Those who managed to get themselves to the Square and into the Gold Hall by 8:15am after the previous night’s revelry at the European Communication Awards were treated to 45 minutes of body activation with Michele Kadison. Some gentle-yet-targeted exercise was the perfect preparation for a second day of learning and exchange.

Michel Kadison leading the room through a body activation session.

“We've lost the European moment..."

Current member of the Spanish Council of State, Ana Palacio brought with her to the stage a high level of experience in promoting democratic values and an open society as honorary co-chair of the World Justice Project, former minister of foreign affairs in Spain and former vice president of the World Bank Group.

Beyond this expertise though, it was her passion and honesty that cut through her conversation with Summit moderator Karin Helmstaedt. Palacio asserted that our first responsibility in society is to address low growth and inequality. Warning against a turn away from rule of law, she stated "charisma has overpassed legality in the legitimacy arena".

Palacio highlighted the importance of legitimacy in our new messy reality where “legitimacy of authority has to be earned every day”.

With the European moment past she argued that it is now time for institutions to stop muddling through and start listening to the people, who are keen to have an influence on combatting challenges facing wider society.

When asked then how to ensure a new EU project can be owned by the European people, she placed responsibility on the room of communicators in front of her.

Palacio said communicators have played a part in building this messy world.

“We have to come clean to the citizens,” she requested. “Simplifying is ok, sugar-coating is not. Stick to the truth.”

Council of State of Spain member Ana Palacio addresses ECS attendees.

Step up

With the role of senior level communicators undergoing a great transformation, Gizem Weggemans of Egon Zehnder and Richard Marshall of Korn Ferry were invited to discuss the expectations CEOs have of their chief communications officer (CCO) with Luca Biondolillo, EACD board member and CCO of MSC Cruises.

As executive communicators themselves, both experts provided great insight into this transformation.

Weggemans explained that while in the past there was not enough investment in communication roles, business leaders’ wariness of reputational risk means that communicators now have the opportunity to step up and be part of companies' business decisions.

Weggemans outlined five crucial functions needed for leadership in communication: 1. Master complexity, 2. Orchestrate creativity, 3. Grow emotional commitment, 4. Anchor in society, 5. Build next-level leadership.

Outside of these skills, Weggemans described curiosity, insight, engagement and determination as defining the potential of a future leader.

She assured the audience that it is these empathetic human qualities that CEOs are looking for in their CCOs.

“Leadership is not functional expertise,” said Weggemans. “It's how you as a person can genuinely take people with you.”

Korn Ferry’s Richard Marshall also spoke of the great opportunity for CCOs to move from a functional position to the role of “strategic business advisor”.

He argued that this “age of disruption” has brought with it a rising importance of communicators in the C-suite.  Now is the “best time to be a communicator” in terms of stature, compensation and influence.

However Marshall suggested that those with this influence are performing the roles of “uber CCOs” – possessing resilience, learning ability, a knack for collaboration, problem solving skills and courage.

“CEOs want seasoned communication advisers with savvy business acumen and relevant experience,” he told the room.

Gizem Weggemans, Richard Marshall and Luca Biondolillo discussing the transformation of executive communications.

Brexit breakdown

At the end of two days of insight and collaboration the final session of the ECS saw a last minute addition to the event programme. With the UK’s decision to leave the EU at the forefront of many attendees’ minds, four panelists were assembled to tackle the elephant in the room head on.

Jonathan Refoy, director of European corporate affairs at CH2M Hill and “leave” campaigner was given the floor first.

After thanking the audience for the lack of tomatoes coming his way, he provided insight into what he described as  strategy based on traditional door-to-door campaigning, effective integration of simple messaging via social media and the leveraging of a traditionally EU-critical press in the UK.

He put forward that “the British press has hardly published a positive story about the EU in the last 43 years”.

Utta Tuttlies, EACD board member and head of press and communications for The Socialists and Democrats (S&D) Group in the European Parliament, made it clear that while we must respect the UK citizens’ decision as an outcome of a democratic process she lamented the result of the referendum.

She spoke of the support the S&D Group provided to the UK’s “remain” campaign and was dismayed at the misleading information released from the leave campaigners.

Refoy commented that the use of misinformation from both sides was regrettable but said that once this information was printed and disputed by the media it became established in the minds of voters. He pointed to the cluttered messaging and overflow of information as the major weaknesses of the remain campaign.

Tara Palmeri, reporter for Politico Europe earned applause in the room when she challenged the EU to make their communication surrounding policy change clearer. She then pointed to the charisma and authenticity present in the communications of key leave campaign figures as one reason they gained popular support.

Tuttlies acknowledged the need to provide clear communications from EU institutions – evidenced in her own instructions to staff to avoid using acronyms –however she warned that factual messages should not be sacrificed for entertainment value.

Anthony Gooch Gálvez, EACD board member and director of public affairs and communications at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, suggested that while clarity must certainly be an aim, when it comes to communicating policy, simplicity can lead to inaccurate messaging.

Referencing the personal popularity of high level figures in the leave campaign, he posed the question, “where is the line between popular & populism?”

With the panel opened to questions from the floor, one audience member suggested that another years’ time will provide more answers to the questions surrounding communication before, during and after Brexit.

The opportunity to address these questions is sure to come at the 2017 European Communication Summit.

What happened? From left: Karin Helmstaedt, Jonathan Refoy, Tara Palmeri, Anthony Gooch Gálvez & Utta Tuttlies