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Trade associations in Brussels have to recalibrate their advocacy approach


Hiding behind the digital wall is not enough: personal impact matters! 

When we evaluated 73 Brussels-based associations regarding their ESG communication patterns in the most recent Leidar-study (link/June 2023), we wrote:

the timing is right, with the EU’s Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive now in effect and the first reports due in 2025, with a range of other ESG reporting measures becoming mandated, and with the EU running a number of initiatives.

We were talking about the timing of our study in view of regulatory developments. We were also making the point that the associations urgently need to look into recalibrating their advocacy strategies. 

Five trends and emerging issues are determining the ability of associations’ leaders to get their messages across to stakeholders, policymakers and regulators. In turn, that defines whether or not they meet their objectives and KPIs:  
  1. Lack of central funds and resources: Associations have to manage their day-to-day business – including advocacy and communication – with declining budgets.  
  2. Unprecedented pace and shortened reaction time: The speed and scope of Brussels-based institutions’ policy and news agenda, as well as associations’ peers’ engagement activities, have increased significantly. As a result, the EU “bubble media” are working also on shorter deadlines. 
  3. Global interconnectivity of issues and solutions: EU-focused associations have to consider, monitor, understand and engage on additional global platforms that have a direct or indirect impact on EU institutions. These include, but are not limited to, WEF, UNGA, COPs, G20, G7and other international and national events, conferences or gatherings. 
  4. The creeping death of social media push campaigns and growing importance of holistic strategies: “Going viral” is not an option for sharing content with stakeholders anymore. There is so much content available and the algorithms make deliberate wide exposure increasingly difficult to orchestrate. We have to assume that most content goes largely unseen.   
  5. The end of hiding behind the digital wall and reemergence of personal engagement: Post-Covid, building and sustaining personal relations with journalists, industry analysts and an individual approach to engaging with stakeholders replaces hiding behind a digital wall. Successful advocacy is built in person. 

These trends have increased the pressure on associations’ advocacy and engagement teams, broadening their scope of work. 

New opportunities require additional expertise and skillsets.  

Advocacy teams are tasked with a wide range of duties that require diverse skillsets. But it needs more than that. 

Advocacy strategy development and engagement programmes need policy understanding and foresight. It’s not enough to know what is currently happening, since that information is freely available. Rather, it’s all about understanding the implications of the data and predicting what will happen based on different scenarios. It takes senior, strategic communication executives to deliver on this task. 

Seasoned communication experts ensure that communication material and assets are created for impact on all channels. In addition, research has to be conducted and its results require interpretation, ensuring their conversion into strategic considerations and ultimately content. 

With the help of digital engagement experts, sentiments on social media and other digital channels should be analysed by employing relevant and state-of-the art tools or applications. It is important to remember that digital advocacy is not about channel management, it is about engaging with the right audiences and using engaging content. 

Graphic and digital designers safeguard the process of converting facts, figures and key messages into attention-grabbing visual assets for use in digital, traditional media, or owned (digital) channels. This is a undespensible to ensure stakeholders can fully grasp solutions to issues, accepting associations’ calls-to-action and policy asks., 

Last but not least, associations should apply top notch logistics, since in-person events come with high expectations and all related aspects need to be perfectly delivered on. You need highly-capable support staff to manage the logistics of events, particularly presentations and the entire information supply. No one notices a well-run event but everyone notices mistakes. 

Three alternative staffing approaches.

The central question is how can an association management ensure its advocacy team has the right skillsets, performance levels and numerical scope to meet the relevant requirements? I see three alternatives to manage the recalibration of associations’ advocacy approaches: 

Enlarge the advocacy team and hire subject-matter experts

  • Inhouse team with deep industry and regulatory knowledge 
  • Immediate access to resources and expertise. 
  • Additional HR-needs: team management and permanent training/upskilling. 
  • Higher costs with increasing headcounts/FTEs 

Create an ecosystem of freelancers 

  • Flexibility in terms of resourcing, FTEs and HR 
  • Special coordination and briefing needs for varying tasks 
  • Limited availability of resources in case of ad hoc needs 
  • Unpredictable costs in case of special needs and unexpected workload

Team-up with/contract an experienced international advocacy consultancy 

  • Access to necessary and diverse expertise/skillsets – ranging from strategy to design 
  • Defined processes and procedures of engagement 
  • 24/7 support (if required) 
  • Input and advice with external viewpoint 
  • Flexibility skillsets and predictable costs 

Communicating for advocacy

Five trends impacting advocacy effectiveness
Should you have any queries contact us
Lukasz Bochenek

Managing Director / Deputy CEO, based in Geneva

Lukasz is Managing Director for Switzerland, Belgium and UK offices as well as deputy CEO for Leidar. He oversees key international client projects and relationships. In addition, he manages external partnerships and memberships of Leidar. 

Lutz Meyer

Senior Advisor, Advocacy and Public Affairs, based in Brussels

Lutz leads Leidar’s focus on international advocacy across the influencing axes of Geneva, Brussels and London. He develops communications and advocacy strategies for international organisations and also advises on organisational in-house structures related to sustainable strategy implementation.