of “evidence-based only” public communication is not working.

This doesn’t mean suggesting the dissemination of lies or half-truths, but it means to consider 4 macro factors:

  1. The power of emotions
  2. The need for statisticians to be empowered
  3. Understand your audience
  4. Invest in rebuttal and fact-checking

THE POWER OF EMOTIONS

Facts don’t speak for themselves. Framing, metaphors and narratives need to be used responsibly if evidence is to be heard and understood.

We can’t separate emotion from reason. Better information about citizens’ emotions and greater emotional literacy could improve policymaking. Values and Identities drive political behaviour but are not properly understood, debated or considered. Before a set of statistics can be used, it must be made understandable to people who are not familiar with statistics.

The key to the persuasive use of statistics is extracting meaning and patterns from raw data in a way that is logical and easy to demonstrate to an audience.

Let me give you a couple of examples of people that took the visualization of relations and meaning to the next level.

Hans Rosling, was a Swedish physician, academic, and public speaker. He was the Professor of International Health and co-founder of the Gapminder Foundation, which developed the Trendalyzer software system. He held presentations around the world, including several TED Talks in which he promoted the use of data to explore development issues. He is the author of international best-seller Factfulness.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0_QrIapiNOw

Geoff Ainscow, one of the leaders of the Beyond War movement in the 1980s, gave talks trying to raise awareness of the dangers of nuclear weapons. He wanted to show that the US and the USSR possessed weapons capable of destroying the earth several times over.

But simply quoting figures of nuclear weapons stockpiles was not a way to make the message stick. So, after setting the scene, Ainscow would take a BB pellet and drop it into a steel bucket where it would make a loud noise. The pellet represented the bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima. Ainscow would then describe the devastation at Hiroshima.

Next, he would take 10 pellets and drop them in the bucket where they made 10 times as much noise. They represented the nuclear firepower on a single nuclear submarine. Finally, he poured 5,000 pellets into the bucket, one for each nuclear warhead in the world. When the noise finally subsided, his audience sat in dead silence.

That is how you put statistics into context and trigger emotions.

FEEL EMPOWERED

Statisticians deserve a lot of credit, but before convincing other people to acknowledge that, they have to do it themselves first.

In my experience in coaching scientists on performing effective communication, I often felt there was a lack of self-acknowledgement. As a statistician you’re not simply putting data together, you are shaping society, and you are making people realize things.

Safeguarding the facts and figures and facilitate the use of good quality statistics for evidence-based policy making contributes to sound and sustainable policies for the collective benefits of citizens.

Self-reward and empowerment must start from you. Acknowledge your role and be proud of what you bring to society.

UNDERSTAND YOUR AUDIENCE

One of the biggest challenges faced by any collaborative statistician is communicating statistical information to those with less knowledge of statistics. As statistics is a core ingredient of transparency and accountability of institutions, it needs to be proactively rendered to citizens with quality and understandability.

When it comes to communication to different audiences, sometimes we are too fast at agreeing and patting each other on the back in a closed room full of experts but we tend to focus on communicating to the very few rather than the vast majority. I have certainly been a culprit of that.

We are so used to resorting to statistics that we tend to bombard our audiences with too many mind-numbing numbers. Statistics are rarely meaningful in and of themselves. Statistics will, and should, almost always be used to illustrate a relationship. It’s more important for people to remember the relationship than the number.

Audiences are not a monolith but mostly a conglomerate of infinite sub-audiences. Look at how they behave, where they are and consume content.

INVEST IN REBUTTAL AND FACT-CHECKING

Your work doesn’t end with the publication of your data-sets. Keep monitoring what people say about the data you publish, make sure, if you can, that no misinformation is spread and if not, rebut.

Many ask me in my intervention to provide solution against disinformation. It doesn’t get any easier than that and it’s up to institutions to decide how much budget and resources to dedicate to that.

I feel that today the information vs disinformation battle is not about being smarter but being bigger. We (Europeans and euro bubblers) often self-flagellate for our alleged inability to communicate. I think it’s time to stop this narrative.

THINK ON THE LONG TERM

Contrarily to the current perception of things, the construction of visibility, relations, brand is a long-term game and the underestimation of this (thinking that is a short-term game) is in 99% of cases the reason for public communication failure.

Do not overestimate what you can do in six months and don’t underestimate what you can do in three years.

A post-statistical society is a potentially frightening proposition, not because it would lack any forms of truth or expertise altogether, but because it would drastically privatise them. Statistics are one of many pillars of democracy.

I still believe that democracy needs evidence-based policy making. I still believe that independent statistics are at the heart of evidence-based policy making and I still believe that Europe is and will always be the cradle of democracy no matter that challenges that lie ahead. And the implementation of democracy requires independent statistics.

The experts who produce and use them have become painted as arrogant and oblivious to the emotional and local dimensions of government. No doubt there are ways in which data collection could be adapted to reflect lived experiences better. But the battle that will need to be waged in the long term is not between an elite-led politics of facts versus a populist politics of feeling. It is between those still committed to public knowledge and public argument and those who profit from the ongoing disintegration of those things.

This is a serious danger and something that you have the chance today to reverse. Don’t miss that chance.

Do you want to crash your political opponents on social media? Less curation and more volume

Until not so long ago, Facebook was still the overall place where everybody could communicate to multiple audiences through a very powerful targeting system. Over the past few months though, the power of pages dropped significantly for a few reasons: the Facebook algorithm is going back to its original model where profiles (actual people) have a higher priority in timelines versus pages. Secondly, people, especially younger people, are moving away from Facebook and moving to Instagram, even though controversially, Facebook’s user basis has just constantly grown somehow 🤔.

For a politician the challenge is then “Where do you talk about policy”?

On Instagram? No. Instagram is a place where users don’t expect policy-related content. Certainly, it is a place to increase your brand overall but not to discuss policy.

Snapchat? Don’t even go there.

Linkedin? Sure, but not many voters are there and political content doesn’t score high on timelines.

Twitter? Sure, but not in depth.

Blog? Sure, but people still hardly consume content directly on Medium or WordPress unless they are shared on other social networks.

Pretty much, the solution is “volume”. The maximization of volume you can reach on as many social networks as possible through one or a set of political events, debates or similar activities. Let me explain.

What do politicians do mostly? They give speeches, they attend debates, they go on TV or radio. Let’s say you are giving a 10 minutes speech.

Are there capacities to launch this speech live on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or Instagram? If so, you already have four active platforms and related pieces of content.

It’s not live? Get the video file. With that you can publish the full speech on Facebook, Twitter, IGTV, Linkedin and YouTube. Plus you can cut out 2 or 3 shorter video bits, between 20 and 60 seconds, that can reposted as Facebook posts, Facebook stories, tweets, Insta stories, Linkedin posts and snaps. These video bits can be turned into visual quotes (best quality possible of the background photo) which can be published in al the above-mentioned places and through different times (not necessarily all at once). The video file can uploaded directly as a podcast on whatever platform you like be it Soundcloud, Anchor, Streaker or whatever. The podcast can then be reshared later on Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin.

Got photos from the event? Do everything you did with the video. Got the speech text? Publish it as a Facebook note, a blog on Medium, an article on Linkedin. Furthermore, how about a summary of the event? Maybe two or three paragraphs about what happened, who was there and the goal of the occasion.

Were other politicians or celebrities there? Ask for collabs. Take a photo with them, share them, tag them and ask to do the same. Like their posts and comment on them with a thank you message or do a snap video asking them a question and post it cross-platform.

Sounds like a lot of work, right? But in a few lines I have showed you how you can create basically over 50 pieces of content off just one event. Do that daily and see how much volume you can create. This is where an ambitious communicator needs to go. Less curation, more volume. Execute, execute and execute daily. This is the recipe for seriously growing a digital brand today in politics. There is no shortcut.

I believe in the power of good ideas but in the digital communication battle field today I would not sacrifice volume accuracy or daily massive execution over one potentially excellent idea.

In fitness and communication don’t pay peanuts to get monkeys

EXPENSIVE OR CHEAP CONSULTING? Let’s talk about it…
Lately I’m getting a lot of requests via Instagram to provide some advice and consultation on fitness. How can I lose weight? What should I eat? What supplements should I take? And so on…

This is pretty flattering but no matter how many of such requests I get, I prefer to recommend people to “real” professionals in this field and to people who can dedicate an appropriate amount of time to clients who really want to improve their physical skills. Why do I do that?
1. I am aware I don’t have the expertise, nor the knowledge, nor the time to help a person through this very encompassing path. I acknowledge it and I would be a fraud if I did.
2. I would damage the market at expenses of “actual” PTs, nutritionists and trainers.

The same thing happens often in communication and digital marketing but getting cheap consultation is more expensive than getting proper plans of action.

If you are faced with the choice of spending your budget, for whatever purpose, between a lot of cheap service or a few good services, my advice is to always focus on quality, not quantity!

Shaping attitudes on social media

With a changing Facebook algorithm and a continuous battle for attention on social networks, I’m often asked “how can we shape attitudes on social media.” More recently, at the European Digital Advocacy Summit I had to present my thoughts on the topic.

Let’s try not to make this the usual useless social media presentation where some highly paid communication consultants say buzzwords like “engagement”, “strategic” and “motivation”, gets an applause and then audience goes home and their like “what happened?” I already see too many in my business. Let’s keep our eyes on this very topic.

Shaping: to give a particular shape or form to, determine the nature of, have a great influence on, make (something) fit the form of something else.

Attitude: a settled way of thinking or feeling about something

There’s a number of ways to do that depending on who you’re talking to more than which format or channels or register:

  • One person separately. Typical of lobbying and public affairs. My advice is “forget about your goal” and focus on “yourself.” If you are in Public Affairs, firstly focus on the way people think about you. You are an ambassador of whatever your company or organization is trying to sell, represents and stands for. If they like you they will listen even if they disagree or dislike your cause. Show them you’re up to the task and use social media as a hook for human interactions. You might not still shape their attitude towards your business’ cause, but at least that door was open. If they don’t like as an ambassador, that chance is already closed from the start. Take the case with celebrity as “digital ambassadors” (or even just ambassadors per se): If people like the celebrity, they will like the cause.
  • A segment of society; The reptilian brain, controls the body’s vital functions such as heart rate, breathing, body temperature and balance. Our reptilian brainincludes the main structures found in a reptile’s brain: the brainstem and the cerebellum. This vital body part is hard wired to inputs of food (the need of assuming calories to provide energy for our body), sex (sexual impulse of attraction and primary nature of procreation) and danger (alert, perception of imminent threat). Hardly, I believe you can use food and sex in public affairs, politics and the likes. But what about fear?  Watch this video and see what I’m talking about.

ADDENDUM: Think of the long shot. There isn’t that one thing, tool, trick that is gonna make your campaign work and whoever tells you otherwise is lying to you. Lack of patience is your and your company’s worst enemy when it comes to shaping attitudes.

How have you shaped someone or some community’s attitude? Let me know in the comments section

 

The value of social networks in the Eurobubble

Twitter and Facebook remain steadily within the “media diet” of influencers and stakeholders in the European Union. But how influential are they?
As properly summed up by Value Relations, last 6 July, the new edition of #EUmediapoll, a research carried out by ComRes e Burson Marsteller, was presented with the aim of identifying what EU Influencers care about when it comes to information input. The sample used consisted of 230 subjects divided into three categories: MEPs, EU staff and opinion leaders.
The most popular social media is Facebook followed by Twitter, Youtube, LinkedIn and Instagram. Not much changed from the 2016 report, however so small differences can be noticed in the daily use of social media

Twitter and Youtube, albeit little, increased their level of engagement compared to 2016 Facebook loses nearly 10%, despite its steady increase in active users (an impressive 2 billion today).

The most significant fact is the level of influence of individual social media. Apparently, there is no direct correlation with the percentage of usage. Indeed, data confirms the fame of Twitter, considered as the “place to be” for pro Eurobubblers. Despite being used less than Facebook, Twitter appears to be the most influential network with about 21% of survey respondents who consider it “very influent.”

Lesson from the Inka: simple comms is better comms

The Inka are responsible for a significant number of practices that are now well-spread all over the world, from culinary habits to sports and to communications.

The Inka never developed a writing system. Instead, officials used “khipu.” Devices made of coloured strings knotted in various ways. Khipu were used to record census data, the movements of people and goods throughout thr empire and religious and military information. The officials who managed the khipu were known as khipucamayuc.

Data gathering, sharing and storing was already an issue back then and they managed to master it with knots and ropes. A reminder that in comms management, simplicity remains key to sustainability and effectiveness.

How to effectively communicate and coordinate agricultural communication

I was thrilled to give the keynote speech at the COPA-COGECA Seminar “Coordinated and effective communication for assuring a viable and sustainable EU agriculture sector and Common Agricultural Policy.” Being this a key theme of Expo 2015 Milano where I was in charge of Digital Communication for the European Union pavilion, I was excited to have another opportunity, two years after the Expo, to reiterate the importance of bringing about a solid dialogue and a concrete set of policies to face the challenge of feeding the planet with 9 billion people expected in 2050. Here are my words at the event. What do you think is key in promoting solid agricultural communication? Let me know in the comment section below.

The EU Common Agriculture Policy has been a cornerstone of EU integration. Upon its construction, development and management depend so many other policies and political circumstances that need to be analysed separately in terms of impact but also holistically in terms of the ramifications that these policies bring into Europe and the world.

When we talk about communicating on CAP and agriculture at large we do not only talk about farming. Agricultural communication also addresses all subject areas related to the complex enterprises of the food-feed chain. We talk about food safety, animal welfare, rural issues, natural resources management from water to solar power, we talk about jobs, science, research and funds, renewable energy and we discuss issues that have an impact at the local level but that affect policies and politics globally.

Furthermore, the range of action of agricultural communicators  spans all participants, from scientists to consumers – which makes their job hard in facing challenge one: “WHEN YOU COMMUNICATE TO EVERYBODY , YOU COMMUNICATE TO NOBODY”

When we talk about coordinated and effective communication to ensure a viable and sustainable EU agriculture, the first question to answer is “who are we talking to?” Is it going to be consumers, producers, distributors, lobbies, groups of interests, retailers or policy makers? Whatever the answer, be assured there is no overall valid communication strategy and approach that can be applied to all these audiences. To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others.

There are different ways you can communicate issues related to agriculture. You can do it in a soft way. Showing photos of happy cows, producing milk for babies or another family out on a pic-nic, biting an apple in order to educate people towards a more healthy lifestyle…You can do it more aggressively, for instance by highlighting the challenges and dangers of not implementing a sustainable global strategy to feed the projected 9 billion people expected to inhabit the planet in the year 2050. You can do it more institutionally, by informing systematically about all laws, directives and regulations published by the institutions. You can do it more strategically, by shedding light on the fact that even though more and more people are getting out the threshold of poverty over the past 20 years (largely thanks to the stronger economy of China), the gap between malnutrition and obesity is getting wider, highlighting the necessary need to not only focus on resources, distribution and funds but especially on education towards a healthier and more sustainable diet and awareness about intensive production of foods that could have significant impact on the way we can feed the planet in the near future.

Certainly something you cannot do is to communicate passively, which means shooting out information and hoping that “somehow” by some sort of act of faith, your stakeholders will read it, share it or comment about it or simply click on the “Read more” link… You gotta go get those likes, shares and followers through engaging and targeted content. You have to learn how to use hooks in a thumb scrolling society. Success in management requires learning as fast as the world is changing.

As digital strategist for the European Union at Expo Milano 2015, the biggest ever event on food and nutrition which welcomed over 20 million visitors in 6 months, we had a number of challenges which affected the way we communicated and managed the brand of the European Union.

As a global player in the debate on food and sustainability, the European Union (EU) should seek to reinforce its position, highlight its achievements and, most importantly, take this opportunity to work towards finding common solutions to these issues with other international organisations, countries and private stakeholders. The EU leads the way in terms of promoting quality food and ensuring food security and safety and environmental sustainability.

Indeed, with over 800 million people facing hunger in less economically developed countries and high and increasing levels of obesity and non-communicable diseases in developed countries, now is the moment to act. Ill-informed food choices, dwindling natural resources, climate change and threats to the world’s biodiversity are all issues that need to be tackled urgently. Expo Milano 2015 focused the World’s attention on addressing these challenges and provided a platform to deliberate on these pressing issues.

What is needed is the intelligent management of Earth’s resources. If we really wish to put an end to our ongoing international and social problems, we must eventually declare Earth and all of its resources as the common heritage of all the world’s people.

The coordination challenge: You should not sacrifice efficiency for the sake of over inclusiveness. You want to listen to everybody but it is up to you to make decisions and be held accountable. Establish a chain of command meaning that give everybody the chance to contribute but as communication manager don’t feel necessarily obliged to make everybody happy or visible. If you are the communication manager, be the manager. Make decisions.

When you coordinate a varied communication project, you will be under pressure to make some content or activity more visible than others. Keep the vision of your target audience, your brand, your mission statement clear in mind so that you know how to make holistic decisions that will affect your final goals. Plato used to say that “Wise men speak because they have something to say; Fools because they have to say something.” As a manager you will have to make that distinction.

Our task is very hard as communicators because most communication consumers think they can be communication producers, not because you know how to eat that means that you know how to cook. Meaning that not because you can read, or because you use Facebook and Twitter or because you watch videos on YouTube you are a communication expert and the expertise required to make content attractive and engaging is the product of years of work, not the improvisation of skills. As communication professionals there is a risk in selling ourselves short for the sake of accommodating non-experts in our field.

Be confident of your communication skills. Be confident of your experience and the science you apply when communicating to your audience and be confident as a manager, because you are accountable for the results you will or will not obtain.
As communicators for create global causes you should feel as both managers and leaders. Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things. And you have the chance to do both.
 

 

 

The communication of the European Union pavilion at Expo 2015 Milano

Two years after the most incredible experience that the city of Milan had ever witnessed, and personally the best professional time of my life, I was asked to present some insights about the communication of the European Union pavilion at Expo Milano 2015. Exactly in a time where “communicating Europe successfully” seems a make or break topic to decide the future of the Union, I was happy to take a step back and think about what was great, and what could be improved about our efforts at this world stage event which welcomed over 21 million visitors in 184 days.

This content is drawn from the evaluation report that the European union task force produced (by an independent contractor) after the event and it will be presented at an event in Milano about the heritage of Expo in April 2017. I always welcome feedback and thoughts on everything I write, so feel free to contact me!

The communication of the European Union pavilion at Expo 2015 Milano

‘Communication impact’ can be conceptualised as the capacity of a given communication initiative to reach the target group and produce an ‘effect’ on its attitudes, beliefs and/or behaviours. This section examines the extent to which the EU succeeded in reaching the targeted audiences and whether the visitor experience contributed to improving their knowledge and perception of the EU pavilion at Expo 2015 Milano.

The EU aimed to use its presence at Expo Milano as an opportunity to communicate with EU (and non-EU) citizens showing them a friendly face of the EU and getting closer to their hearts. This differed from the more ‘formal’ and ‘institutional’ participation of the EU in past Expos and in massive communication activities in general. Therefore, the pavilion’s main attraction (visitor experience) was designed to reach all kinds of visitors, but especially families with children and young people, and involve them in an entertaining and emotional experience that talked about the EU and its food-related policies. The expected result was that people emerged from the visit with a more positive attitude towards the EU and greater awareness of its actions in the food and nutrition realm.

Most articles saw the pavilion as part of the EU’s new communication strategy; an attempt to bring a sense of closeness and unity between European institutions and citizens. At the same time, it was described as trying to raise awareness of EU policies. Moreover, the pavilion was described as different from other Expo structures, which tended to focus more on architectural design rather than depth of content. The EU pavilion’s ‘unexpected’ message of hope and cooperation, symbolised by bread and Alex and Sylvia’s story, was seen as a refreshing alternative from the ‘Europe of the bureaucrats’, a much needed reminder of the institution’s original mission and aims.

The aim of focusing on families with children and youngsters was grounded in the idea that many of the younger generations take the EU ‘for granted’ and, to some extent, are indifferent towards it. During the preparation phase, it was understood that the Expo offered a unique opportunity to communicate with this type of audiences and show them how the EU is present in their daily lives and what are the values it promotes. This approach was in line with the political guidelines for the Commission 2010-2014, where President Barroso recognised that there was a need to rekindle “a passion for Europe, a new pride and feeling of connection between the EU and its citizens”. This understanding continued under the next Presidency when Jean-Claude Juncker emphasised that trust in the European project was at a historic low and that it was critical to rebuild bridges in Europe to restore European citizens’ confidence.

The EU pavilion showed an important capacity to attract ‘spontaneous’ visitors (about two thirds of visitors) i.e. people who had not planned to visit the pavilion in advance, and this was partly due to the promotional actions by volunteers. In effect, according to the survey of visitors, almost 15% of total visitors went to the pavilion because of the work of volunteers, which were deemed by the pavilion as their key on-site ambassadors. The volunteer programme was an important topic of discussion in national and local media. The high number of applications to the programme (which doubled the number of posts available) and the interest among young people received particular attention. In fact, young people in general, and volunteers therein, were described as the true protagonists of the EU participation at Expo.

Visitors registered and recall the main messages conveyed in the EU pavilion, in particular those of ‘cooperation’ and ‘working together’. The EU pavilion also generated an interest in the EU and conveyed positive feelings about it, especially among visitors with pre-existing ‘fairly’ positive and ‘neutral’ views of the EU. But the pavilion did not necessarily provide visitors with an increased understanding of EU policies and how it realises the goals/values promoted in the pavilion (cooperation, peace, teamwork, etc.).

A central element of the EU presence at Expo Milano was the media strategy, which involved the development of the EU pavilion’s online presence (social media and website) and relations with the press. The objective of this was that the EU presence in Milan obtained high level coverage in online and traditional media and therefore reached visitors to the Expo, but also those who could not attend the exhibition. The EU pavilion had, in particular, a strong social media performance that contributed to creating a ‘buzz’ around the EU presence at the Expo, as well as develop a ‘digital food hub’ i.e. a digital community of people interested in following / discussing food policy with the EU. Throughout the duration of the Expo, the communication team was not only capable of developing this community, but also maintained a growing interest towards the EU’s social media activities.

On Facebook, the EU’s pavilion profile was not only the most followed one during the whole duration of the Expo (with even more followers than Italy and Germany, which received the award for “Best Pavilion”),but also worked as a platform to communicate on food policy by various EU institutions. The EU pavilion’s Twitter account was very successful too, reaching also the top 10 of best performing pavilions (in May and June 2015 it was the second most followed account, after the Italian pavilion one). On Instagram, the EU pavilion reached foodies and graphics’ enthusiasts and engage them in photo-based calls to action. For the communication team, this was the most successful social media platform, which reached the initial target of 2,000 followers very quickly (end-June 2015) and grew outstandingly till the end of the Expo.

Media coverage was especially high prior to the Expo opening on 1 May 2015, but continued to be relatively good during the next six months. The EU pavilion’s preparation phase received extensive press coverage in the Italian printed press, online newspapers and blogs, and in national radio and TV programmes. Repercussions obtained in the press were mostly positive, with articles focusing on the EU’s ‘innovative’ communication strategy, the educational content of the EU pavilion, and the EU’s attempt to increase dialogue with citizens. The scientific/policy events and the volunteer programmes also received satisfactory levels of media coverage.

Is it all a matter of vision?

Have you read Mark Zuckerberg’s Building Global Community? From the title, you may think that “Global Community” is a new product…otherwise he would have used the phrase “Building a Global Community” or “Building Global Communities.” It’s not a product, it’s his vision. Zuckerberg is creating his own vision about where he wants the world to be in the future and how he sees Facebook as being part of that world. This is an excellent way of thinking ahead as it provides people (Facebook users, Facebook employees, Facebook stakeholders..) with a vision, with an idea of what these actors can do to make a favourable circumstance happen.

This is a time when many of us around the world are reflecting on how we can have the most positive impact. I am reminded of my favorite saying about technology: “We always overestimate what we can do in two years, and we underestimate what we can do in ten years.”

This is where now political institutions in Europe (mainly referring to governments of various levels of governance) tend to fail: lack of vision. Lacking vision means providing lack of certainty and this is the key variable to keep analysing when working towards getting people’s trust.

Photo: Unsplash http://bit.ly/2mrDf7j

The electorate is volatile and it is the responsibility of governments and “political managers” (I love this word and I will talk more about it in the future”) to make sure that decisions and policies serve “a vision” instead of a temporary set of desires.

Brexit is one of the most evident case of the theory I explain above. 52% of the people in the United Kingdom voted “Leave” and they day after “What is the EU” was among the most looked for items in Google in the UK. Still, nowadays we see how that decision was made out of complete lack of vision. This 52% just wanted out without knowing “how” to get out and what exactly they were getting out from. At this regard, I invite you to read this beautiful piece by Andy Bodle 68 dumb-f**k reasons for leaving the EU.

Now, why am I making this comparison? Because big tech successful companies like Facebook, Google or Tesla are instilling trust in people simply by providing a vision. It is that simple. But then, how do they go about making that vision a reality? They create that vision and play all the necessary scenarios backwards in order to see which are the necessary steps to make it happen. This is actually the very core of successful entrepreneurship, but why is it so hard to apply this (in theory) simple principle to politics? A couple of visionary leaders in these terms can be seen in specific business-hubs like Dubai, Singapore and Shanghai. Of course, these cities are not a leading examples in the field of human rights and democracy however they created wealth out of nothing simply by playing this “backwards-scenario game.”

Another writer I particularly appreciate in this field of work is Dan Sobovitz, whom in his most recent article he says “..popular trust in digital service providers and #BigData is higher than the current trust in political institutions (which is dangerously low), sometimes even higher than our trust in our own cognitive ability.” I agree with this statement. Politics is bound to make people happy, but people want everything now. This goes into contrast with building and providing society with a vision on the long term.

Moderate politics in Europe is failing in this game, which is causing an absurd rise in populism. The basis of populism, as recent history teaches us, is the exploitation of people’s uncertainty. The idea of a united, free and prosperous Europe is a solid vision and it is the categorical imperative of the European union to provide this vision against the destruction that populism and short term nationalism is bringing.

Recently, I called EU communicators to stand their ground and I want to reiterate this invite by advocating the defense of this vision of Europe, which remains the most ambitious political project in human history and a Union of benefits for its citizens when they stand together.

It’s crazy to think that big tech companies are achieving this trust from the people, but I see no shame in taking inspiration from it and apply these principles to the political domain.

 

 

 

Getting jobs in the Eurobubble: a game of inches

I had a lot of fun at the EU Studies Fair last week. For me it proved a very fruitful event for both students and professionals who are trying to get a foothold in that lions’ den that I call “Eurobubble jobs.”In my experience this can be quite a daunting challenge, but if it has been a journey that I think it is worth blogging about.

The most frequent questions I got:

  1. I’m a student. How do I land an internship?
  2. I’m an intern. How do I move from “intern” to “employed”? 
  3. How can I maximize my time in the most efficient way while looking for a job in the EU sphere?

Let’s get down to business.

eusf2017-6237

How did I land my first internship? It was 2010, a terrible time for job hunters. With a sluggish economy, in the middle of the worst crisis that Europe had witnessed since 1945, graduating between 2008 and 2012 was probably not the easiest time to lay the foundations of your career. Basically, there were no jobs around and all whether it be businesses related to politics, economics or communication, unpaid internships were really all that was on offer.

As a totally broke “economic migrant”, I could hardly afford unpaid work. I remember that together with a friend of mine at Maastricht University, we strategically worked our way towards getting a paid internship.

Firstly, we sent (literally) hundreds of spontaneous applications to all kind of businesses we thought might be interested in our profiles, not only in Brussels but in cities around world. I even remember getting an offer to go to Tbilisi to work for a think tank which I seriously considered doing – I really needed something.

Secondly, we screened a database of alumni from MU and looked at what they were doing. We also contacted them to see how they got their first jobs, and asked if we could get some tips and recommendations on which direction in which to move. Finally  we took the plunge and headed to Brussels for a couple of nights just to check out what these alumni were doing and see where people hang out after work. It was during those nights that we realized that public affairs is not all about knowledge (seriously, it’s actually only a small part of it). That’s when I realized I needed to change my mindset.

 85% of your financial success is due to your personality and ability to communicate, negotiate, and lead. Shockingly, only 15% is due to technical knowledge. Carnegie Institute of Technology.

To cut a long story short, we dared. We dared making the extra step to make sure we covered all possible angles in what was a pretty desperate search for employment, leaving no stone unturned. Eventually I got a paid traineeship at Bruegel which then turned into a job…but not after getting a few hundreds rejections from all other businesses. Rejection is bound to happen. If it doesn’t happen it means you are not setting yourself the ambition you deserve. You are just playing safe, away from disappointment but also away from opportunities.

Ergo, 1) be daring, 2) don’t give up no matter how many rejections you get and 3) cover all possible angles in the way your present yourself to the market.

eusf2017-5943

How can I maximize my time in the most efficient way while looking for a job in the EU sphere?

In the Eurobubble there is no real straightforward way to do this. But if I was forced to set out a clear-cut method to look for jobs it would be probably be something like this:

  • 25% of your efforts have to be around generic applications and letters of presentation. These will give you an overview of what is out there, how companies, businesses and institutions are structured and the way they publish vacancies. It’s the mandatory background on the environment you are trying to enter.
  • 25% should be on highlighting your social, extracurricular skills, passions and interests. This is a game of inches. For that one job in the bubble you applied for, trust me, there will be 100, 200 or 500 more people with similar profiles fighting for it. How can people decide to hire you over someone else? Most of the time, it’s what you don’t expect that will catch somebody’s attention. It might be a particular experience you have shared, an unusual language you speak or a common passion (whether it is photography, travelling or rock music) with your examiner. Don’t leave anything relevant behind when you present yourself.
  • 50% of your time should be on targeted and strategic approaches. These are direct, tailored and personal e-mails, handshakes or comments that hint at a potential ” meeting” or “a coffee” to follow up a conversation.

They shouldn’t be about jobs or employment but they should casually and in the least intrusive way possible propose an encounter where you present yourself as “a person” before being “a professional.” Why 50% into this? Because it will take you much more time to approach 5 people with this method than approaching 20 companies in a speculative fashion.

Surprisingly, this is where most young professionals fail, in my opinion for one main reasons: The overdigitalization of our interactions is creating a society where human interactions are scary or even unknown. People born after the late 90s already jump into this world where interactions and dialogue are fully digital among peers. People born before that back to the 70s have more flexibility since they experienced this change and can apply both interactive methodologies. (I’m 31 and find myself somewhere in the middle). This is not an outcry against digitalization. It is just a fact of life.

On top of this, there has been a substantial change of values among generations. I’m generalizing here, but I confidently see how the generation of our parents had completely different values based on prosperity and stability (whether this was financial, societal, geographical or marital) while the current youngsters value freedom, experiences and independence on all fronts. More and more of us are not as fussed about buying houses, nor cars, nor getting married nor crave that lifelong job contract that our parents so desperately want us to get. So, why be shy, right?We have learnt to be more flexible and ready to adapt. But it is important that we exploit this flexibility.

As a sort of experiment, but also as a work management filter, when people ask me for a meeting, a reference, a favour etc., I always give them my phone number straightaway and say “Call me whenever.” Out of these people roughly 5 % call me while the remaining 95% don’t follow up, forget or come up with written excuses for not making things happen. In my experience, that 5% who reached out to me over the phone were successful in starting a business, organizing a conference or getting a valuable contact. That is because they want to be champions in what they do and they do what they gotta do with no excuses.

There is one more point I particularly wanted to get across the people I talked to during the event. In my opinion Brussels is like bodybuilding: It’s not for everyone. I’m not saying that you need special skills to come here and land an EU sphere job, but not everybody is ready or willing to play the game. What I’m saying is that the Eurojobs (in the wider sense) game is not 9AM to 5PM. It’s actually from 5PM onwards.

Do you want to get a confortable 9 to 5 job in an office and be happy with that? Cool. You can do that anywhere in the world from San Francisco, to Milan, from Kuala Lumpur to Dakar. Why choose Brussels?

Do you want to build a career in the field of international institutions, relations and affairs? Then Brussels is the place for you (together ex aequo with Washington, Geneva and the city of London). But that “career” is made of a lot more than sitting in the office in front of your desk. It’s a lot about shaking hands, going to conferences, making yourself known on social media, blog, talk, chat, explore, fail, learn and start over again and this is the part that is not for everybody.

Many people have the capacity of doing this, but this is likely not everybody’s vocation. The same way that people have the capacity to prepare for a fitness competition and to train every day, diet seriously, follow a coach, a nutritionist, and a physiotherapist, but not everybody is meant for it. Personally, I am addicted to both the institutional communications/relations game and bodybuilding but this is just me.

To summarize the key piece of advice I gave at the Euro Studies Fair…. it all comes down to following your true vocation which doesn’t depend on what your family or friends or society tells you to be. It is about what you want to be or become, taking risks, being laser-focused on a goal, and willing to pursue it no matter what it takes to get you there. You are hard wired to follow the path towards the completion of your goal. Now get out there and make things happen to achieve your goal in life because ain’t nobody gonna do it for you. I’m up for coffee or protein shake whenever you like.

Peace.