Good public policy messages should be clear, constructive and compelling.
In an ideal world they should form a coherent narrative that points to a shared future and suggestions on how to get there.
In Brussels, the vast majority aren’t and don’t.
One reason for this is that organisations are self-absorbed. This means they struggle to identify what is genuinely interesting and helpful to policymakers and other external audiences, including media. As a result, companies and industries often overlook the real issue and try to market the benefits of their products instead.
American messaging books focus on sales and marketing
Part of this is the influence of American business books, which are geared towards sales and pitches in a commercial environment.
They are certainly full of helpful tips, After all, who is going to argue against the need to keep messages simple and clear? However, they also emphasise buzzwords about the mystical benefits of Company/Sector X and its products.
To quote Elvira Hancock from Scarface, these kinds of messages inevitably encourage the messenger to get high on their own supply.
Consider these lines from the European Cocaine Producers Association, EuroCrack. The association is planning to use them on an MEP who thinks that the industry is fuelling a spike in organised crime.
1) Crack cocaine gives you energy and is better value than heroin.
2) We have one of Europe’s most innovative, game changing industries.
3) We provide employment for some of Europe’s most disadvantaged communities.
Viewed purely in communications terms, these are just a bunch of assertions that don’t connect to create a coherent policy narrative. They may be factually correct, but they are also politically tone deaf because they don’t address the societal challenge the MEP is interested in tackling.
Meetings with EU policymakers are not sales pitches
Your organisation will struggle to get traction unless you can convince policymakers that you can help them address the issue/topic they are working on. If you work for a large American company, there is a very good chance that your public affairs team already has its work cut out for it trying to rein in this sort of mindset.
If you try to market your crack at a policymaker or, for that matter, a journalist who is convinced that your industry is a problem, there is going to be a jarring mismatch in expectations which will invariably lead to disappointment.
Almost certainly yours.
As a heads up, this is a shortened excerpt from the book I am writing about how to improve messaging in and around the EU institutions. There is a section on how to create good messages, but you also need to avoid the common traps.
If you want to receive blogs and book updates straight to your inbox then please hit the subscribe button and add your e-mail address.