How to spice up EU communication

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EU communication has a reputation for being boring, stuffed with jargon, obsessed with process and hardly cutting edge. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

One EU official who seems to be on a personal mission to shake up the way Europe communicates is Dan Sobovitz, an Israeli, Swiss and Hungarian national who is a speechwriter and digital communication strategist for European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič.

We’re big fans of the campaigns Dan runs so we invited him along to talk about ‘How to Spice up EU communication’ at the monthly News and Booze meeting for NGO communicators we co-host with Joanna Sullivan and Julia Ravenscroft. 

First off, Dan said that “spicy is not necessarily a good thing.” Humour often doesn’t translate and misjudged attempts at making light of serious subjects – for example the infamous ‘Science: It’s a Girl Thing’ EU video – can backfire spectacularly.

One lesson Dan learned at a previous post in the European Union’s humanitarian body ECHO was “how to turn complex policy into the story about a little girl without shoving propaganda in your face.” In other words, how to create content that people care about – even if they oppose it.

Another tip Dan gave was to think hard about which audience you’re trying to communicate with, divide them into sub-groups like experts, journalists, the general public and businesspeople. Then tailor messages and content accordingly.

Dan talked through three examples of how this strategy, coupled with innovative use of new technologies and social media, enabled his Commissioner to reach large audiences:

       1. LinkedIn

After Dan migrated the content of EU energy chief Šefčovič to LinkedIn – with a bit of help from the kind folk there – followers soared to 330,000, a mighty number for an EU Commissioner. Dan said that while Twitter remained the social media choice of the Brussels bubble, LinkedIn provided “25 times more traction” than the 280-character platform.

       2. Facebook live

The day before a major climate change conference in Paris in December, Dan gathered together 21 youngsters in Brussels to ask what messages they would like his boss to pass on to conference host Emmanuel Macron the next day. The event was hosted by Dan – wearing jeans and sneakers and snapping selfies with participants – and broadcast on Facebook Live. 30,000 people watched live and many more on the version edited by Dan on his iPhone. The following day Commissioner Šefčovič passed the youngsters’ messages on to Macron and other world leaders at the opening ceremony of the One Planet summit.

       3. 360° video VR

The Commission played with Virtual Reality for the launch of four EU satellites on an Ariane5 rocket in French Guiana. From the EU executive’s Facebook page and YouTube accounts, the VR video allowed more than 16,000 people (combined) to watch a 360° view of the launch from their screens in November 2016. It is available on smartphones but the experience is even more immersive with a VR mask. A word of advice from Dan: “If your work somehow relates to space, communicate about it – everyone seems to love it!”

Dan rounded off by urging the 50 participants to experiment with new tools – “technically, it’s not rocket science” – and to take advantage of free resources like Unsplash and Flickr (for still images), Canva (an editing platform) or Quick and Splice for editing movies on a smartphone. 

News & Booze is a monthly event for NGO communicators in Brussels with guest speakers and opportunities to network. It is co-hosted by Jo Sullivan, Director of Conscience Consulting, Julia Ravenscroft, Communications Manager at Eurodad and Gareth Harding, Managing Director of Clear Europe. Join the News and Booze FB group.

You can follow Dan on Twitter at @sobd


About Aurelie Vo Thi

A graduate in advertising from the IHECS school of communication and European affairs from ULB, Aurélie worked in the European Parliament and a child-rights organisation in London before joining Clear Europe.

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