Tuesday, June 25, 2013

One small step...or an impossible leap?

I promise, I really promise, my dear reader, that I did seriously try to stop criticising the institutions and their ability to communicate visually - well, if not stop, at least make the criticism less frequent. Some friends have said to me: 'What if one day you want to work for the EU on communications? If you keep on talking badly about them, you will only have enemies there!' Maybe they are right, I should think about that. Actually no. The communications jobs in the institutions - if one excludes the spokespersons service - are for EU officials only. Whether I criticise or not.

No, the reason I tried to be less critical was that I thought you, my dear reader, would be bored with it. I think I made my point on a number of occasions and now I should move on. Sharing interesting and successful campaigns was part of this moving on exercise.

But it seems that you, my dear reader, are not bored with it, because I regularly receive suggestions and  get sent links to videos that come out of the institutions. Videos that I cannot avoid commenting on. I try to, but when I see them, suddenly my eyes become watery, my muscles (both of them) tense up and a flow of thoughts gets into my head; this flow needs, I really mean needs, to be let out on paper, well, on screen, if I want to continue my day peacefully. Do I sound exaggerated? Ok, I am a bit, but wait you see this.

It was sent to me by someone that regularly produces videos - 'For a Commissioner in charge of energy, Oettinger really needs to boost his energy levels!' he wrote in his email. Well, that is the least one can say about the video message by the energy Commissioner introducing 'Sustainable Energy Week 2013 - One small step from you, one giant leap for Europe' -

Leaving aside the cheesy tagline, the ten seconds jingle is nice, but who has seriously been able to watch through all the other 94 seconds?

One small step from you, Commissioner Oettinger, and this video could have been quite different.
Last year Commissioner Potočnik did a great one with a similar purpose - introducing Green Week. As I said at the time, that video worked because it was shot outside, because the Commissioner inter-acted with his surroundings, because he had learned his lines by heart and hence delivered them more naturally and because it was directed and edited in a catchy way. So you would think it would be success to emulate. But it was not - not even for Green Week this year, may I add. Was it considered too extravagant or was the Environment Commissioner smiling too much?

One small step outside the Berlaymont, Commissioner Oettinger, maybe in a 'sustainable' environment - and the message would have sounded more credible.

One small step from your communications people, Commissioner Oettinger, and they might have suggested a different format to make it more interesting. Or maybe they have, but have not been listened to.

The voice, the background, and the constant zooming in and out that makes you sea-sick, do I really need to comment? A giant leap for Europe? Feels more like an impossible one! Let me stop here - I got it out of my system and so can continue my normal life!

Seriously, what drive me nuts, as usual, is that the question is not the lack of ability; there are plenty of capable communications people in the institutions - and many of them, by the way, are just as frustrated as I am at the difficulty of getting the message across. No, the question is the lack of willingness to spend time on it (not money, time), to listen to new ideas, to implement proper communications strategies; all this because communications, despite what people might say, is not a priority.

Will a European Parliament filled with Eurosceptics make it a priority? A fool too late bewares when all the peril is past, a famous queen once said, not me.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Saving lives with 'likes'? UNICEF 1 - Facebook 0?

I will leave the EU in peace this week, and let them negotiate TTIP. Someone pointed out that it is an unfortunate name for an Agreement that has not yet been reached. I agree actually. Virginia, stop it.

Anyway, I saw an interesting campaign idea a couple of days ago. It somehow links to the comments I made on the Kony 2012 campaign months back. This one is a UNICEF Sweden campaign.

Together with the UNHCR, I find that UNICEF is one of the few UN institutions - or maybe should I say institutions in general?- to have understood and well interpreted the power of visual communications. Their campaigns, partly because children are at the centre of the organisation, are very often incredibly moving and effective. This one, though, is particularly well done because it makes you think not just about children, but also about our own behaviour, as target audience of the campaign. First you have the powerful TV commercial showing a 10 year old boy who says that his and his brother's life will improve because the Facebook page of UNICEF Sweden has more and more  'Likes'. Sadly surreal but very thought provoking.

 Here it is (think about children):

And then there is the funny part of the campaign with three online clips showing someone trying to pay with 'likes'.

Here is one of the three (think about yourself):

These clips are OK. The characters could be funnier - or maybe they are to the Swedish audience - but the idea is good and anyway it is beside the point.

This campaign makes a not so subtle criticism of all those initiatives that want you to like, click and share for free from the comfort of your chair. Initiatives that, often, do not achieve much or change anything. The fact that online tools are a great help when it comes to reaching as many people as possible, does not alter the fact that, in most cases, what is really needed - and even more so in this time of crisis - is money. The quirkiness of this one for me is that the results of this campaign will be, yes, more donations, but also inevitably many more likes on the Facebook page of UNICEF Sweden. Or will it? Quite surprisingly the Facebook statistics seem to imply that there was a huge buzz the weeks following the campaign launch a month ago, but that there has been only a marginal increase in likes.

Pure coincidence or has the message gone through?  

Friday, June 14, 2013

A somewhat different Barroso statement on Syria and EU Foreign Policy

European Foreign Policy. A fascinating subject that I had decided not to cover. Why should I talk about it in a blog that covers visual communications and Europe? It is by now well known that the current High Representative runs away from video cameras so it would be a cheap shot to dig at the lack of interesting visuals. By the way, I understand now that cameras run away from her too, as EU photographers have decided to boycott her, but that is another story.

As I was saying, I had decided not to cover European Foreign policy. Until now. Why? Because of a video. The protagonist of the video - surprise, surprise -  is not Lady Ashton. No, this video is an inspiring statement by the Commission President José Manuel Barroso on Syria.

Here it is ( it's just under 1 minute 30 so watch it before reading on!):

Now, a key caveat to what I am about to say: the situation in Syria is catastrophic. It is indeed a stain on the world's conscience. It is painful to watch the country being destroyed and its people dying in huge numbers. Having been there and seeing all the places that we visited transformed into war zones makes me feel incredibly sad. So it should definitely be time to act in some way or another.

But....what is the point of this video statement? I ask because I am puzzled on two levels, one technical and the other linked to the actual content.

Let's get technical:
Why a video? If you read it, the statement has some strong elements, especially at the end. But this delivery straight to camera, in a monotone voice reduces enormously the dramatic impact of what is being said. Why this incredibly ugly blue background (OK, we get it that you represent the EU so everything needs to be blue and yellow but there is a limit!): why couldn't it have been recorded in a normal office?

Video is a great tool, but needs to be used properly. With some small adjustments, this video statement could have been much more powerful and might have had more than the current 270 views.

Adjustment number 1) Avoid the studio and record in a nice office.

Adjustment number 2) I am guessing that the recording was done in between series of official meetings, almost on the run; the text would have been written by his staff and given to him just before entering the studio. Had he managed to read it a couple more times before recording it, the delivery would have sounded more heartfelt and sincere;

Adjustment number 3) To sound sincere and heartfelt the statement would have had to be slightly more personal with maybe a couple of short extra sentences, but this goes to touch on the content, hence...

Puzzlement number two:
Why announce that you are giving more money (I guess the reason for the statement in the first place) and then shrink its importance by saying that it is only a palliative?  Here, one little extra sentence I was referring to, might have helped to personalise it, something like:' I know it's far from being the perfect solution but sometimes keeping people alive is the only thing we can do and should do'.

But then, maybe, the reason for the statement is in the final sentences: "What we need is a political solution to the conflict...And we need a transitional inclusive government". Strong but necessarily vague words.  And while we could all agree with them in principle, what is the EU doing to make this happen? To make WHAT happen exactly? And what CAN the EU do? 'We have a duty to act', he says. Never mind the fact that he used exactly the same 'stain' metaphor talking about Syria when he picked up the Nobel peace prize six months ago. What he should have added though is ....'but we really cannot do much because we don't agree with each other, and for that matter there are very few things we really all agree on, when it comes to foreign policy'.

And he could have concluded - ad lib - along these lines:

"So, you can blame the Commission and the High Representative until the cows come home but you should actually blame the Member States who still have not got it that together we would be much more effective and influential in the world. Or maybe they have got it but simply cannot let go of the notion that foreign policy is a member states' prerogative.  A strong European foreign policy requires courageous and visionary leaders both here in Brussels and in national capitals. Leaders that actually believe that Europeans deciding and acting - or maybe deciding not to act - together will make this world a better place, not just Europe.

OK, maybe he could not have concluded like this...I will.