Read in today’s series of Global PR Perspectives how Social Media is being used in Belgium* and how being creative even helps to elicit editors out of their offices. We talked to Wilma Schippers, consultant of the agency PR-Consult in Brussels.
1. What is the latest trend (change) in PR you have identified in your region?
Wilma Schippers: First of all, and as in other countries, in Belgium we also feel the increasing influence of social media. Belgium is definitely more a follower than a leader in this field, but nobody can deny the importance of social media tools anymore.
There are often discussions of how to use them and for what and there seem to be different opinions about this. Those who absolutely believe in it and are very present on the web and really include social media in their strategy. And then those who are hesitant to start using it, because they are not sure about the effectiveness or do not have the staff or budgets to deal with this.
Besides this, we also feel that media have less and less time. Most important reason is that editorial offices are getting smaller and smaller because of limited budgets. So when a client asks for a press conference, a press event or a ‘press moment’, we are often in the situation that we have to convince them it is better not to do so and to seek other ways to obtain media attention.
2. How does your agency handle / embrace this?
Wilma Schippers: As for the social media, one of the tools we are now using is the social media release, in which we include as many interactive details as possible, such as links to facebook, twitter, films, presentations, photos etc.
In answer to the other trend, the fact that journalist have less and less time, we try to be as creative as possible. We first consider what it is the client/company wants to tell or show and then make an adapted proposal. This can go from an individual interview, to a simple press mailing, to a factory visit or a press trip. Essential is that there is a news value for the journalist and that he/she considers it worthwhile to write about.
3. Can you give a recent example from a project or best practice?
Wilma Schippers: We work for the Malta Tourism Authority and one of our missions is to bring journalists to Malta so that they can experience the archipelago. Belgium has a limited media landscape, so after a few years of working for them, all relevant media have been to Malta. What we therefore do, is to come up with new things, special themes that are interesting for Belgian media. The Maltese do not always realize what it is that attracts foreign people to their destination and tend to often focus on the same. We advise them to look at new trends, like for example agritourism, or the bio food industry, which is becoming more and more important in Malta.
Another example is Vi-Spring, manufacturer of very luxurious beds. What makes these (expensive) beds so special is the way they are made, almost 100% by hand, which is unique.
A successful PR activity for his client has turned out to be to take journalists to the factory in the UK so that they can see for themselves. Included in the trip is a night sleep on a Vi-Spring bed. Even if time is precious, for this type of activities, media still make time or they send a freelancer, because they know they will come back with a nice story for their readers. And ultimately that is what they are all looking for.
4. Are there PR practices in which you think your region differs from PR in other part of the world?
First of all, in Belgium we have to deal with different languages and different media cultures. Belgian languages are Flemish, French and German, but the last one is negligible, because the German part is very small. This means that each press release, each invitation or other press document needs to be edited in at least Flemish and French. And it is not only the language that differs. Also the general (media) culture in Flanders and Walloon can be quiet different. When organising a press event where you want media from both parts of the country to be present you best look for a ‘neutral’ place, which is often the capital Brussels. Organising something in Flanders would result in the French speaking journalist to be absent and vice versa.
5. Can you describe common mistakes foreign companies make?
Foreign companies tend to think that they can use the same PR methods in Belgium as in other countries. For example, use the PR materials they use in The Netherlands for the Flemish press and use the materials they use in France for the French speaking press. However, there are several differences which need to be taken into account. First of all, the languages are not completely similar and Belgians want to receive information in their ‘own’ language. Then also the way of presenting things can be quite different. A press information which is used in France can look too commercial for a Belgian journalist and will immediately land in the garbage can, In Belgian it needs to look like ‘press information’ and certainly not like a brochure.
6. What do clients from other markets need to keep in mind when they plan to do PR in your region?
Of course it is often a budget consideration to use materials which were used in other countries, but when companies want their PR activities to work, they cannot deny local culture and differences. So what they need to keep in mind when planning PR in Belgium is the fact that they need press materials in Flemish and in French and that they should have locals check the way in which they want to approach journalists. Also very important is that they realize that Belgium has a rather small media landscape. They have to consider that they cannot compare results with numbers they would see in for example France, Germany or the UK.
Wilma Schippers is a consultant of the Brussels based agency PR-Consult. She joined the team in September 2000 and works especially in the field of media relations (leisure and lifestyle) and product PR. Her clients are active in different sectors like tourism (Malta Tourism Office), decoration (Vi-Spring, Sphinx), food & drink (Exki), construction (Derbigum), lifestyle (Zumba Fitness), gardening (Scotts benelux, Husqvarna), hospitality industry (The Hotel Brussels) and more.
Wilma’s nationality is Dutch but she has been living and working in Belgium for more than 15 years.
* The series is based on phone or face-to-face interviews and written input, therefore please excuse language mistakes which might reflect foreign language influences.
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