Visiting a local creative communication agency

I was “forced” at home in Italy for a few weeks over Christmas following some serious foot and ankle surgery. This sort of “constrained stay” gave me a chance to discover the local reality in my small native area in North of Italy about how communication and creative agencies work. Now, I know that not only in Brussels, London, New York and Singapore people and businesses need communication campaigns and social media trainings. However, getting to know the guys behind Kreative House, left me very positively impressed for their level of innovation, creativity and down-to-earthness.

CEO and agency founder Cristian Grossi was happy to share his thought about running a communication agency in small town in Italy.

Christian, how did Kreativehouse start?

We started in 2008 as a simple graphic studio. A little naively, we focused mainly on the aesthetic aspects of images and words. Project after project, we learned that emotions are messages that need to be conveyed, that they have their own channel and their own target and need to be treated with extreme attention and care.

To tell you the truth, we promised ourselves we would never do traditional advertising. Classic advertising aims to persuade and to exaggerate the message. I don’t think we could sell irrigation systems or smoked ham.

What are the main challenges about running a creative business in a small town?

The hardest challenge is letting people understand that even if you live in a small town you can provide work of the highest level. We get super excited every time we hear that our fashion line was the season’s top seller with half a million income, or when our campaign for Amnesty International gathered 140,000 signatures in less than one month. But there’s still someone showing up at our door asking us for a brochure or a business card. It’s funny, sometimes we pick up the phone and it’s Gino’s café, and then the next call is from Versace.

How has the communication and creative business evolved in the past few years in your area?

Communication professionals must constantly adapt to new models. Some roles are disappearing. For example, until a few years ago small brands needed a Press Office. Today it’s not essential anymore. You need good content, a Twitter account and a specifically profiled target market.

If on one hand some roles are disappearing, on the other hand, especially on a local level, there is an overload of new professional figures, like social-media-something. Some improvise themselves putting out interesting content into the net without a specific logic. Only a few approach communication as a systemic, deterministic model that guarantees measurable results.

Don’t get me wrong – we strongly believe in the freshness of local creativity (we often joke saying that Milan is “much more provincial-minded than us”). For example, our territorial marketing project «Weloooooveit» focuses on the «proud to be local» idea, on the celebration of homemade tortellini, of the housewife and the shop around the corner. But this doesn’t mean that you can just improvise. We believe that in the field of communication every single action must be planned thoroughly.

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Tell me something more about your clients’ portfolio? Who are they and what do you think made them choose you to run their campaigns?

We had the luck to start with fundraising campaigns for non-profit organizations (the first were Amnesty International, COOPI, Lipu/Birdlife Italy). It’s a challenging field, because the product is actually an idea, a cause, a live emergency. People offer money when they believe in an ideal and trust you. Believe me, building a strong, trustful relationship through a communication campaign is not an easy task. This is why when we landed in the field of product marketing everything seemed so much easier to us! Unlike non-profit, people get a direct return from art, fashion and cultural events.

giardino-uccelli-birdgarden-lipu

What motivates you to keep innovating your business?

If you think of communication like a project, you have to innovate constantly, it’s almost automatic. In our job, we think as communication designers, as project developers. Design must be planned, shaped, targeted – and plays a crucial role in the conception of the brand visibility vectors (product, communication, environment). In this perspective, design has a strategic function, and its development is deeply rooted in our agency’s core values.

roBOt06 Report from roBOt Festival on Vimeo.

What would you recommend to people who want to start a business in creative communication at the local level?

Be creative, but plan projects. Design is really about solving problems. Think global, and please, be proud to be local.

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Should Instagram maintain its original engagement model?


I have been looking for a third party software in order to manager an Instagram account and plan some posts beforehand. I thought it would be easy to find but actually, apart from some apps like Instarepost or similar, there isn’t much on the market to help community management on Instagram. I contacted the company I work with to do social media monitoring and they send me an interesting reply:

At this time, uploading via the Instagram API is not possible. We got in touch with them to ask whether this would change, but we received the following reply:

“Instagram is about your life on the go – we hope to encourage photos from within the app. However, in the future we may give whitelist access to individual apps on a case by case basis. We want to fight spam & low quality photos. Once we allow uploading from other sources, it’s harder to control what comes into the Instagram ecosystem. All this being said, we’re working on ways to ensure users have a consistent and high-quality experience on our platform.”

I find it very interesting to see how Instagram sticks to their original business model without giving in to the desktop/laptop management temptation. This was for instance a decision Vine went for but it made them lose some of their uniqueness. Vine used to be a spontaneous app where really creative people would experiment and challenge their abilities within the pretty strict limitations of the app. That’s what made Vines very unique. Since they allowed uploads of basically any six seconds videos, they did make it easier for the users to be present in the Vine community but they completely killed their original engagement model. I still believe that making any six second video doesn’t mean making a Vine. But this is what almost the entire Vine community has become.

From what I read on Uplifted, Instagram are taking this very seriously. In Instagram’s continued quest to remain an exclusively mobile app, they are now penalizing users of third-party apps, such as Gramblr.  Gramblr still works great for posting pre-edited photos, but with a catch.  Instagram is now disabling hashtags on accounts that have used Gramblr in the past, sometimes even for just one photo. Businesses and individuals who wish to accumulate followers should stick to posting strictly from the sanctioned instagram app.

Latergram might just be the next big thing in social media management.  The app, which bills itself as the way to “schedule and manage your Instagram posts” promises to do just that and more. Still in beta version.

Have another alternative? I’d love to know!

Time for some social media spring cleaning


It is in the job description of all Community Managers to try as many digital and social platforms as possible. Mainly for two reasons:

  • Know what’s on the market
  • You never know at an early stage, which platform is going to fly

This winter has been unseasonably warm in Italy (where I spent my Christmas) so I thought I could aniticipate my spring cleaning. It is time to rationalize and put aside some of the platforms, blogs, newsletters I’m not really following and I lost interest in.

First thing first, I needed to clean up my Twitter followership. I like making connections and building communities. That is actually a significant part of my job. Nevertheless, for my personal network I realized I needed to massively rationalize the information (over)load I receive everyday. Mainly, this information comes from Twitter. To do that I used the free version of ManageFlitter which helped me greatly. There’s still some clean-up to do but my Twitter feed is now way more pleasant and manageable that it used to be and my engagement rate got higher straightaway. Simply, I now manage to follow those accounts that really matter (to me).

Then, it was time to get rid of some social media platforms I wasn’t using anymore or didn’t serve my professional needs. I’m not writing to discredit these companies but just to present my personal experience on a topic common among many communication professionals.

  • Xing – Xing experienced a bit of a hype between 2007-2009 but the growth of LinkedIn from 2010 onwards almost killed this German based social network, that managed to survive by creating their own niche. Xing is a platform for enabling a small-world network for professionals. By displaying how each member is connected to any other member, it visualizes the small-world phenomenon. Like LinkedIn, basic membership is free but many core functions can only be accessed by the premium members. I believe it is still useful in those niche environments and countries (mainly German speaking) where the platform developed. About 76% of all pageviews come from Germany, 90% from the D-A-CH area, Germany, Austria and Switzerland.[7]
  • PearlTrees – Perhaps it’s my fault. I was a Pearltrees early joiner but I never manage to get their USP. Pearltrees refers to itself as “a place for your interests.” Functionally the product is a visual and collaborative curation tool that allows users to organize, explore and share any URL they find online as well as to upload personal photos, files and notes. If this platform has potentials, I didn’t get it. Sorry.
  • Hi 5 – It doesn’t make much sense to have a Hi 5 account if you don’t live in Nepal, Mongolia, Thailand, Romania, Jamaica, Central Africa, Portugal or Latin America. I used it for some time when I travelled often to Portugal.
  • Most Social Media Marketing Newsletters – Social media  marketing (especially US-based) is becoming so obsolete. I can’t even stand witnessing the proliferation of self-appointed social media gurus writing useless guidebooks and charging 1.000s of $ a day for trainings on how to open a Facebook page. I think Europe is maintaining more an “all-comms” approach rather than focussing exclusively on SMM. I was happy to unsubscribe from useless newsletters and I will now stick to people with interesting and practical insights. On the issue of EU affairs newsletters, you can share your opinion on Kosmopolito‘s blogpost What is your favourite EU affairs newsletter

Which social networks have you tried and dumped?

Share it in the comments below.

I envy the ESN Ambassadors for the EU at Expo 2015


“I’m jealous of you.” That’s how I started my social media training to the ten ambassadors from the Erasmus Student Network in Italy (ESN) who have been awarded the chance to tour Europe and present the opportunity to volunteer at the EU pavilion at Expo 2015 in Milan. Indeed, since I was an Erasmus student myself (not so long ago) and had the great opportunity to study European integration at the University of Antwerp, I am very envious of these young men and women who will travel Europe on behalf of the EU and Expo 2015.

Young people are going to be the protagonists of the activities of the EU pavilion, thanks to the collaboration between the European Union and ESN. Social media will help these ambassadors reach wider audiences during their trip and share their experiences with a very personal touch.

The general aim of the “Students 4 Expo S4E” project is, on the one hand, to promote EXPO and, on the other hand, to underline the role of the European Union during the international event which is going to take place in Milan in 2015. Ten students will play the role of “European EXPO Ambassadors” for the whole semester preceding EXPO.

The pavilion of the European Union intends to offer all young Europeans the opportunity to actively participate in a historic event, Expo Milano 2015, contributing to its activities and creating a unique learning and communication experience.

The EU at Expo is looking for over 900 young persons who have a passion for Europe that they would like to share with visitors to the EU Pavilion in their capacity as volunteers. More info on the call for volunteers.

— EU Expo 2015 (@EUExpo2015) January 8, 2015

The specific aim of the project is to increase awareness, in an European academic environment, of the role of the European Union inside EXPO and of the scientific topics at the core of their pavilion. Erasmus Student Network Italia will be responsible for this project and will help the European Union reach students who are not well informed yet about EXPO themes.

Follow #Students4Expo for more info on Twitter.

The European Year for Development: a great opportunity to spark debate on millenium development goals

The EU is the biggest donor of the official development assistance in the world. Four years after the adoption of the Agenda for Change (the European Commission’s blueprint to refocus its development aid to make sure that it reaches those sectors and countries which need it most), 2015 is the ideal time for donors and stakeholders to come together to look at what has been achieved so far, and most importantly, what still needs to be done.

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Despite the current economic downturn, support for development remains high across the EU, with some 85% of EU citizens saying that Europe should continue helping developing countries despite the economic crisis, according to a recent Eurobarometer survey (Euractiv.)

The European Year of Development 2015 will be a key opportunity to raise awareness of development across Europe, and to show European taxpayers know that every euro spent on development benefits both people living in some of the world’s poorest countries, and EU citizens themselves.

The European Year for Development 2015 is the first year designated with such a global theme, since European years have been designated thematically since 1983.

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Pupils playing outside a school built with EU funds in Haiti

The initiative originated in Latvia. The European Year for Development 2015 will take place in Riga on 8 January, as part of the events marking the beginning of the first Latvian Presidency of the Council of the EU.

Commission representatives, communication experts, as well as figures from the NGO and business sector all agreed that the European Year for Development 2015 should provide an opportunity to reach out to a wider public regarding the importance of the development agenda. Possible new alliances are being sought with youth and women’s organisations, local authorities, and unions.

The various events during the European Year of Development will focus on 12 themes. The month of January will be dedicated to the theme “Europe in the world”, February will focus on “Education”, March on “Women and Girls”, April on “Health”, May on “Peace and Security”, June of “Sustainable green growth, decent jobs and businesses”, July on “Children and youth”, August on “Humanitarian aid”, September on “Demography and migration”, October on “Food security”, November on “Sustainable development and climate action” and December on “Human rights and governance”.

Among the major events of the European Year of Development are a Belgian opening event with Bozar and Africalia to be held on 17 January, a gender event in Latvia on 2 March, the European Development Days on 2-3 June, as well as a closing event by the Luxembourg presidency on 8 December.

In addition, the Committee of the Regions highlighted another major event, called “Assises of Decentralised Cooperation”, to be held on 1-2 June in Brussels, with 800 to 1000 participants, many of whom would come from developing countries.

Follow #EYD2015 and on Twitter and their Facebook page for more updates.

To Rotate or not to rotate? A question for the EU Council Presidency on Twitter


An intersting point has been raised by Matthias Luefkens for Europe Decides about having a rotating Twitter account for the Presidency of the Council of the EU. Considering the management of these accounts, the piece does raise some interesting point. I have left my contribution in their comments section.

Cattura A problem I could already foresee with Matthias’ solution is “what to do with all tweets?”Meaning that, for instance, tweets from @gr2014EU would now look like they were made by @IT2014EU.
An EU Presidency still remains a very team-based or national-based effort. The accounts that get closed after the term do work as archives of their achievements.

What is your take on this? Share it in the comments section below or joined the conversation on Twitter.

Great meeting the digital leaders from the EU Commission Representations

The newly appointed Digital Leaders in the Representations offices of the European Commission in the Member States came to Brussels for training in early December. This presented a wonderful opportunity to meet colleagues from the Representations and to explore the work of the Digital Leaders. Appointing specialists in the field of digital communication and social media is a very important step to coordinate communication efforts between the main seat of the European Commission in Brussels and understand and deal with national and local issues in the all European Union. The Representations play a major role implementing one of the goal of EU institutional communication which is speking with one voice while being united in diversity. It was a great day and hopefully an experience to repeat.

To know more about what the Representations are already doing on social media, have a look at Representations’ Facebook and Twitter lists

The European Commission’s online communication today and tomorrow

I was happy to participate to “Web, Mobile, Social – The Commission’s online communication today and tomorrow” at the Committee of the Regions

listening to Robert Andrecs, Head of Unit “EUROPA Site”, European Commission, DG Communication and Dana Manescu, Head of the Social Media Sector, European Commission, DG Communication.

The European Commission’s online communication has become a significant component of EU political communication. It aims to reach new audiences and connect with citizens and stakeholders on the platforms they prefer and the devices they use. The Commission’s web presence is undergoing a massive digital transformation programme which aims at putting users’ needs first. The new web presence will be “mobile first” and integrated with social media. Find out more about the Commission’s web and social media communication and its plans for the years ahead.

A question that was raised during the debate was “how can the EU communicate with one voice?” This is indeed a challenging issue for institutional communicators of such a simultaneously diverse, intricate but united organization and I believe a similar challenge is raised for other similar international organizations like the UN. This is was a good opportunity for me to mention the European Union’s presence at Expo 2015, the biggest event of 2015 and the biggest event on nutrition ever organized. The participation of the European Union at Expo 2015 is a project managed by the European Commission (more precisely by a task force of the Joint research Centre) but it is a European Union-branded project. In our communication we always refer to ourselves as European Union. This is a challenging task but it definetely helps EU and institutional communicators get an idea of how communicating on common global goals benefits the overall understanding of a European project.

See my intervention at 56:56

A few lessons from the European Digital Advocacy Summit


Digital advocacy is assuming an increasingly important role in Brussels. What’s working to engage European policymakers? Can social media platforms help you find other advocates? Which tools work best? These were some of the questions addressed at the latest European Digital Advocacy Summit in Brussels, organised by the Public Affairs Council.

At the event, public affairs executives shared interesting case studies, insights and best practices as well as EU officials shared their perspectives on social advocacy. This executive-level conference was designed for interactive engagement between participants and presenters. I couldn’t attend the whole conference but I had the chance to sit at the “Successful Online and Media Engagement” part with Bruno Waterield, Brussels correspondent from the Telegraph and Christophe Leclercq founder of EurActiv.com

In this panel a lot was discussed about the Eurobubble (or Brussels bubble), the so-called circle of (mostly foreign) professionals living in Brussels and working on EU affairs. For an international organization, it is certainly challenging to communicate at different levels of governance and reach different target audiences at the European, national and local level. What could we learn from that panel?

  • Use the (Euro)bubble as a bridge, not as a border

I often hear the claim that the Eurobubble (including EU institutions) only communicates to the bubble. This is clearly an incomplete statement since the EU communicates at levels of governance and addresses different groups of stakeholders according to the policies the work on. For instance the European Commission:

Having said that, I am also convinced that people living and working in the Eurobubble do not only communicate within the bubble but they serve as information ambassadors at the national level. The Brussels press corp mostly reports to their central offices in EU Member States and around the world, professionals in various fields often go home and tell people what happens at the European level, civil servants exchange opinions with their national administrations and so on so forth. This is why I prefer thinking about the Eurobubble (whatever that means) as a bridge between Brussels and the rest of the world rather than a self-centred echo chamber.

    • Keep yourself in the loop

What I know as a social media analyst is that I have still an awful lot to learn and that I am bound to keep myself in the loop in order to keep providing valid recommendations and understand how the digital world evolves. There is no short-cut in this learning process. This applies to all professionals working in communication. Spend at least 10% of your time keeping an eye on communication technologies, experiment and make sure you get at least a tiny grasp of what may come next in your field of work and expertise.

    • Use the online to reach the offline

In digital advocacy the offline cannot be separated from the online any longer. These two dimensions work best when they are connected, when they merge. Being engaged online should be (an optional) step one to make “real” connections.

Where you European Digital Advocacy Summit too? Share your views with me.

A few lessons from #Engagorday


This article was also published on the European Commission’s Digital Team Blog

Engagor Day is an event for all Engagor users and partners which took place in Ghent on May 8th, 2014 at the Eskimofabriek. The goal is to keep them updated on the latest feature additions and everything that is coming up. In other words, the Engagor Roadmap. Moreover, active Engagor users, such as NMBS/SNCB and Thomas Cook UK, presented practical business cases to inspire and inform their fellow users.

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Among the introductory presentations and case studies that were discussed, I particularly enjoyed the contribution from NMBS/SNCB. Jean-Marie Hoffelinck (Advisor Online Communications) and Kim Castro (Community Manager) shared the story about the launch of their public transport company on social in 2013 and how they executed this exciting challenge. NMBS/SNCB is the Belgian national railway operator and autonomous government company formed in 1926. Like all public transport companies, NMBS relies heavily on customer care servicing around 850,000 daily travelers and dealing with a whopping 10,000 tweets per month.

WHAT TRIGGERED NMBS/SNCB TO GO ‘SOCIAL’?

Being one of the first customers of Engagor, NMBS started monitoring back in 2011 to get a better grip on how, when, and where people were talking about the company on social. The volume and type of questions were especially important to get a better sense of the social media landscape. To support their launch in 2013, they realized they had to put a great amount of effort into finding the right team and company ambassadors to fall back on.

Opting for Twitter to establish an extensive social media presence was an obvious choice:

  • NMBS relies heavily on real-time communication. At NMBS, it’s all about context. In public transport, a tweet is often only relevant for 30 minutes.In terms of crisis management, NMBS dedicates all of their efforts to replying in a timely manner and proactively updating travelers with relevant information.
  • NMBS needs to solve travelers’ problems within an instant. For example, when someone tweets, “My train looks rather dirty today,” it’s in their best interest to act on it immediately.
  • NMBS wants to continuously improve customer care and give an accurate explanation as to why things went right/ wrong.

One of the most important starting points was a Belgian crisis which affirmed the importance of real-time communication. In 2011, the @stationschefBMO account was created after disaster struck at the Belgian Pukkelpop festival during a severe thunderstorm. This incident proved Twitter was the perfect medium to inform people when all other means of communication (calling, text messages, etc.) were being cut off.

CaptureMobile, and more importantly, social are great means to provide support in real-time. From that point onwards, they really started noticing the significant success of @stationschefBMO (a personal account belonging to one of their employees). It caught their attention because of the positive impact it had on their image spreading some positive vibes for their company in the social sphere.

Due to snowy weather on March 12th, 2013, train traffic was completely down in Belgium leaving hundreds of people stranded in trains and all the other travelers without any means to get to their destination. The country was plunged into a state of complete chaos, and thousands of tweets flooded the Twitter account of NMBS in just one day.

After the disaster, they realized that “it really takes a challenging crisis before you can solve something” and knew they needed to properly utilize tools to better serve customer complaints, feedback, and sentiment. This was another really important factor that forced them to take action and be prepared for any scenario.

In their presentation, the guys from NMBS presented 5 main recommendations from their experience:

1. Be active where your audience is
Before jumping into social media, determine when your audience wants your brand to be active. This way the community managers of NMBS are available in the right time frame, from 6 am to 10 pm, to provide customer care. During that time period, two people (Dutch & French speaking) are responsible for all the replying.

2. Operate with single points of contact (SPOCS) and detailed procedures
One really important thing NMBS learned is to find and involve internal specialists (or ambassadors) before the launch. What can you learn from them? How will they benefit your social media strategy? The next step is to create internal procedures for following up on a multitude of different questions, complaints, situations, etc. (FAQ’s). Refer your customers to your own existing channels. It’s crucial to direct them to your web pages, applications, etc. with links to cater for short, yet smooth replies.

3. Strive for simplicity in handling mentions
NMBS uses only one SPOC and handles every mention on this account. NMBS really stresses on the fact that you shouldn’t look at how your company and team is organized internally when structuring your social profiles. Creating accounts is striving for simplicity, and if necessary, create only one single account or SPOC.

4. Understand and learn the language of your customers
The monitoring phase of NMBS in 2011 was crucial to help them better understand the type of questions they would encounter, and more in detail, understand/learn the language of their customers. Knowing what the customer expects from you is necessary to translate your own internal, and often complex, jargon into a language customers can easily grasp.

5. Great people make up for great social agents
At NMBS, it’s all about identifying the strengths of the company. No company is perfect and there’s no point in covering up your mistakes. Train your social media team to always reply as a human first. NMBS used a specific training phrase for their social media agents to fall back on: “I’m a person at the NMBS/SNCB and I’m going to help you the best I can”. This motto makes it clear to continuously act as human beings, unafraid to acknowledge that you don’t always have access to the right answers immediately. However, you will do the best you can to ensure smooth replies.