Lynn Robbroeckx (Luxembourg for Finance): Making the unknown known

Belgian-born Lynn Robbroeckx works for Luxembourg for Finance (LFF), where she manages communications for the Luxembourg financial centre. In the latest instalment of our Expert Talk series, she tells us that the Grand Duchy’s international role and cross-border expertise are too often overlooked, creating LFF’s biggest PR challenge: ‘Making the unknown known’.

How did you roll into PR and corporate communications?

After taking a master’s degree in sinology from the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium and studying Chinese at Chengkung University in Taiwan, I started my career in China, where I worked at the embassies of Belgium and Luxembourg.

I then joined Arcelor China in 2005, which turned out to be an action-packed year. Globally, steel prices were skyrocketing, and the high level of M&A and consolidation within the industry led to the merger of the world’s two largest steelmakers, Arcelor and Mittal.

During the takeover process, the international strategic communication battle between the two companies made a deep impression on me. It encouraged me to direct my focus to the communications activities of the new international steel company in China, to build the brand and tell the story of the newly-created ArcelorMittal.

You joined ArcelorMittal’s media relations team in London in 2008.

Right after the euphoria of the Beijing Olympics in 2008, Lehman Brothers collapsed, and the world slid into recession. It was indeed then that I joined the media relations team in London and got involved in a wide series of international communication projects.

I created and executed communication and branding programs for mining and steel projects in countries such as China and Liberia and coordinated communications in Europe. Quite a diverse role. ArcelorMittal constructed a new railway in Liberia, for instance, where there had been no trains for 20 years, and that meant our communications had to sensitize people and warn them of the possible dangers.

In 2013, I moved to financial services and joined Luxembourg for Finance (LFF), the agency for the development of Luxembourg’s financial centre, to manage its communications. I wanted to work closer to my family living in the south of Belgium, but still in an international environment. Just as steel had done, I felt finance would give me good insight into the functioning of an economy and the need for effective communications.

Communications in steel or finance do not differ much, although steel is more tangible and so it’s a bit easier to make your stories concrete and clear. In finance, you quickly run the risk of becoming too dry or abstract.

“We bring the stories of Luxembourg’s financial professionals to the world on a daily basis”

Tell us about Luxembourg for Finance and your work there.

LFF was created in November 2007 as a public-private partnership between the Luxembourg government and the financial industry in Luxembourg, represented by the main industry trade bodies, notably ALFI (investment funds), ABBL (banking), ACA (insurance), etc.

The agency aims to act as the voice of the Luxembourg financial centre abroad. It also stimulates development of the financial centre, chiefly by helping open up new markets for Luxembourg-based institutions and by bringing new players and activities to Luxembourg.

LFF reflects Luxembourg’s financial centre through its international nature: our team is composed of 17 people from six different countries, speaking 10 languages, which is a distinct advantage. Three of us work in communications. We bring the stories of Luxembourg’s financial professionals to the world on a daily basis.

With over 110 editions of our quarterly magazine LEO and brochures on themes such as corporate finance, capital markets and wealth management, plus more than 150 videos, a monthly newsletter, a website and social media channels, we produce a huge amount of exclusive content for our readers abroad. There is so much to tell about Luxembourg, as the financial world is so quick to renew.

Do you contact media reactively or proactively?

Our agency is the first port of call for journalists who need information about the Luxembourg financial centre. We always try to respond quickly and to assist in the best possible way. Every time a journalist calls, that is a new opportunity to build a relationship. Not responding or engaging with media is out of the question.

So when engaging with journalists, you can’t expect to be purely reactive or proactive. To build solid media relations for the long term, you need to be available and have a dialogue, especially at moments when important issues need to be addressed in the media.

The national media of smaller countries such as Luxembourg don’t have the size and reach of influential newspapers and newswires in countries such as the US, UK, France or Germany. This is an important reason to step out of our national comfort zone and reach out to media abroad, via partner agencies in the UK, France, Germany and China.

Social media is important as well. Our Chinese partner, for instance, is currently developing our WeChat profile. Luxembourg is a leading player in the renminbi business, as the seven largest Chinese banks have their European hub here. We want to keep that role, so it’s important for Chinese companies to be able to ask questions directly about Luxembourg’s financial services industry.

What do you consider your biggest PR success?

When I began working at LFF, Luxembourg faced some undeniable headwinds and legacy issues, mostly related to tax transparency. Over the years, we have managed to demonstrate that Luxembourg is a reliable partner at European and international levels. It’s an open and dynamic country that has played an active role in international efforts towards more transparency.

Thanks to the availability, efficiency and openness of the Luxembourg government, the professionals of the financial industry and the CEO of LFF, we’ve been able to engage with many international opinion leaders.

We have managed to showcase Luxembourg’s unique ecosystem and financial services expertise in a variety of sectors including banking, investment funds, wealth management, insurance and capital markets.

What do you consider your biggest PR challenge?

The Grand Duchy’s financial centre has experienced impressive development since the 1960s and is one of the top three financial centres in the EU, alongside London and Frankfurt. But its international role and cross-border expertise have often been overlooked by international media.

So making the unknown known is our biggest PR challenge. However, it’s also our biggest communication opportunity – to redress the lack of understanding about international finance, or even the preconceived ideas about Luxembourg.

Many journalists coming to Luxembourg are surprised at the diversity of activities in the financial sector. Luxembourg is the world’s second largest fund management centre with EUR 4,000 billion in assets under management. Leading global asset managers, banks, insurers, but also Fintech companies, have chosen to establish their EU hubs or international competence centres in Luxembourg.

“Big budgets, bright speakers or cool visuals don’t necessarily guarantee the success of a campaign”

What’s the most important PR lesson you’ve learned?

Common sense is not always common in communications, unfortunately. Not everyone always has the courage to say what makes sense and what doesn’t. Big budgets, bright speakers or cool visuals don’t necessarily guarantee the success of a campaign. Communication must be well anchored in the reality of your business. You need to be fully committed to making healthy decisions and fully supporting these. Take your time to really think through your message and discuss it.

During my 15 years in communications, not one single communication project has been the same as another. Every strategy, whether it was deployed in China, Luxembourg, Belgium, the UK, Germany, France, Liberia, Bosnia or Ukraine, was unique. Some countries have access to the latest digital technologies, while in others a radio network needs to be built to spread the message. Newsrooms are shrinking, and there are more and more signs of information overload. People aren’t only becoming blind to advertising; they’re growing content-blind.

Whichever technologies we use, we’ll still be confronted with the fundamentals of our profession: starting each time from scratch, facing the blank page and writing the first words. Confucius said: “If I am walking with two other men, each of them will serve as my teacher.” Whether you’re writing a narrative, developing a new campaign or managing a crisis, make sure you walk with wise men or women.

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