Friday, July 21, 2006

Information/communication – lessons learned in Sweden

Information/communication – lessons learned in Sweden

This presentation will be about story telling. I have chosen this expression because I think it is often more to the point and easier to understand than Information-communication.
I will focus on storytelling to the media and by the media. What can we do, as officials, to help the media to tell some of the very interesting and thrilling stories that are to tell about the structural fund’s interventions?

There will always be brochures and leaflets and websites and advertising, but there is nothing like the media when credibility is concerned.

My name is Maria Evertsson. I work as a communication officer at Nutek, a Swedish state agency dealing with business development and structural funds. I have worked with EU-related issues since Sweden became a member in 1995. Before that I worked as a journalist.
My e-mail adress is: Maria.evertsson@nutek.se

I will divide my presentation into three parts:

The media situation
Success factors
Difficulties

I hope that you will get some new ideas and maybe a slightly different perspective on the important and interesting task to inform and communicate the structural funds.

The media situation

It is important to analyze the media situation of your country before planning activities towards the press. In Sweden the local and regional press are very important. Sweden is a country of newspaper readers.
Of course television also has great impact. And the radio. There are similar studies done that show what kind of programmes people watch the most etc. It has not yet been the case in Sweden but I know that other member states have actually produced soap operas with a structural funds theme.
In brief, you need to look at what your media situation looks like. And do not hesitate to investigate new approaches to working with the media.

Success factors

What does it take to make a good story or facilitate for the media to make a good story?
These could be boiled down to three main points:

Pictures
People
Plot

Pictures

Pictures are very important. You know what they say; a good picture says more than a thousand words. It is important to try to show the projects in their real environment. If you can provide good picture opportunities you are more likely to make it to the front page than if you don’t. Most things are better than to show a person behind a desk or behind a computer. Of course, if you do not have any other alternatives, at least make sure there is a European flag nearby.
Where pictures are concerned I would like to mention the fantastic photos on the walls of the DG Regio info.
They come from structural fund’s projects from throughout Europe.
I think they would make an excellent exhibition in airports.
I want to show you a couple of examples where the pictures have been crucial.

People

A good story needs people, main characters. Who is a good starring person in a structural fund’s story?
One is definitely the project manager. The person in charge of a project. It could also be the local representative of the structural funds. I have chosen to call this person a local hero.
And from a structural funds perspective there should be millions of local heroes across Europe. They all have in common that they are doing something good for their local community.
Other important main characters in a story are external visitors for example in connection with structural fund’s monitoring committee meetings.
The two of them can be put together very successfully.
And of course, the participants of a project are important.

Plot

What is a good structural fund’s plot? What makes your story interesting? Of course if there is suspicion of crime involved, it immediately catches the attention. One thing that we have tried is to deliver a press release with lists of projects that have been approved for EU-funding. The information is very brief; only the name of the project, roughly what it is about and the amount of money granted.
Another way of creating an interesting plot is to arrange competitions between projects. You select a winning project that will be in the centre of attention.

Difficulties

Dealing with the local and regional media is fairly easy. There are a lot of newspapers and they are often, not always, quite happy to be invited to press conferences. The national press is much more reluctant. The local hero angle is not that interesting. Neither is the list of projects. I have tried making press releases about the financial state of play for the structural funds. But of course that information lacks the flesh and blood that I have already mentioned as being reliable success factors.
There is also reluctance towards everything that smells propaganda. You need to be careful. And the terminology is not on our side. Try to explain to somebody outside the structural fund’s system what the function of the monitoring committee is. The EU-jargon puts itself as a filter between the messenger and the people he or she is trying to address.
I have no good solutions to the problems. The only thing I think is useful is to try to use as normal words as possible. And to try to put yourself in the position of the “normal” citizen every now and then.



Conclusions

Media is good from a credibility point of view – but a media analysis is needed. The media situation varies between member states.
To help the media to deliver interesting stories you need to identify people and plot. You also need to be able to provide good photo opportunities.
Local and regional media are, in general, more interested than the national press. Maybe you will have to choose.
And finally: think story telling instead of information/communication!

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