Last week I was lucky enough to spend one week at PLMR, a public affairs, PR and digital marketing agency based in the UK. I was able to do this through the ‘GCA (the Global Communications Alliance is a global network of independent agencies) Leadership Exchange Program’. This learning programme allows you to get to know the working approach – including the methods and tools used – of an agency abroad. Given that communication is a rapidly evolving sector, an initiative of this kind naturally struck me as being extremely rewarding.
Summing up an entire week in a format as short as a blog post is no mean feat… but if I had to choose just five things I’d say that the following aspects stood out for me:
#SameButDifferent – There are a number of differences relating to politics, media and culture between Belgium and the UK. A federal system where powers are shared between three power levels of authority, all three of which are equal from the legal viewpoint versus a highly-centralised government focused on Westminster (even though a shift towards cities and regions is gradually taking shape). A rather factual media landscape characterised more by linguistic than ideological divisions versus media keen on controversy and still strongly influenced by political or ideological affiliation. Despite these differences, the workings and activities of our two agencies are actually quite similar, which is proof that a network such as the GCA makes a lot of sense.
#Storytelling - Storytelling appears to be particularly important to both Whyte and PLMR, not just in respect of the media but also in respect of clients (typically as part of a pitch). One point worth highlighting is that during the meetings I attended at PLMR, the importance of “human stories” was brought up a number of times. For example, it was pointed out, on the subject of a new building project, that it was preferable to refer to the number of families who would get a home rather than the number of housing units built.
#DitigalInfluencers – While PLMR works with B2C clients to a lesser degree than Whyte, it’s interesting to see a growing trend within both agencies: it’s increasingly common for an “influencers” component to be included in communications plans, and in actual fact this is increasingly at the specific request of the client. Irrespective of the type of client and sector, it’s clear that digital influencers are becoming indispensable… even though you obviously always need to examine which initiatives best lend themselves to working with influencers.
#Ethics - Lobbying doesn’t always get a good press – something that is true in both Belgium and the UK. While measures to ensure that lobbying activities are transparent are taken on both sides of the English Channel, the approach is fundamentally different. As a matter of fact, UK law regulates the activities of public affairs consultants (although, bizarrely, in-house professionals aren’t covered). In Belgium, guidelines have been established by BEPACT (Belgian Public Affairs Community), in conjunction with agencies and in-house professionals, but this point isn’t covered by Belgian legislation.
#Measurement – Measurement is one of the main focal points of Whyte’s ‘Research & Analytics’ taskforce… and it has to be said that it isn’t always easy to identify which are the most relevant indicators for measuring each action. I saw that this is something that PLMR already applies extensively for social networks, notably through dedicated audits. However, it appears that it isn’t necessarily relevant to set actual benchmarks (even in a country as vast as the UK), because figures vary too much from one sector to the next.
How else to conclude this blog post but by thanking everyone again who made this experience possible? So thanks to Whyte for encouraging this kind of initiative and to the entire team at PLMR for welcoming me and sharing their expertise. I would encourage all GCA members to jump at the chance if ever they’re offered the opportunity to take part in the Leadership Exchange Program ?