BRUSSELS: The European Union is in the midst of a massive reorganization of its communications structure that aims to decentralize its operations to better influence the disparate stakeholders in its 25 member states.
The new plan is both an admission of the inadequacy of the EU's past efforts, and a signal to international PR firms that they may need to refine their techniques to continue holding their pieces of the organization's nearly $100 million communications budget.
In July, the EU approved an "Action Plan" that laid out 50 goals, focusing on localization of communications efforts. Work is under way already on the plan. Later this year, the group will issue a white paper outlining future strategy.
"It's the job of each member state to communicate...but very often, they don't," said Beate Gminder, and EU Member of Cabinet who advised VP Margot Wallstrom on the new plan. "That's a completely new paradigm, that we're saying we cannot do communication and information from Brussels. We have to do it in our member states."
The EU has suffered political setbacks recently, even though opinion polls show that most Europeans support the idea of the organization. It now hopes to tailor its message more accurately for better results. "It's the thought of going local, and moving away from the thought of 'one message for 25 countries,'" Gminder said.
The Brussels press corps and constituent citizens are the EU's key audiences, she added.
The EU works with a host of international PR agencies, including Hill & Knowlton, Fleishman-Hillard, and APCO.
Among the new initiatives that the organization will be contracting out are a new multilingual call-in center, and a revision of the organization's Internet communications work.
Gminder said the new plan is unlikely to change the EU's frequency of work with agencies, but that it may push for more work that is not based in Brussels. "That is something we want to shift, but it will take years," she said.
Kevin Traverse-Healy, and independent British PR consultant who was the sole outside advisor on the EU's planning process, told PRWeek via email that "the Action Plan reflects a marked shift toward the local delivery of services."
He said that smaller national agencies throughout Europe may be able to pick up a larger portion of the EU's budget, but cautioned that the EU is likely to invest in its own communication staff first. He added that multinational firms will "have a slight advantage for a time yet on the bigger campaigns."