When Institutions communicate: difference between a Voice and a Face

Work pressure being what it is, this post will be much shorter than I would like, but I still needed to throw it out: there is a huge difference for an institution communicating externally between embodying the VOICE of the institution and the FACE.

Wtf? are you thinking? Has the rhino gone mad (well actually, he’s been mad from the start, so any changes can only be attributed to recovery).

When too much VOICE hides the FACE

When too much VOICE hides the FACE

Let me try to explain what I am referring to:

  • to me, the VOICE of an institution is the communication channel that provides easily accessible information about what that institution is up to and hy it matters to Mr or Mrs Smith in the street. It’s a tweet by @eu_eeas, a press briefing by the spokesperson, a press release on Rapid, etc.
  • the FACE of the institution is made up of those individuals that make you “relate” to the institution. That make you think you want to engage not ’cause it’s your job to do so, but as a citizen, a human being, a mom, an angry teenager…It’s a blog like the one put up by the European Parliament webeditors (Writing for (y)EU)  that describes their challenges and dreams, it’s the tweets of @dicknieuwenhuis @euonymblog or @jeaninehennis that tell you they are working on this dossier, are shocked by this press coverage, talked to Ambassador X, or are excited about this project…

Everytime I read something about EU Communications, the tagline seems to be : we need to have a story to sell. To me, if you don’t think Europe is a good story in itself and feel this constant urge to create a zillion other stories on top of it, be my guest. I think however that the important bit is to create a FACE for Europe, and not just stick to the VOICE bit. I realise it’s a challenge, but some seem to get it so why not rely on them to help the others in the institutions to make the shift? I just want to be able to cut off the noise, close my eyes and start seeing FACES…

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  1. I agree 100%! But where do you find those faces?

    Hennis (and indeed a number of Dutch MEPs) are interesting examples – the open list system means interesting characters seem to do rather well. Elsewhere where lists are closed it’s not so. It’s easier to be an anonymous face behind an institutional name, an institutional voice. Same for the Commission – which of them wants to really stand up and communicate, and who benefits when they do?

    You get occasional exceptions, but the incentives to be a face in EU politics are just too weak.

  2. I think the faces will mostly not be the headline names. It’s the assistant that wants to share why he/she likes the job they do (or don’t like it), its the civil servant that tries every day to make a difference if only to the person sitting next ti him/her, it’s so many individuals that give humanity to the glass and metal buildings…and that should be given the opportunity and empowerment to give the institution a face. You can’t create a face but you should be smart enough to recognise those that could.

  3. Nice post, pointing right at the heart of what social media offers EU comms.

    But not just EU communications, but also actual EU activity – policy development, programme management, etc. With positive feedback loops between activity and comms.

    But there’s an interesting question regarding the Who, explored more recently last month on Writing for EU. In brief – should functionnaires be the face, when there are MEPs? Who are … where?

  4. I think that MEPs are one FACE of the institution, but they are split between being the face of their constituency (remember the people that voted for you back home?) and representing the EP, whereas civil servants should fully take on the challenge… Moreover, there is the eternal cautiousness of people re politicians which could get in the way…Not sure if anyone is cautious about a eurocrat (know quite a few bored though ;))

  5. You want close your eyes and start seeing faces… The EU is supposed to appear in your dreams, then. ;-)

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