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The Five Essential Skills for Professional Success in EU Public Affairs
The essential building blocks for advancing your career in public affairs, and how to improve them TODAY.
Observed from the outside, a career in public affairs is a complicated thing.
From the inside, however, one quickly understands that the job requires a few distinct areas: knowledge of the EU policymaking process, expertise in a specific industry field, marketing and data management, and a good understanding of how business works. And to advance your career, it is possible to work on each of these areas.
Today, let’s see how these fields can help you advance your Public Affairs career.
The basis: EU Policymaking process
I start with this item because it is the obvious one.
So obvious that some people may remain stuck here. We all know colleagues who are experts in the institutional functioning of the EU, but poor communicators, for instance.
However, I would always recommend starters and young professionals to start with this aspect, and for a simple reason. No one is going to hire you if you don’t have a minimal understanding of how EU laws are made and discussed. If you weren’t trained in EU politics (or if you don’t remember your classes so well), grab a few textbooks and teach yourself. I have at home the classic Policy-Making in the European Union by Wallace et al., but you can find more digest resources with a bit of research. The UE institutions have some educational videos around.
If you are more advanced, you can improve by teaching others. If you have a junior colleague who struggles to understand how policymaking works, try to explain them. I’ve been there, and I won’t thank my senior colleagues enough for doing so.
But knowledge of the EU policymaking process is but the tip of the iceberg. You have to know the other four skills to advance your career.
Expertise is everything in our field.
It’s no wonder why even the most senior lobbyists only have one or two areas of expertise. Being focused helps you develop a deep understanding, builds credibility, and makes you a valuable asset to your employer.
I met recently a young man trained in economics, law, and finance. He complained about not finding a job at the crossroads of all three disciplines. My advice: focus on one (the one you like most, or the one that has more career potential). Jacks of all trades, master of none. Better know a topic like the back of your end rather than a general overview of many.
But focusing has its perks. An expert is seen as more credible, which makes her more influential.
But expertise is nothing if you can’t demonstrate it.
Marketing and Communications
I know it can feel strange to include marketing and communications as part of the job of a lobbyist. But—as a Marketer myself—, I can only encourage you to give it a go. After all, we’re just selling ideas, right?
The way I see it, marketing helps make the best ideas shine brighter. Since our role is to convince lawmakers to adopt our proposals and ideas, we better give them a nice package. This is marketing. NGOs are very good at doing this. Think about demonstrations in front of the Commission or inside the Parliament. That’s a catchy way to grab attention and spread your message.
But businesses can draw inspiration from it. Every now and then, there are excellent exhibitions in or outside the European Parliament. However, I do believe business lobbyists should give a little more attention to their public affairs marketing efforts.
I’m actually currently setting up consultancy services for this purpose, so go check it out if you agree with me.
This is the poor child of lobbying careers.
Public Affairs professionals are often very good about the elements mentioned above. But when it comes to efficiency and productivity, well… Let’s say things could be improved drastically.
That’s excellent news for you. All you have to do to stand out from the crowd is follow a few business principles. Measure your activities’ contributions to your employer’s results. Unclog your mailbox. Manage the resources (people, time, etc.) of your organisation better.
Think like an entrepreneur: where can I be most efficient? How can I facilitate my work and get more done?
With a little effort on that front, you’ll find you can do more and better in less time.
Data management skills and processes
Effective data management is a critical skill for success in EU Public Affairs.
In our daily jobs, we handle vast amounts of information. We create it, share it, move it. Mastering data is key to personal and organisational success.
If you don’t yet have a strong system for storing and organising this information—of any sort: meeting notes, reading notes, news development, to-dos, meetings, etc.—you better figure it out mighty quick. For myself, I have been using apps such as ToDoIst for the management of my to-dos, and various calendar apps for meetings. Only recently have I been starting to build a system to collect the notes from my readings.
Now, this is an area I’m keen to learn more about. So if you do have knowledge about it or tips that you want to share, I suggest to head to the comment section and tell us how you organise your information.
And that’s how you will improve as a Public Affairs professional.
By improving on these five “building blocks “ of the profession, you will be able to do more, better, in less time, providing greater value to your clients and employers.
But these skills are not everything, as you need also to develop three core values to ensure your professional success in Brussels. I invite you to read about it here.
Don’t go just yet!
If you read thus far, you might be interested in knowing that I am developing a series of consulting services. If your organisation tries to step up its influence game, let’s set up a call.
And as a gift for making it to the end: our free PDF Measuring Your Contribution to Your Employer's Performance will give you a head start during negotiations with your employer.