In the second of our ‘Expert Talk’ series, we meet Frans Middendorff, head of content at ING Group. He talks about his former days as a reporter in Amsterdam and Hong Kong, and explains how ING’s corporate communications department is helping to make ING a brand people love.
ING Group’s 54,000 employees provide retail and wholesale banking services to customers in over 40 countries. Its head office is in Amsterdam, where we catch up with Frans Middendorff.
Frans, how did you end up in corporate communications?
My first job was as an account manager at Achmea, one of the largest Dutch insurers. I was responsible for the investment policy of institutional investors such as pension funds. One of my tasks was to explain to the directors of those pension funds what was happening in the financial markets, and how they could best respond to this.
I noticed that I really liked telling these stories, and I thought I could do that for a larger audience. I had several friends in journalism and I listened regularly to Dutch business radio station BNR. I also thought it would be more exciting to work in journalism, as the dynamics of a daily news broadcast really appealed to me. In 2000 I was able to start as a reporter at that same BNR, and in 2002 I moved to business TV channel RTLZ.
Later, you even worked as a correspondent in Hong Kong?
After three years at RTLZ, my partner was offered a job in Hong Kong. Working as a correspondent over there interested me, as China was becoming an increasingly important source of news stories, including for Dutch media. RTL already had a permanent correspondent in Beijing, but she was happy for some extra help. And I could write stories for Dutch print media from there, too.
As a freelance correspondent I had to find, create and sell stories. I had to build my own team with a cameraman and a fixer – someone who could show me the way and translate, for example when I did street interviews. It was fun and very educational to work in a completely new environment. On behalf of a large media company I was able to interview people that I would otherwise never have spoken to. I got to know the culture and the country in a very incisive way. That was very special.
Why did you return to the corporate world in 2009, as a press officer at ING?
It’s difficult to make a career in journalism. By that I don’t mean it’s hard to earn money, but to develop yourself and broaden your opportunities. All you could do after finishing a story was to start a new one. I wanted to work with a longer horizon than just my next story. I saw more possibilities in the corporate world, where you can work more strategically.
Looking back, my innate curiosity has been an important motivator throughout my various roles. It has always led me to new opportunities. My love of language was also important, although I did not study languages but law and later on did a full-time MBA in Seattle, just before I started at ING.
Was it a big change to move from journalism to corporate communications?
For a journalist, working as a press officer, which was the first job I landed when I started at ING, feels like a natural transition to the communication profession. You continue to use your old network a lot: I kept in touch with the same buddies from journalism. Being on the ‘dark side’, as journalists call it, was never a problem. I never felt less trusted by journalists after having joined the company. One of the most important starting points for ING within corporate communications is transparency: we always have a very open and positive relationship with journalists. I could never have been successful as a press officer in a company that doesn’t have the same open attitude towards the media.
Being a press officer was a great way to get to know ING. As a spokesman in such a large organisation you have access to all parts of the bank to get answers to journalists’ questions. Sometimes you also need to adopt a journalistic way of working to find the answers.
Since 2015 you’ve been head of content at ING. How does that differ from your previous job as press officer?
The content team is one of five teams within corporate communications. It produces most of the content sent out by ING Group, the listed parent company of all banks and business units of ING worldwide.
The content team was established three years ago when we put internal and external communications together. All content creators came together in one group, which was a good move to increase efficiency. Writers now focus on their topics across all channels. It can be the annual report, for instance, speeches of board members, or the stories on our global intranet aiming at our 54,000 colleagues worldwide. But we are also responsible for all content on our corporate website www.ing.com.
The content team consists of 12 colleagues from various countries such as the Netherlands, the US, Australia, South Africa and Romania. They all excel at expressing our stories vividly in words and images, always staying true to our clear and easy ING tone of voice. One of the team members is our translation manager, who oversees translations of the most important content aimed at ING employees in nine different languages.
The content team is one of ING’s five communications teams. What are the other four?
The media relations team consists of spokespeople or press officers who communicate with one special and very important target group, the media. The strategic advice team advises the various board members on their communication, from large communication plans around change projects to speaking engagements at conferences.
Our channels team makes sure we have state-of-the-art media channels, not only in a technical sense but also in terms of design and features. Finally, we have a specific team that is responsible for ING’s branding. In total, more than 70 people work at ING’s corporate communications department in Amsterdam.
How do these five teams work together?
We have identified a number of themes that we want to communicate about, such as innovation or customer experience. People from across the five disciplines are designated to work on those themes and they meet regularly to develop and execute communication strategies. We are looking into how we can further improve collaboration by adopting Agile as a working method.
The content team meets weekly to keep each other updated on the stories they’re writing, discussing angles to take or headlines. Besides that, some stories come in from other departments within ING. In our content group, we distribute the inbox of story ideas, and we edit and proofread each other’s stories. Together we safeguard ING’s tone of voice: clear, easy, to the point and no-nonsense.
What would you consider to be your biggest success at ING?
On behalf of ING, I’m proud of how we profile our CEO Ralph Hamers internally and externally, and more specifically when we announce our quarterly results. Our quarterly results video is the epitome of our strategy to be as no-nonsense and clear as possible.
In these videos, Ralph discusses the highlights of the past quarter in 90 seconds. He looks directly into the camera – it’s not an old-fashioned corporate video – and talks very openly with some amusing remarks here and there. He doesn’t focus on our profit, but on what we’ve done that quarter for our customers. All corporate communications disciplines come together for these quarterly videos: together we create the idea and work it out.
And what is your biggest challenge as head of content at ING?
Our bank, like others, saw a lot of trust lost during the financial crisis. In recent years we’ve worked step by step on restoring that trust. Crucial was the new strategy launched by ING when appointing Ralph Hamers as CEO: ING is there to help customers move forward, whether they are companies or private individuals. It’s our job to make that purpose come to life with all kinds of stories and examples on our corporate website and through many other channels. Slowly but surely you see ING’s image changing for the better.
Ralph is nowadays sometimes even called ‘the Steve Jobs of banking’ and gets asked to speak in many countries about his vision on the future of banking. While of course there’s a big difference between Apple and ING, it’s a sign we’ve managed to regain trust and are on our way to becoming a brand people love. All of us at the corporate communications department are proud to be part of that journey.
Newspapers and magazines are struggling, so it’s getting harder for journalists to find work. Many are moving into public relations. Is that a logical career switch or is it a shift to ‘the dark side’?
That’s the question posed by HR magazine Intermediair in this article ‘Van pers naar persvoorlichter’, which features communications experts including Stampa director Heleen de Graaf.
“It’s quite a natural move,” says Heleen, who joined Stampa in 2011 after a journalism career that included heading the Amsterdam bureau at Dow Jones and 10 years as economics correspondent at NRC Handelsblad. “You know the media, know how journalists work and what they need, and how to prepare a client for interviews.”
In the article, Heleen offers these tips for journalists considering a switch to PR:
“Keep thinking partly as a journalist. That way you’re of great value to your client and you can effectively assess if something is a story for a specific journalist or medium. But you do have to be aware of the internal reasons why a client might want to publish something, and be diplomatic yet robust in your advice.”
“Don’t underestimate how client-focused you need to be. It’s not sufficient just to reject a client’s wishes or suggestions for journalistic reasons; your job is to come up with something that will work. Also be aware that you’ll be operating ‘behind the scenes’. Success in PR is putting your client in the spotlight, not yourself.”
We at Stampa are all about communication, and digital is obviously a huge part of that. So we should perhaps be the last to complain about the explosive growth in screens in the world around us. But when leading Dutch financial newspaper Het Financieele Dagblad invited me to write about the harmful effects digital technology could be having on our brains, I jumped at the chance.
The article, titled The creeping climate change in our brain, was triggered by a lecture I had attended by British neuroscientist Susan Greenfield. She argues that the way new technologies could be affecting humans and changing the way young people, in particular, think and feel is an issue as important and unprecedented as climate change.
Greenfield is a controversial figure in the UK – critics ask why she raises her concerns primarily through the media rather than publishing academic papers – but she is not alone in raising such concerns. In a 2012 book called ‘Digital Dementia’, German neuroscientist Marcus Spitzer said overuse of technology was resulting in the breakdown of cognitive abilities in a way more often seen in people who had suffered a head injury or psychiatric illness. MIT psychologist Sherry Turkle this month published ‘Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age’, looking at the effect on face-to-face conversation “in a world where so many people say they would rather text than talk”.
“We are being silenced by our technologies – in a way, ‘cured of talking’,” writes Turkle. She talks about a study in which her team introduced robots to elderly people, and was jubilant when a woman who had lost a child began talking to a baby seal robot. “But the question is, who’s listening to the person?” asks Turkle. “There’s nobody listening. The social compact is not just about the talking, it’s also about the listening.”
And that is the key for anyone interested in communicating in any way and at any level. The communication compact is not just about the talking, or the writing. It’s about the listening, and the reading.
Demand for Stampa’s media intelligence services keeps on growing. So we’ve added another member to our media analysis team: Carla Koelemij, who is now working from Stampa’s office in Amsterdam as a media analyst.
Before joining Stampa, Carla taught English in secondary schools, subtitled for Dutch television and worked as a freelance translator. Native Dutch and fluent in English, she holds master’s degrees in English language and culture as well as education.
Stampa, the financial and corporate communications agency based in Amsterdam, London and Brussels, has promoted Heleen de Graaf to the role of director.
Heleen has been a key member of Stampa’s Amsterdam PR team since she joined the agency in 2011, advising a wide range of clients in sectors including asset management, investment banking, insurance and energy.
Before going into PR, Heleen, was an award-winning financial journalist for prestigious news organisations including NRC Handelsblad and Dow Jones.
Stampa is a full-service communications agency, formed and led by former senior business journalists. Services include financial and investor communications; media relations and strategy; media and presentation training; crisis and issues communication; employee and change communications; strategic writing; online and social media; and CSR communications.
Last-minute injuries and illnesses brought us one short of a full 10-strong team, but Stampa made its biggest showing yet in Amsterdam’s Zuidasrun 2014, racing against more than 3,000 bankers, lawyers and consultants in what’s known as the Dutch business run.
It was the fourth time Stampa had entered a team in the six-year-old run, held in the Zuidas business district of southern Amsterdam.
Stampa finished 32nd out of 92 business teams in the 4-mile (6.4-km) race, and our runners – five members of the Amsterdam office plus friends and partners ‒ defied the hot sun to post fine individual times. And as the photo shows, we even ended with smiles on our faces.
Stampa is growing and so is our team. Joining our Amsterdam office are Linda Huijsmans, a new account director on our public relations team, and media analyst Johann Migchels.
Linda is an accomplished journalist and writer whose wealth of experience and professionalism are an asset for Stampa, whose clients include multinationals such as ING, Coca-Cola, Allianz Global Investors, ASML and Wolters Kluwer. Like Linda, most of our senior consultants are former journalists with distinguished careers in print, newswires and television.
Linda’s work has appeared in countless publications in the Netherlands and Germany, including Het Financieele Dagblad, Management Scope, Management Team, De Volkskrant, FEM and Berliner Zeitung. She is also the author of Zo Nederlands als Wat, een Molukse familiegeschiedenis, which traces the history of a Dutch-Indonesian family, and Fietsen in Berlijn, a Dutch guidebook and app for cyclists in Berlin.
Johann is a seasoned media analyst who honed his skills in London at the UK’s largest media monitoring agency, Durrants, and MSL Group in Amsterdam.
Irish-born Johann is fluent in Dutch, which he studied along with German at the University of Hull. Before coming to Stampa, he worked as an in-house translator for a global language solutions provider in Utrecht.
The Stampa team now numbers 15 communications professionals in Amsterdam and London.
Anglo-Dutch communications consultancy Stampa has appointed Sara Loschacoff as head of its media analysis team in Amsterdam.
With more than a decade of experience, Sara’s insightful, thorough and precise monitoring and analysis of media reports are crucial ingredients for all Stampa’s PR accounts.
“Sara’s appointment reflects the growing need for fast, top-quality media analysis. Knowing what others are saying about companies is crucial for their reputation management, especially in today’s instant social media environment,” says Stampa Director Marina Millington-Ward. “Not all publicity is good publicity, and the ability to accurately analyse the quality of media coverage gives companies a much more realistic insight into its value.”
Stampa uses a proprietary system to monitor print and online articles for relevance, tone and attention value, using sources including electronic news feeds, social media and search engine alerts. But the major added value lies in the analytical skills of its media analysts, who add the necessary depth and insights to daily, weekly and monthly reports.
Stampa has a team of 14 communications professionals – many former journalists with distinguished careers in print, newswires and television – based in Amsterdam and London. The boutique agency, which combines corporate and financial PR and internal communications with strategic content and editorial services, serves some of Europe’s biggest companies, including ING, Coca-Cola Europe, Allianz Global Investors, Pimco, Deutsche Asset & Wealth Management, Philips, ASML, Delta Lloyd and Wolters Kluwer.
Stampa has appointed Heleen de Graaf of leading Dutch daily NRC Handelsblad as account director, the latest addition to our unrivalled team of highly experienced former business journalists.
Heleen spent 10 years as economics reporter for NRC Handelsblad, where she won the De Tegel prize for outstanding journalism for her coverage of the takeover of ABN AMRO and was nominated for the Prijs voor de Dagbladjournalistiek award for a series of articles on Shell. Previously, Heleen was Amsterdam bureau chief of Dow Jones Newswires and a business reporter for Dow Jones in Vienna.
Dutch-born Heleen, 42, will strengthen Stampa’s PR team in Amsterdam, as well as contributing to our copywriting and editing work.
Gerrie has been a key member of Stampa’s Amsterdam financial PR team since 2007, advising clients including PIMCO, Teslin and Teleplan.
Before going into PR, Gerrie, like other members of Stampa, had a long career in journalism, working as a financial journalist for media including Het Financieele Dagblad, NOS Journaal and RTL Nieuws.
‘Gerrie has proven to be a highly valuable member of our team,’ says Marina Millington-Ward, Director at Stampa.
‘His experience and expertise make him an excellent addition to our management team. He will play an important role in shaping Stampa’s strategic direction and continued development.’
Stampa has appointed Marieke Sepers to its newly created Media Monitoring practice in Amsterdam. Using our new proprietary media analysis system, Marieke monitors Dutch language coverage for Stampa’s growing roster of blue-chip clients. Supporting our successful financial PR team, Marieke becomes the 12th team member of our fast-growing agency, based in Amsterdam and London.
With an MSc (cum laude) in Political Communication from the University of Amsterdam, Marieke has a strong interest in communications strategies. During her degree course and thesis – The Influence of Fear in News coverage on the Political Agenda – she gained hands-on experience of media analysis and insights into how the media can influence public opinion and the political system. A native Dutch-speaker, Marieke also speaks fluent English and conversational French.
Stampa has added to its successful Amsterdam-based PR team with the appointment of Eveline Schijf as Account Manager.
Eveline’s impressive background in law and consultancy is a boost for Stampa’s pan-European corporate communications practice, supporting clients including ING, Pimco, Coca-Cola Europe and KPN.
Her experience also bolsters Stampa’s increasing work in the legal sector, offering European PR expertise to internationally-focused clients.
Before joining Stampa, Eveline spent five years working in New York and Amsterdam as a lawyer for the Dutch law firm NautaDutilh, focusing primarily on corporate law, structured finance and intellectual property law. Most recently, Eveline worked as a consultant in the recruitment industry, headhunting lawyers for top-level positions in the corporate and financial sector.
Stampa director Marina Millington-Ward says: “Eveline is an excellent addition to our growing team. Her combination of specialist sector knowledge and broader consultancy skills make her a natural fit across our international portfolio.”