Brussels is one of the most important international media centres in the world. According to the European Commission, there are around 800 accredited journalists and technical press people reporting from Brussels, representing over media outlets. After Washington, it is also one the largest lobbying meeting points, with 25,000 lobbyists representing a combined annual budget conservatively estimated at more than €3bn ($3.6bn) seeking to influence EU policy.
Together, they greatly impact the information flow of the EU-bubble: lobbyists need to get their message out, while journalists need a wide variety of sources to support their stories.
The needs of lobbyists and journalists are complementary, so: how can government affairs professionals make the best out of this symbiotic relation?
#1 Build your network
To build your network, you will need to first identify a couple of influential journalists that are relevant to your topic. Make sure to get to know them in-person or online. You also need to know which topics they are interested in and write about.
Twitter and LinkedIn can help you to check on their last activities, and see who they engage with. You can also check the attendees and speakers of specific events, so make sure you go to events in person and make the most out of the networking sections.
Once you have identified the relevant journalists and other stakeholders, you will need to initiate the first contact. Most people are quite approachable. You can email them or send a private message on LinkedIn or Twitter to arrange a coffee. Once the contact is established, you will need to foster the relationship (see next section) by, for example, keeping in touch via phone in order to ensure rapid communication.
Remember that Brussels is a village: you are likely to run into the same person again, occupying the same or a different position. Building and maintaining your network is a long-term investment.
#2 Foster the relation
Now, your aim is to build a trust-based relationship with those journalists. You will need to be clear and transparent, as your credibility will depend on the reliability of the information you deliver.
Lobbyists are regarded as experts in their topics and can become great resources for background information. This is the key added value that you can provide to journalists.
Journalists in the EU bubble, on the other hand, can be experts on one or several policy fields, or generalists covering a wide range of topics.
Regardless of their degree of specialization, everyone needs guidance and assistance to navigate the EU bubble. For example, the EU-jargon released by the institutions has been scientifically proven to be incomprehensible. Therefore, being able to provide clarity on immensely complex matters is another added value that lobbyists can provide to journalists.
#3 Understand the viewpoints and motivations of each side
Great relationships are born from a deep understanding. Lobbyists often work for more than one client, and hence might work across sectors. Journalists are in the same situation, working for several media channels or covering a variety of topics. However, both professions have to face tight delivery deadlines, while covering a range of topics related to EU affairs. Some are working for media outlets with a specific editorial line, focusing on specific topics. While some journalists work as freelancers, for several outlets. In addition, some might also be writing for their own newsletters.
The best strategy for a story to be picked up by the press is to provide verified, easy-to-understand press releases or information that is “ready to publish”.
For highly technical topics, the best solution might not be to issue a press release but to schedule a quick chat or briefing on a particular topic.
As a lobbyist, if you wish for your story to be picked up, you will need to keep both content and format in mind. In March 2022,the General Secretariat of the Council of the EU (GSC) published a study analysing the composition, working conditions and trends of the Brussels press corps. It highlights the 10 key topics most covered by journalists, underlining trends regardless of the sector.
So, before sharing your story with journalists, keep the following mind:
- is your topic relevant to current affairs?
- Are the journalists you are disseminating to specialists of this sector? Does your pitch bring a new angle on an issue?
- Does this story fit the editorial line of the media outlet this journalist is writing for?
It might be a lobbyist's dream to see their dossier in the headlines of the Financial Times or Politico, but you might make more impact by targeting smaller, specialised titles, which are more interested in your content.
Once you’ve identified the outlet or outlets, think if your content has a good narrative too. All sides need good content but all content benefits from a great story. In other words, ask yourself the following questions:
- Does your pitch clearly explain complicated issues?
- Is it backed up by evidence, supported by additional visuals or interviews?
Check out the following results of this survey conducted by Dober Partners EU, where they highlight the most important elements in a good story pitch.
Some would argue that the best lobbyists are the ones who worked previously as journalists: a strong storyline, understanding how to disseminate information efficiently and curating a network are some of the skills they can count on. Yet, this combination of experience remains a rare profile.
So, if your job description involves getting the message of your organization out in the press and navigating this jungle called EU-bubble, make sure you follow these simple three pieces of advice.
Margaux Plurien is a communication geek, passionate about the links between the media and public affairs. Her academic background in Asian Studies and Political Science brought her to work in the press offices of several international organizations in China and Germany. She is currently a Junior Consultant in Public Affairs, Research and Communication at Schuttelaar & Partners.
Kait Bolongaro is a Senior Editor at MLex in Brussels, where she edits EU and UK policy stories and helps run the Brussels office. She previously worked as a reporter covering politics for Bloomberg and policy for Politico Europe. She was also a freelancer for five years, reporting on politics, society, business and culture from five continents. Her reporting has won three prizes, including the United Nations Correspondents Association Global Prize on Climate Change.
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