Yesterday I was in Brussels meeting staff, clients and helping celebrate our new merger with Swedish communications firm Prime on the ground in EU Public Affairs with a nice party.
As I walked around the city, now with the strange – for that sedate businesslike city – sight of heavily armed soldiers in full battle dress guarding EU institutions following a rumbled terror plot, I thought about lines for my speech on communications in an EU setting.
Here are some of them.
“OF ALL THE PREDICTIONS ABOUT 2015 NONE SEEMS SAFER THAN THAT ACROSS THE GREAT DEMOCRACIES PEOPLE WILL FEEL DEEPLY LET DOWN BY THOSE WHO LEADS THEM…THE INTERNATIONAL FABRIC IS FRAYING”
Our world is restless.
Much of that restlessness, insecurity, fear, centres on Europe and EMEA.
From terror attacks to Ukraine, from the Ebola epidemic to continued financial insecurity, from a new generation of restless, digitally empowered but often unemployed youth to the potential fragmentation of the EU itself in the face of rising populist anti-EU parties on the right and left, fueled by frustration at years of austerity and Eurozone crisis.
Challenges to free speech, open borders and free markets. The decline of trust and confidence in governments, institutions (including the media) and business.
According to the OECD only 40% of citizens around the world trust their governments. Business fares slightly better but the lowest trust in business regionally is in Europe.
[As I type there are armed soldiers patrolling Calais station platform outside my stalled Eurostar train - "Je Suis Charlie" ]
Overlay this with the digital & social media revolution. The levelling of the communications playing field, the empowerment of citizens and consumers. A most dramatic shift of power. Whether it is the huge growth of mobile phones in Africa where more people have one than have a toilet, to teenager vloggers like Zoella building a following over over 6m for her hair and make-up tips, to civil rights activists toppling governments – but also a scary new platform for hate merchants.
The overwhelming expectation in our digital, restless, sceptical and insecure Europe is that corporations and institutions will be transparent, held to account.
Reputation and trust have never been so highly prized, yet have never been so easily lost. Maybe in a tweet.
In this restless, noisy world, communications, dialogue, engagement, have never been more important. Public relations – human relations – has never been more important. Engaging, authentic storytelling that cuts through the hubbub and connects, one to one, person to person, has never been more important.
So, in this restless world of changing and challenging power structures and power elites, with the remorseless rise of the Millennial workforce and voter, and the imminent arrival of Generation Z as consumers, employees, voters and citizens – it all requires new communications thinking and innovation.
And communications, dialogue, listening, engagement, have never been more important than now.
[It was a speech at a party, so don't worry I told a few jokes as well and got to wear a glittery top hat.]
EU Public Affairs team, Brussels 2015.