As a member agency of the Global Communication Alliance (GCA), a network of independent agencies around the world, Whyte Corporate Affairs takes part in the Leadership Exchange Program. This program allows a consultant to be detached to one of the partner agencies for a short period of time to discover their working methods and to exchange best practices. In this context, I spent a week in Berlin at navos, a communication and public affairs agency that is characterized by its willingness to engage in dialogue.
Throughout my stay at navos, one expression constantly came to mind: “Same same but different”. “Same” as far as the type of files, the approach and the way to meet the clients’ needs are concerned, but often “different” in the nuances. This phenomenon was so glaring that using this expression to describe my stay seemed to be an obvious choice.
When I returned, however, I was surprised to discover that my colleague Ariane Goossens had used the exact same expression to describe her stay at PLMR in London, one year earlier, in the context of the same exchange program. On second thought, it does make sense. Fortunately, GCA agencies can easily relate to each other’s work. The network brings together independent agencies active in the same sector of activity, which we describe at Whyte as “Corporate Affairs”, meaning public affairs and corporate communication. Active in the same field, it is natural that we find ourselves in the work of other agencies. Beyond that, we find ourselves entirely in the way of working of other agencies because professionalism is at the heart of the network’s philosophy.
In the end, it is also normal that, in these similarities, we find differences. We should even be pleased about that. Indeed, each agency has its own identity and operates in a specific context. We speak the same language, but sometimes with different accents. It is through this diversity that we can best learn from each other within the network. The similarities confirm our approach and the small differences make us think about how to further improve our services.
Most peculiarities I have observed result from one single fact: a very different geopolitical context. Germany’s territory is indeed 12 times larger than Belgium’s. Germany’s exports are almost 5 times higher. The playing field therefore is quite different.
The first peculiarity is that, comparing to Belgium, more multinationals have their international headquarters based in Germany. This aspect does not necessarily have an impact on the clients of the two agencies, but rather on the tasks entrusted to them. Companies’ national representatives will naturally focus on national projects. However, their international headquarters will more often contract an agency to both advise them at the national level and coordinate the approach and strategy beyond national borders. Though this kind of task is often entrusted to Whyte, it was still very interesting to discover to what extent it is integrated into navos’ structure.
The second striking element is a direct consequence of the difference between the two political systems. In Belgium, at the federal level, powers are highly centralized within the government, when not in ‘caretaker’ mode. The role of the parliament is not to be minimized, however, it remains focused on monitoring the actions of the government. At the regional level, the dynamics are the same, but for other responsibilities (and with significantly shorter ‘caretaking’ periods). In Germany, the Länder also play a key role, though it has a higher impact at the national level. Much is at stake at the parliamentary level and the government constantly has to ensure that it can reach a consensus. This difference in structure has a significant impact on the public affairs strategies. While strategies cannot always be applied from one country to another, different actions can certainly be a source of inspiration.
Finally, the third singularity results from the difference in culture. Even if we are from neighbouring countries with relatively similar cultures, nuances remain. The debates that will live in one country might not in the other. A company’s communication must therefore be able to adapt to this context in order to be in tune with the public. In the role of consultant, it is important to follow the different trends and be aware of the debates that are taking place within our country, but also beyond our borders.
This experience has been very enriching. It is truly inspiring to see another team working on other files, and it gives a lot of ideas on how to better serve our clients. Of course, this was only possible thanks to the opportunity offered by Whyte to participate in this exchange program and navos’ very warm welcome. I would therefore like to thank all of them for making this experience possible. And I highly recommend it to everyone who has the opportunity to take part in this kind of exchange of ideas and best practices!