Interview: Brussels lobbyists ‘unsure about the web’


“Communications in Brussels still tends to be one-directional, with a stoic resistance to using online tools to enrich press conferences, releases and events,” according to Helen Dunnett, eCommunications manager at the European Crop Protection Association (ECPA).

“Brussels-based communications and public affairs professionals are aware of the importance of the web, [but] most are still holding firm to their traditional working styles,” like distributing press releases and hosting press conferences, Dunnett says. 

New Internet tools that make use of Web 2.0 technology, including blogs, wikis and social networking sites, are helping to turn millions of web users into content creators (see EURACTIV LinksDossier on ‘Web 2.0’). At EU level, blogs are proving particularly adept at bringing debate closer to citizens, and even some European commissioners maintain their own (see EURACTIV LinksDossier on ‘Blogs’). 

But Dunnett believes “a shift in mindset and culture” is required, with many Brussels-based communications professionals “not quite sure how to approach the web”. “Online engagement [is] a mind-shift away from traditional communications and marketing,” she admits, but failure to embrace the potential of the Internet is a “wasted opportunity”. “It’s so easy to add value to traditional communications channels by using the right online tools,” she declares. 

The eCommunications specialist cites the notion that “the web isn’t a serious or appropriate channel for communicating with target audiences,” a tendency to consider blogging as “a lot of hard work for very little return” and fears of creating too much “extra work” and of generating “misguided feedback [and] negative comments” among the main causes of wariness towards blogs in Brussels. 

Nevertheless, Dunnett believes “change is happening,” due in large part to the way in which the November 2008 presidential elections in the US were fought online. The Obama team was particularly quick to embrace innovative new Internet tools – and develop online communities – to get their candidate’s message across to voters during the campaign (EURACTIV 04/11/08). 

“Companies, organisations and politicians across Europe who want to be in the public eye and are constantly fighting for press time are increasingly seeing the benefit of building a robust online presence through a good website and blogging,” says Dunnett, pointing to the influence of sites like MySpace and Facebook in this regard. 

Asked why her own association, ECPA, decided to start its own blog, Dunnett said it stemmed from a desire “to break its own cycle of one-way communication”. “The crop protection industry [has] always been fairly closed-door with regards to communication, and I felt it was important to be more open and engaging,” she explained. ECPA enlisted the help of online communication agency ZN to help out with this. 

Dunnett remarked that her association sponsors a web platform, called, “to provide a platform for our stakeholders to express their views and to engage in serious debate on the future of pesticides”. 

The site carries short video interviews with stakeholders “because the power of the spoken word [carries] much more than a mere quote in a press release”. “I had […] assumed that most people would not like to […] be filmed, but I was wrong. Hardly anyone has said ‘no’,” Dunnett said. 

To read the interview in full, please click here

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