In April 2016, EurActiv circulated a survey among EU affairs experts working in corporations and federations in Brussels in order to try and examine the different roles these entities play in “the Bubble” and the synergies between them, as well as what sets them apart in their approach to raise awareness of various policy aspects.
Corporations in Brussels – small teams, big budgets
The decision-making process regarding the EU is split between the Brussels representation and the global headquarters at corporate level. However, while the Brussels team feels they can only decide on policy papers, it is the global headquarters that usually make decisions regarding the external communication strategy. When measuring success in Brussels, impact on legislation and recognition by high-level decision-makers were the top two measurements indicated. Successful lobbying in Brussels is not the only key indicator for corporations, because positive media coverage was also very important in this sense for almost half of the respondents.
Corporates also seem to be more and more interested in liaising directly with Brussels-based journalists, being more active on social media and proactively communicating their policy positions online. For external communication, specialised EU Affairs media and international media were considered highly relevant.
From a communication perspective, face to face meetings still play a very important role in Brussels. Workshops, conferences, social media and multimedia were also considered important by the different corporate representatives who participated in the survey. However, budget-wise, only events had a fixed annual budget, whereas multimedia – although something everybody is striving for – had a fixed budget in only 13% of the cases.
And speaking of budgets, 50% of the survey’s corporate respondents indicated an annual budget of over €100,000 euros and having rather small Brussels-based teams – between two and five full time people.
Federations – members are king!
EU Federations are mainly guided by their boards’ decisions regarding policy positions while the Brussels office can decide on the external communication strategy.
Given their structure, for EU federations, members’ feedback is the most important criterion for measuring the organisation’s success. Lobbying and achieving regular objectives seem to be equally important, with positive media coverage remaining relevant for approximately 40% of the respondents.
The differences between members’ interests, shortage of staff and resources and the overall changes faced by the industry or sector were identified as the main challenges for EU federations. To address these challenges, federations try to meet their members’ requirements by assisting them in their EU representation efforts, monitoring EU legislation, communicating on policy issues and policy influence via lobbying.
In terms of general media engagement, EU federations prioritise proactive interactions with journalists, more visibility and activity on social media and online communication of their policy positions. For external communication purposes, EU federations have identified specialised EU Affairs media, international media and industry media as most relevant.
Face to face meetings are still considered very important when interacting with other stakeholders, but seminars, conferences and multimedia communication play an equally important role. However, 70% of the trade associations have a fixed allocated budget for events, whereas only 13% have a budget for multimedia initiatives. This comes in the context of approximately 50% of the EU federations managing yearly budgets of more than €25,000 and having teams of more than ten people in their Brussels secretariat.
How big is the EU communications pie?
Looking at the relations between corporates and federations, although corporates perceive the difference among members’ interests to be by far the biggest challenge of their federations, they do count on these memberships for lobbying, monitoring and consolidating their image in Brussels.
The total annual budget for public affairs / EU communications (excluding staff costs) of the approximately 400 EU representations of corporations is €73 million with 2% more than in 2009. The 3,000 offices of EU federations have at their disposal for the same budget line more than €191 million (with 21% more compared with 2009).
Dr. Dan Luca is the Senior Director of EurActiv and also lectures on topics related to communication techniques and the European Union at VUB Brussels and SNSPA Bucharest. Delia Voica is the PR & Events Director at EurActiv, where she manages the EurActors Unit – a department that aims to provide communication services and enhanced visibility for EU federations and associations.