With Olivier Cimelière on PR trends

In the past you managed the Google communication. How would you determine the difference between being a consultant and an in-house? This is yet another issue, which seems to be ever topical. Some are convinced that only an agency, and others just the opposite. What do you think about it?


I do think that an in-house communicator and a consultant are totally complementary and must team up with each other on a regular basis. The in-house communicator is much more aware of the company’s culture, the policital games, current challenges and more generally what’s next to come in terms of products and announcements. He or she is at the heart of the company, has a direct link with the CEO (if not, it is a hurdle) and knows what matters or not in terms of priorities. However, this sometimes may lead him or her to being too centric because he or she is heavily focused on the company’s agenda. This is exactly where a consultant can deliver value added. He or she can more easily step back, put things in a different perspective, draw the attention to tricky points. A consultant is also able to suggest new ideas because he is (in principle!) at the cutting edge of communication practices among various business sectors. All in all, both can achieve a very agile and smart strategy that serves the company’s goals while taking into account some specific criteria of a given ecosystem.

Communication is determined locally, though like most of the areas, it is subject to global trends and phenomena. What is the uniqueness of work on the French market? What challenges do you see, what signs of changes? Can we already refer to the European culture in case of PR, or is it too bold a thesis?

Today, local and global trends are intertwined. You cannot only think at global scale and then roll out a “one size fits all” strategy. A few years ago, it was nevertheless the recommended recipe for big companies. Even if you are global and you need to keep a certain consistency in your overall communication strategy, you must then adjust according to some local criteria. Otherwise, you may quickly jeopardize your reputation and brand image or at least generate reluctance or misunderstanding. The more global companies are, the more difficult it is often for them to cope with the ground reality. I used to work at international level as local communicator and as a HQ communicator. This experience taught me that you need to define a global communication backbone to ensure coherence but then you must be pragmatic by encompassing some distinctive feature like language, culture, laws, history, media landscape, etc. If you skip this, you may fail one day or another.

Coming back to the French market, I wouldn’t say things work the same everywhere. On the contrary, France is quite a wide country made of several different regions. For instance, Northern France has almost nothing to do with Southern France except a common language, rules and currency. But when it comes to culture or even a business sector, it is pretty different and you won’t say things exactly the same way to both.

The only unique thing that everybody is currently facing is obviously the rise of social media and what it implies for corporate and brand communicators. Although the pace of change can be different from one business sector to another, we all must cope now with a two-way communication arena in which bloggers, activists, new influencers, NGOs, etc can speak as loud and clear as the traditional stakeholders (companies, politicians, medias). This why I am not even considering a European PR culture. For sure, we have things in common (for example a solid historical background compared to the US) but communicating in Germany is still different than in Italy. Many companies (especially US companies!) approach Europe as a whole where you can apply the same communication framework everywhere. This is a big mistake!

Which of the communication trends discussed often at conferences are or will gain the upper hand  on your “mother” market? How to effectively build a corporate image in France?

In my eyes and beyond the trendy topic of social media, building and nurturing trust and influence with your stakeholders is the very key issue that any communicator should put first on his/her strategic agenda. In France, there is a sustainable and growing distrust towards politicians, media but also companies. People don’t take things for granted anymore when a brand speaks. People require to be heard and involved in projects impacting their own lives or desires. As an example, you can refer to palm oil. People are increasingly paying attention to social and environmental topics. Consumer goods firm Unilever, acting on the demands of tens of thousands of consumers, is committed to purchasing all of its palm oil from sustainably produced sources by the end of this year. And if you try to fiddle, the likelihood of being caught in the act is higher and higher. In France as elsewhere, people expect to be part of the solution. A few years ago, communicating was probably a bit simpler as the only intermediary was the journalist. Nowadays, it is not enough although media remain pivotal in a communication strategy. You must talk and actively listen to NGOs, groups of interest, regulators, employees or anybody concerned by your activities. If you don’t do that, you put your reputation at risk.

Which of the communication trends discussed often at conferences are or will gain the upper hand  on your “mother” market? How to effectively build a corporate image in France?

In my eyes and beyond the trendy topic of social media, building and nurturing trust and influence with your stakeholders is the very key issue that any communicator should put first on his/her strategic agenda. In France, there is a sustainable and growing distrust towards politicians, media but also companies. People don’t take things for granted anymore when a brand speaks. People require to be heard and involved in projects impacting their own lives or desires. As an example, you can refer to palm oil. People are increasingly paying attention to social and environmental topics. Consumer goods firm Unilever, acting on the demands of tens of thousands of consumers, is committed to purchasing all of its palm oil from sustainably produced sources by the end of this year. And if you try to fiddle, the likelihood of being caught in the act is higher and higher. In France as elsewhere, people expect to be part of the solution. A few years ago, communicating was probably a bit simpler as the only intermediary was the journalist. Nowadays, it is not enough although media remain pivotal in a communication strategy. You must talk and actively listen to NGOs, groups of interest, regulators, employees or anybody concerned by your activities. If you don’t do that, you put your reputation at risk.