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.
For the first interview in our new Stampa series, we sat down with Viviane Huybrecht, General Manager Corporate Communications at KBC Group. She talked about her PR highs and lows, and explained how KBC Group is fighting fake news with its blockchain authentication tool for press releases, PowerPoint presentations and other documents published on www.kbc.com.
KBC Group is the largest bank-insurance group in Belgium. Its more than 43,000 employees serve around 12 million clients, predominantly in its core markets of Belgium, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria and Ireland, where KBC is a major financial player.
How did you end up in PR?
At the beginning of my career I did all sorts of things, but the common thread was always communication with people – HR, training and commercial functions. I started 22 years ago as head of the press office at Kredietbank, which later merged into KBC. I took to it like a duck to water. Communication is not a job for me, it is a passion. There’s never a dull moment!
KBC’s corporate communications department consists of eight people, four of them in charge of press relations for all entities in Belgium and for group-wide coordination. I also coordinate crisis communications group-wide.
In addition to my job at KBC, I am a guest lecturer in crisis communications at the University of Leuven.
What is distinctive about KBC’s communications?
First, we are listed on the stock exchange. This means we must respect the European transparency directive, which states that we must inform all stakeholders about price/stock-sensitive information in the same way and at the same time.
In addition, we are not in a habit of making big announcements long before things actually take place. When we communicate about something, it has already been done or will be done pretty soon. For instance, we could have announced that we were developing a blockchain tool to authenticate press releases when we started working on it in March last year, but we waited for the real launch in June, so people could try the blockchain tool right away. With our communication, journalists and investors know what’s the deal with us; we do not make false promises.
A final but very important principle we adhere to is transparency, communicating as openly and clearly as possible. Being proactive is part of that. We always have several press releases on stand-by for possible crisis situations. If you are active in so many different markets, and you follow these markets with a limited number of people, preparing well is the only way to go.
What’s the most important PR lesson you’ve learned during your career?
My grandmother always said that if everyone jumps into the water, you don’t have to follow immediately. It’s something I’ve regularly repeated here at the office. Competitor X might do A today and B tomorrow, but that doesn’t mean we should drop everything to follow. The communications world is full of great ideas, but you also need to stick to your own ambition, vision, strategy and plan. Keep in mind the context and environment, but stay with your own line as much as possible. Because if your policy changes continuously, where do you eventually end up?
What is your biggest PR success?
I’d say our recent investor event in Dublin, which generated excellent coverage. KBC featured on the most important TV channels in Belgium and in almost all newspapers and magazines.
Sixteen journalists travelled from Belgium to Dublin for an intense two-day programme, gaining access to top KBC management for two days. In Dublin we set up a large space to demonstrate the innovative applications we’d launched for each core country, such as a drone to inspect damage to crops in Bulgaria.
What are your biggest PR challenges?
There are times when we realise in advance that certain communications are too close to marketing, so we already know the press release won’t be picked up much. But you always have to consider your internal stakeholders and their challenges as well. I think many communications people recognise that.
Sometimes we could or should react more quickly. But much also depends on how fast we get the information internally. And we are a listed company: the information you put into the market must be accurate.
At times, PR can be an unequal battle. That was especially noticeable during the financial crisis of 2008-2009. As a listed company, you must inform all stakeholders at the same time and in the same way. In a major crisis, I can’t just respond to one journalist with market-sensitive information; that would be ‘selective disclosure’. I must send out a press release to everyone. An opinion-maker or analyst doesn’t have to take this into account.
I specifically recall a Friday afternoon in January 2009. At that time, KBC had a portfolio of CDOs (collateralised debt obligations), and Bloomberg suddenly reported that Moody’s would soon change its ratings methodology. How they would do that was not yet known.
Journalists started calling us to ask how this would affect KBC. That was difficult because we were still seeking the information ourselves. The Moody’s decision created a great deal of uncertainty in the market, sending down KBC’s share price substantially.
Last summer, KBC launched a blockchain authentication tool for press releases and other documents published on its corporate website www.kbc.com. Can you tell us about that?
Journalists, investors or customers can upload a press release or PowerPoint presentation in PDF format to www.kbc.com/en/authenticity. If the document does not originate from KBC, or if it’s not the most recent version, they will be notified that the document is not authentic. The blockchain tool is only meant for PDF files published on our website that clearly state that ‘KBC offers you the opportunity to check authenticity at www.kbc.com/en/authenticity’.
How did you come up with the idea for this authentication tool?
In November 2016, French building company Vinci had to deal with a fake press release that claimed there had been a massive fraud and that the CFO had resigned leaving a multi-billion-euro deficit.
Vinci shares dived immediately, as a newswire had reported on the fake release. When Vinci realised the source was a false press release, they sent out a correct one to counter it. But the share price had already fallen, wiping billions of euros from the company’s market value.
When I saw that happening at Vinci, I was shocked. As a spokesperson you obviously encounter rumours: that’s something we’ve been living with for years. Acquisitions or divestments, there are always rumours flying around. But for me it was the first time deliberate misinformation had been distributed to damage a company.
By then, our IT department at KBC had been active with blockchain technology for some time. When we heard about their work, and they explained how you can use blockchain to authenticate documents, it seemed logical to try the technology for press releases and other documents as well. That’s how the ball began to roll. We started developing the tool in March 2017 and launched it last June.
The existence of such a blockchain tool does not release the journalist from his or her responsibility, does it?
During the financial crisis of 2008-2009, I often got calls from international news agencies asking if the press release they’d just received was accurate and sent by KBC. They were fact-checking because that kind of information was so sensitive in a global financial crisis affecting many banks. As a reporter, you can’t afford to publish with abandon.
In recent years journalists have called us much less, also because they have known us for 20 years and can better assess what is authentic and credible and what is not. Journalists still call to check things, however, and I’m happy about that.
Nowadays anyone can spread false or fake news via social media. In that sense, our blockchain authentication tool can’t prevent all fake news.
A practical question: what if you want to change a published press release and put a new version online?
Then we just put the latest version on the website. If a journalist checks an outdated PDF of the press release, they are notified that the press release is not authentic, even if we have only changed a full stop or a comma. The next version of the tool will be more precise: it will not only report that an outdated press release is not official, but also that there is a newer version.
Is the authentication tool now being more broadly applied within KBC?
Other KBC departments are also looking into authentication of documents through blockchain technology. For example, it could be used to check an insurance policy that you’ve received by e-mail, to see if the policy is authentic and genuinely comes from KBC. Or to check if you have the latest tariffs on banking services and products.
Other future communications possibilities could be the authentication of videos and images, such as the video statement of the CEO commenting on annual results. But we have not yet looked into that further.
Blockchain technology offers a number of clear advantages and is being explored throughout KBC Group. We are satisfied with the first pilot project and want to continue. KBC wants to remain a forerunner in blockchain by continuing to invest in it.
We’re looking for a talented new team member to support the further growth of our business in Belgium. With a strong team working from offices in Amsterdam, London and Brussels, we offer a dynamic, creative and international work environment.
Stampa is seeking an energetic and proactive colleague with a talent for writing and editing – ideally you have a background in business journalism – and the desire and drive to help build our business in Belgium. Previous experience in PR/corporate communications is obviously a plus.
Our new colleague will be based in Brussels and work closely with colleagues in Amsterdam and London. As Stampa advises a wide range of clients (predominantly in the financial sector, media, energy and FMCG), we are seeking a flexible person who combines broad knowledge with the curiosity and ability to dig deeper into complex topics.
Our ideal candidate has:
- Good contacts in Belgian media and business
- Ability to generate good ideas that appeal to journalists
- Excellent writing style (for news articles, opinion pieces, columns, press releases, etc.) and ability to ‘translate’ complex topics into clear, engaging texts
- Strong interest in current affairs and business
- Flexibility to interact with diverse clients in a variety of industries and sectors
- Entrepreneurial enthusiasm, self-motivation and the willingness to work with colleagues in Brussels, Amsterdam and London
- Native Dutch, French or English skills, with excellent command of the other two languages
- Skills in project management and good grounding in standard IT and office software
Your role includes:
- Advising clients on PR/international communications/content strategies across diverse channels
- Generating coverage of our clients in general, financial and trade media
- Devising, writing and distributing press releases and similar content
- Developing and pitching story ideas to journalists, maintaining strong media contacts
- Creating news and feature stories, columns and other content based on client input
- Identifying, creating and building new business contacts and opportunities
We are looking for an Account Director/Senior Account Manager for 38 hours a week. Part-time is also an option.
Stampa is a corporate communications and content agency with an experienced team of mainly former financial journalists. Our spectrum of services includes 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; media monitoring; CSR communications; and interim staff.
Stampa has an 18-strong team in the Netherlands, Belgium and the UK. For more information, contact us at email@example.com, or call us on +31 20 404 26 30.
Our Brussels team has grown with the appointment of content marketing and online expert Pieter Segaert as senior account manager. Before joining Stampa, Pieter was a digital marketer at insurance group P&V, where he specialised in search engine optimisation (SEO) and content marketing. Pieter is also an experienced copywriter who has worked for companies including ING, Amonis, Optima and Electrabel. He was previously a journalist at Het Laatste Nieuws.
Our multinational clients increasingly demand a coordinated offering across the UK, Netherlands and Belgium. Building the Brussels team means we can respond even more fully to the need for communications consultancy across these three key European markets. Pieter will work alongside Jeroen Lissens, who heads the Stampa office established in Belgium in 2015. In addition to his native Dutch, Pieter speaks fluent French and English.
Our Belgian office has moved to great new premises in the centre of Brussels. We’re located on the elegant Boulevard Adolphe Max, close to vibrant Brouckère square and the most important financial institutions of Europe’s capital.
After a whirl of unpacking, installing and all the other usual move-associated tasks, our account director Jeroen Lissens is now fully up and running at Boulevard Adolphe Max 45/3. You’re welcome to drop in for a coffee – although with business growing ever busier in Belgium, it might be advisable to phone ahead… (+32 2 831 32 46)
Stampa has opened an office in Belgium, fulfilling the growing demand for corporate and financial communications on the Belgian market and clients’ desire to entrust their Benelux communications to a single agency.
Jeroen Lissens, 39, has been appointed Account Director in Belgium. With a background in economic journalism and business communications, Belgian-born Jeroen has the perfect experience and expertise to complement Stampa’s established practices in Amsterdam and London.
Jeroen previously worked as an independent communications consultant at groups such as Ageas, Optima and P&V Group in roles including spokesman, communications manager and head of communications. Before that, he spent a decade in journalism, reporting for Belgian business newspapers De Tijd and De Standaard.
“We have provided communications consultancy across the whole Benelux region since we began, but many of our clients were keen for us to have a local presence in Belgium. We’re happy to have found the right person in Jeroen for this,” says Stampa director Jos Havermans. As well as great experience and knowledge of the market, Jeroen brings linguistic expertise and creativity – all aspects that are crucial to making a difference for our clients.”
Since our founding in Amsterdam and London in 2008, Stampa has developed into a 16-strong international team.
We also recently strengthened our Amsterdam team with the appointment of Barbara Sanders as Account Director. Barbara has many years of experience in financial journalism as financial reporter for De Telegraaf and at real estate website Vastgoedjournaal. Media analyst Marieke Koelewijn has joined Stampa’s growing media monitoring team.