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The European Maritime Safety Agency: An EU communications perspective

Over a week ago I was in Portugal to hear about the issue of water in all sorts of contexts, a reporting trip I had won because I have blogged about EU water politics.

Since my focus is on EU matters, I kind of was looking forward (professionally) to hearing what the EU people had to say. We heard Rui Cavaleiro Azevedo, press officer of the EU Commission representation in Portugal, talk about, well, issues in his country and we were briefed on the work of the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA; spoken: Em-Sa) by Andrea Tassoni, communication advisor at the agency.

To make a long story short, they both could not have been more different.

Mr Cavaleiro from the Commission, who according to himself is in Lisbon since January, was boring, unprepared, unstructured and almost disrespectful to the audience of about 30 journalists and bloggers from around the EU by several times giving more attention to his cell phone than to the audience.

He even started his presentation saying that he “did not prepare a PowerPoint nor even a very structured speech” and that he was “to address in very general terms the issue“. That’s what he did: He talked in a very general way about very general environmental topics related to Portugal and the rest of the world, without actually talking about anything concrete or useful. He simply didn’t seem to care.

[UPDATE, 17 May 2011: Recording of the meeting Part 1 (starts after 60 seconds), Part 2, Part 3; see also the comments to this post]

If this would have been the only image the European Union institutions and bodies would have portrayed during our trip, it would have been a very sad picture of the EU.

The EU can be thankful to Mr Tassoni from EMSA for being the total contrary.

Tassoni was able to transmit true passion for the rather technical work of his so far unknown EU agency without falling into specialist or EU jargon, something many EU officials in Brussels are totally unable to do.

As you can see on the picture below, he explained technical work with simple drawings on a flip chart, the rest he was showing “live” on the internet, EMSA’s website and other websites that were useful to make his case.

You could see that he loved doing was he does while showing glimpses of self-irony to his new work as EMSA communicator, having worked as an EMSA trainer before. He knew how he had to talk to non-EU, non-maritime specialised journalists and bloggers: concrete enough to be understood but not to the last detail to lose our attention.

He was also ready to defend his work and the agency even against critical questions, a challenge he took on with pleasure and good arguments. And he did all that with a lot of patience and respect, although we had actually been 30 minutes late.

Before going to EMSA, I had started to look at some academic research (results hopefully in a future post) and the website of the agencyMr Tassoni told during his presentation that this website was freshly redone. Having looked through the website, I was about to mock about their newsletter in this blog post, but why bother with such details when you get a great presentation that convinced everybody who was there.

I think Tassoni will be great on social media, because he is authentic and because he seems to have good feeling for the right tone, and he promised that EMSA would be also more active in the digital sphere in the near future. His colleague from the Commission representation in Portugal should listen and learn.

I’ve recorded the meeting with Mr Tassoni (raw, largely uncut version in 3 parts), and although it’s a little less appealing to listen than it was to see live, you will still learn a lot about a (one of the many) largely unknown EU agencies and see how good communication about the work of an EU body can sound like:

Podcast Part 1 (general introduction to EMSA & maritime safety)
Podcast Part 2 (EMSA data collection & related work)
Podcast Part 3 (Questions & Answers)

As one of the winners of the Th!nk About It blogging competition on the topic of water I have travelled to Lisbon from 17-21 April for a reporting trip with over 20 other bloggers from around Europe and beyond, a trip organised by the European Journalism Centre and co-financed by the European Commission.

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