Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Flickr, steadicams and the European Council

Rock, paper scissors?  No, Angela, you can only use one hand! 
When there is a European Council in Brussels, you cannot miss it. Traffic is worse than usual; normally it rains (a divine warning?); the city is full of police and motorcades. If you live near the Council building, pedestrian access is denied, so you need to make an incredible detour to go from A to B. People see it and talk about it, even if just to complain about all the nuisance.

But what about other EU countries? What can people in Member States see of this important event? What do they make of it all?

As I am a woman full of surprises you will be pleased to hear I have done a small,  very unscientific piece of research. I looked at the online visual coverage of this last European Council in some random European countries: I checked the websites of their main national broadsheets and of their national television. I then compared what I found with what was on offer from the institutions (in terms of photo and video material). Didn't you have something better to do Virginia on a grey autumn day, you will ask? Maybe, but bear with me.

I will tell you why I did this: I came across, the European Council photo-stream on Flickr. For those who are not familiar with Flickr, I am talking about an application that allows you to share good quality photos online. Anyway, I started looking at the photos and I was actually quite impressed. Here you have an event that has always been incredibly visually challenging: mostly men, in suits, arriving in front of a boring looking building, shaking hands, talking to each other in boring looking rooms, giving a press conference in another boring looking room and taking a family photo in a bigger boring looking room. Plus a car arrival and a car exit. That's it. When I was working for BBC Newsnight, covering the summits, it was always incredibly difficult to come up with an original and interesting visual treatment for the piece. But now, I know what I would do: I would use a sequence of the pictures on Flickr. It seems that, if we are talking about photos, there has been a conscious effort to increase the visual interest of the event.

You can see behind-the-scenes preparations pictures,


leaders taken from unusual angles or assembled for colour combination,

European Council 24-25.10.2013
This one is called "Fifty shades of red"; can you believe it? 

motorcades but from a different perspective

European Council 24-25.10.2013

or simply strange and weirdly interesting pictures

European Council 24-25.10.2013

No life changing photos - it's a summit after all - but still.

Two thoughts: first, the conscious effort done for pictures, has not yet been done for videos. Unfortunately all you see on the video stream are the press briefing and conferences, arrivals and doorsteps. There is some footage of preparations but these are old stock shots.  So, nothing new, slightly more original and visually attractive (despite the amazingly-looking camera in the photo above).

Second thought, to come back to the results of the research I mentioned before: the material you see on the national media has nothing to do with what the EU offers. Here too, photos are more interesting than moving images, but most of them are taken by press agency photographers.

Video material is scarcely used and I can understand why. I know what you are thinking: on these occasions, what leaders have to say is far more important than nice footage. That is why you see only press briefings and doorstep interviews. Maybe so. But I fear this is more a sign of the decreasing interest for EU Council summits by national media, certainly by television news. Take this last one for example: how much coverage did immigration, youth unemployment and the digital agenda get, compared to the NSA spying on EU leaders scandal that is of course a big news story but not originally connected to the EU as such? Understandable, but also intensely frustrating.

I don't want to say that using fancy steadicams to get more inspiring shots than the smiling super tall chap in the photo above would do the trick (am I failing to recognise a famous Prime Minister here?). But it might be well worth a try.

Monday, October 21, 2013

EuroPCom2013 aka "Communicating Europe is a bitch"

Last week I spent two days at a conference in Brussels called EuroPCom2013. The conference brought together public communicators, i.e. communications specialists that work in the public sector (European institutions, national and local governments). But the 700 participants actually came also from different sectors - that is why I could attend after all...

Anyway, we were all there to share experiences and hear advice on how to communicate better. Mostly on how to communicate Europe better, but not just. So I was hoping to get some major insight on what Europe and comms people need to do to get the message across.

Here is what I got out of it.

A necessary explanatory digression beforehand though: I will make very bold statements below, not because I normally write in bold statements, although I do sometimes, but because this seems to be the thing to do. Simon Anholt - an independent policy advisor - was one of the speakers closing the conference. He missed the first day, but still had very strong opinions on how good and useful the conference was or was not; he decided to make some provocative remarks, summing up it all up in seven bold statements; and then left abruptly because he had a plane to catch. Now, if I thought that communications is all propaganda (statement number 2) and that the EU is behaving as a corporation (statement number 7) the least I would do at an EU communications conference is to allow the ones I am accusing of being redundant or even fascist (statement number 1: branding is fascism) to defend themselves and rebut my rather simplistic statements. The most amazing thing for me was that the participants, in some sort of self-flagellation, seem to be enthusiastic about what Anholt was saying and cheerfully tweeted these statements like there was no tomorrow. And perhaps, just perhaps, Anholt used short and bold statements exactly because they were so easily twittable. Which in turn slightly contradicts his own anti-branding, anti PR, anti-gimmicks preaching. But hey, it seemed to work for him so will try it out myself. End of explanatory digression...Here we go:

Bold statement 1: communicating Europe is a bitch.

Bold - well actually....more like, obvious - statement 2: when you are surrounded by comms people, there is no need to keep on stressing the importance of communications.

Bold (eh-mm..) statement 3: the great thing about this type of conferences is that you meet an incredible variety of people that work in your field; you feel energised after it and you have lots of things to think about.

Bold (eh-mm again...) statement 4: the terrible thing about this type of conferences is that you meet an incredible variety of people that work in your field; you feel slightly depressed after it and you think that probably you should consider another profession.

Bold statement 5: there should be more risk taking in public communications, as there is in corporate communications.

Bold statement 6: Evaluation in communications is great and important but not easy. What are the metrics and who is going to evaluate the evaluators?

Bold statement 7: communicating Europe is a bitch but somebody's got to do it because we have the European elections in less than 9 months.

PS: I apologise if I have not stuck to the stylistic requirements as specified in the fascinating Interinstitutional Style Guide on display at the conference (276 pages: how is that for Twitter-friendly communications?)

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Alternative (do you mean cheaper, better, lighter?) European Elections campaign.

Have a look at this video, a cooperation between the web series "Eurobubble" writer Yacine Kouhen and "Old Continent" communications agency: spot on messages, and more to the point than some videos on next year's elections, coming out of the institutions. Why do I like it? Because it's trying to be fun and light while remaining accurate. Because it does not try to please everyone. Because it's visually interesting but short. And all this, I bet, with a relatively small budget.

Well done!

Love the disclaimer "This is not a message from the European Parliament" Really? Don't say.

Just a small question though: why an American sounding voice-over?