EuroComm 2013: Disruptive Communication in Disruptive Times

17 April, 2013 - 21:07
Every two years the IABC hold their European conference. Alba Perez Grandi reports from the historic heart of Europe on the latest hot topics.

By Alba Perez Grandi

Bubbling reception drinks at the majestic Hotel de Ville in Brussels Grand Place opened the 2013 EuroComm conference where 130 top international communication leaders gathered in the heart of the capital of Europe to learn, listen and network.

The three-day conference explored the critical theme of “Disruptive Communications in Disruptive Times”.

Organised by the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) at the prestigious Solvay Brussels School, the event featured speakers from European Institutions, global consultancies, academia, and multinationals. Many spoke in the context of a Europe still in the midst of economic turmoil and socio-political instability, particularly marked by recent events such as the Cyprus bailout and the failure of the Italian elections. With this background, everyone at EuroComm seemed to agree: communicators need to be on a journey of constant change to adapt to the IC future.

Liquid times

On Day One, Robert Madelin, Director General of the European Commission‘s DG Connect, set the scene by presenting his vision on how to brand a European future in an open, cooperative dynamic EU economic society.

Speaking from his long experience as a civil servant, Madelin described the times we are currently living in as disruptive. He believes that communicators as well as political leaders need to become co-creators of change.

Madelin used a metaphor to describe the future. “It’s like a gin and tonic; heady, effervescent. You get to control the mix, but actually the future that we are trying to create is more like an estuary; where the river stop and the sea begins. Ours are liquid times.”

As a good European civil servant, he advocates for DG Connect slogan ‘only connect’ relating it to 5 main pillars:

1. Openness

2. Participation

3. Accountability

4. Effectiveness

5. Coherence

He believes in a European digital future represented by young advisors that respond to stakeholders’ needs. Also he pleads for a safer and better internet for kids.

One of his key points is that communicators need to be as good at listening as they are at broadcasting their messages. He also advocated using a mix of social media channels and move from press releases to for instance twitter releases.

On top of this, Madelin stressed:

“Where we are going is ambiguous and uncertain but if we're together we can make it work. With new technology we can all be creative; co-creation is the best future for Europe.

“CEOs and public administrators need to become disrupters themselves to help rebrand their organisation’s image and break down the silos”.

Capitalize on disruption

This view was taken up by Rav Dhaliwal, Customer Success Manager at Yammer, sponsor of the event and speaker at SimplyTV on Friday 12th of April. He gave four recommendations for communicators to become disruptive using an Enterprise Social Network (ESN) to communicate across silos:

1. Align on common goals and the value you provide.

2. Organise around the processes we do for our work and our products.

3. Empower employees to innovate on how they provide value in the job they already have; if they can adapt they would find better ways to provide values. Using ESN networking tools like Yammer is a good solution.

4. Adapt to constant change.

Create radical change

On a similar note, Celine Schillinger, Director of Stakeholder Community at Sanofi Pasteur, recommended that delegates disrupt their own careers:

“Communicators need to quit their job, get into the business and then come back to solve real business problems. Otherwise they will only be putting the cherry on the cake, to make things look beautiful, rather than facilitating real change.”

She talked from her own experience as how being a disrupter helped her transform Sanofi Pasteur into a more gender-balanced organization. How? By creating a community for women from the bottom up, under the WiSP (WoMen in Sanofi Pasteur) Movement, so triggering radical change in a “big, old company.”

Ambassadors for change

On the last day of the event, Ambassador Andebrhan Giorgis and simplygoodadvice’s Silvia Cambié, social media strategist, expressed a similar view on how the use of social media in conflicts can help people and organisations communicate their message to the outside world. The Ambassador was a freedom fighter in Eritrea and Cambié helped the women bloggers in Egypt and Tunisia. A lesson learnt from both this and Schillinger’s sessions: use the power of social media to disrupt and create change.

Eurocomm takeaways in 62 words

Delegates were asked after the event to summarise their experience of EuroComm in 62 words or a sestude, a concise form of writing that is gaining popularity in many settings. 

"If you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always got. But we are living in ‘liquid times’. The rulebook no longer applies. Experiment! Be bold! Act first, apologise later if needs be. The risks: innovators become dinosaurs; agents of change become agents of control. Relinquish control of content production and seek collaboration for genuine and emotional engagement,” said delegate Eleanor Hammond.

Johan Ljungqvist commented, “There was a lot of discussions about the role of the Communicator. What is it that we really do as communicators? We solve business problems! Communications is just a tool. So if we could put the B back in IABC and focus on solving business problems rather than communication problems, we would earn our way in the management team. It has been 2 great days with interesting people and meetings.”

Michael Ambjorn said, “Lugano, Torino, Bruxelles - I keep coming back because of the people. Eurocomm brings together an amazing group of senior influencers with a passion for communication. You get to hear from some amazing speakers. You get to connect and kick off new collaborations. It is all here – and if you think you could help make the next one happen, get in touch!

Alba Perez Grandi is a junior consultant at simplygoodadvice.

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