4 mins

Communicating Cohesion Policy on Planet Pandemia One year on

Agnès Monfret
Claudio Nichele

Like most organisations, when the pandemic hit, we went from denial to acceptance and, swiftly, had to adapt. In several instances we turned the challenge into an opportunity that put us on a greener and more digital path - truly walking together at forced speed Europe's twin transition.

Of course, first came the painful technical hurdles to overcome. The new digital ways to explore and master. Within our team, with Commission and EU partners, and with our partners across European regions and cities. But very soon came the realisation that digital formats allowed us to reach more people, not fewer. To interact more, not less. To be more responsive, and not less responsive.

Without travelling, commuting and polluting. All the more so as the circumstances required to communicate on the immediately needed legislative adjustments, then top-ups, to cohesion policy instruments to address the health and economic crisis and create the financial conditions to help regions and cities recover.

But beyond the political imperatives, what was to be done with ongoing and planned campaigns for large public audiences, most of them with significant physical presence implications? What was to be done with the biggest EU event on cohesion policy in town every year, the European Week of Regions and Cities, which in 2019 had attracted to Brussels some 10 000 participants from across European regions and beyond?

First, we decided to defer any major decision, opting resolutely "to be optimistic, as it does not seem to be much use being anything else", in Churchill's words. So we proceeded with the deployment of the digital elements of the traditional May to September EUinmyregion campaign, notably the online quizzes, stories and post cards, and called upon our partners in the regions to either deploy the famous open project days where feasible or defer them, or else switch where appropriate to digital formats (e.g.

virtual visits to museums). Similarly, we maintained but postponed and enhanced the online elements of our Green Trip campaign, which was already targeting the younger generation (Gen Z) online (#DingDongEU).

For this, we relied on 15 Belgian, German, Greek, Lithuanian and Portuguese local influencers challenging their followers on YouTube and Instagram. We delayed our ultra-local campaigns in 15 regions in France, Greece, Ireland and Italy by a few months but put this time to good use to significantly rethink the delivery mode, abandon the interactive outdoor displays and turn to more media partnerships. In doing so, we tripled the reach compared with the first 35 local campaigns, deployed in 2018-2019.

For the 18th edit ion of the EURegionsWeek , after long keeping the two options open (physical or digital format), we decided, again in Churchill's warlike words, not to waste a good crisis and went fully digital, with only residual physical elements for TV-show high-level sessions. Needless to say, this was a learning experience and a big adventure, but one we do not regret.

The 2020 edition set many records, with an unprecedented number of partners' applications (650+), number of selected sessions (500+), length (3 weeks) and number of participants (12 000), and a daily growing number of viewers through the online replay function. To walk the green talk, we even compensated for the carbon footprint of our data consumption by financing the planting of 145 trees in Portugal.

Learning from this experience, the 19th edition, in October 2021, is designed from the outset in a fully digital format, including an immersive exhibition hall and proper online networking functionalities. And when the pandemic is over, there will be no return to the old physical-only normal. The event will always be at least hybrid, not least to reach out to more participants and save on carbon emissions.

So has COVID-19 been some kind of blessing for communication? We all miss human interaction, but the answer is, to some extent, yes. The pandemic has forced us to rapidly and radically evolve in a way we would never have contemplated.

And none of this would have been possible without our internal communication efforts to monitor staff morale and engagement and do our utmost to maintain a deep sense of purpose and European commitment among staff - be it to help with digital and wellbeing tips and tricks, to humanise teleworking from home (from pages for parents with children at home to photo, recipe and music sharing) or by mingling internal and external communication through our home-made series 'Stories from the Regions' to showcase inspiring examples of European solidarity that will help restart Europe together.

very soon came the realisation that digital formats allowed us to reach more people, not fewer. To interact more, not less

The pandemic has forced us to rapidly and radically evolve in a way we would never have contemplated

Agnès Monfret is Head of DG REGIO Communication Unit Claudio Nichele is Team Leader of DGREGIO Internal Communication

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