IMI Projects Communication Event

Start Date 02/04/2019 End Date 02/04/2019
Brussels, Belgium

On Tuesday 2 April, IMI project representatives who are responsible for communications gathered in Brussels, Belgium, for the IMI Projects Communication Event. The goal of the event was to provide projects will information and networking opportunities to help them improve the way they communicate about their projects to diverse audiences throughout the project life-cycle. Presentations addressed topics such as:

  • IMI communication channels available to IMI projects;
  • European Commission and Publications Office channels available to projects;
  • current and future trends in communications;
  • case studies from projects on how to build a communications strategy, and how content and channels evolve as the project progresses.

There were also brain-storming workshops on shared challenges such as how to encourage large consortia to engage in communications activities.

The presentations are given below. Additional resources and information can be found on the Project Communications page.

Outline of the event and presentations

Keynote speaker

  • Con Franklin, Managing Director Health, Ketchum London

Rules for IMI project communications

  • Catherine Brett, External Relations Manager, IMI

Communication Resources & Channels

  • Rossella Paino, Communication officer, DG Research and Innovation, European Commission
  • Karl Ferrand, Head of Sector at EU Publications Office, European Commission
  • Iris Ontavilla, Head of Communication and Institutional Relations, IMI
  • Elisabetta Vaudano, Principal Scientific Manager, IMI

Digital communication

  • Theresa Solta, Social Media Strategist, Ogilvy Social Lab

Best Practices from IMI Projects

    Ellen de Waal, Communication Manager HARMONY Alliance, European Hematology Association (EHA)
  • EPAD
    Jean Georges, Executive Director, Alzheimer Europe
    Sean Knox, EU+ Medical Lead Alzheimer’s, Biogen
  • ELF
    Kristina Orrling, Program Manager, Lygature

Conclusions of the event workshops

The workshops were centred around three key questions related to communication-specific situations that a consortium may face.

1. How to motivate individual partners in a large consortium to engage in communication activities? How do you assure message consistency?

  • Find opportunities to put project partners in the spotlight.
  • Motivate through the example of others by creating situations of success and visibility for project partners: other colleagues may want to follow the example.
  • Project partners can help, be nice to them!
  • Remind colleagues of the importance of communications and dissemination activities.
  • Update your colleagues regularly: send regular updates to your project partners, and ask them to share.
  • The phone is your friend: call your project partners! Or, whenever possible, opt for face-to-face meetings. Do not rely on e-mails and, when you have to, putting the project coordinator in copy can be helpful.
  • Nominate one or two people as communications contact persons: it may prove useful if there is a need for urgent contact and the main PR person is not available.
  • Invite project partners to contribute to your communications plans in order to engage them in the project communications.
  • Support colleagues who don’t have a big back office.
  • Identify the communication challenges in your project and be aware of cultural differences: these may be due to different nationalities, different company cultures, or even different cultures according to the field that project partners specialise in.
  • Call for volunteers, especially young researchers, to engage in the project communication activities.
  • Lead the way! You are an expert in the communication field, make your voice heard and don’t expect others to do the work for you.
  • Engage your project partners in suitable communication decisions, such as voting for your project logo, so as to encourage them to feel ownership of communication projects.
  • Create a project narrative, including a slogan and what you stand for.
  • Set up an internal bulletin to share information and updates.
  • Get ready: create an effective Q&A to help people manage the unexpected.
  • Make a few one-pagers to summarise the key points of your communication plans and regularly remind your colleagues of the materials available.
  • Make your logo and branding elements available and easily accessible to your project partners.
  • Show consistency and efficiency: make templates not only for PowerPoint presentations, but also for e-mails, posters and messages, and encourage your colleagues to use them. This will save their time!
  • In particular, prepare a PowerPoint slide library with consistent messages and branding and update it regularly, so that partners can pick and choose slides to build their presentation. Tip: include one single slide that summarises the project, so that they can use it to promote the consortium’s work whenever speaking opportunities arise.
  • Prepare materials such as captioned images, ready-to-use tweets, and guidance documents (but remember to strike the right balance to avoid flooding your colleagues!)
  • Make your website your one-stop shop for external stakeholders; and use SharePoint for all your internal stakeholders.
  • Use tools such as WhatsApp or Slack as informal communications channels within your project.

2. Dealing with criticism: how to approach crisis management when negative opinions of your projects reach the public domain and social media?

  • Consider the need for different types of strategies, depending on the nature of the criticism you are facing: whether it comes from an external party, or from within the project or its immediate surroundings (e.g. other researchers, other professional partners and collaborators).
  • When facing a crisis, time is of the essence: react fast!
  • Mitigation plan: you need to have one ready! Involve the IMI Programme Office, or your IMI Scientific Officer, as soon as possible. The IMI team can support you and liaise with other essential parties such as the European Commission and EFPIA.
  • Handling a crisis requires positivity and sensitivity: do not engage in conflict; build a constructive attitude; try to understand the other party’s concerns as well as shared interests you may have; make sure your message is clear and works.
  • Know your community: if you know that your community has specific sensitivities, address them in a proactive way, maybe through a long-term strategy to plan ahead.
  • Compile a positive story about the work you are doing.
  • Preventive measures: at an early stage, discuss with the project the procedures to follow in case of a communications crisis - who should be contacted and how, within a short time frame.
  • You have to ‘prepare for war in peace-time’: use social media monitoring; prepare pre-approved messages for your social media channels to be used if/when criticism hits.
  • Whenever possible, take the discussion offline.
  • Look for third party endorsement.
  • Build long-term relationships with policy-makers, in order to cultivate positive support around you.
  • Ultimately, build a thick skin! You cannot please everyone.

3. How to build a communication strategy to prevent strong public opposition to the objectives of your project?

  • Listen to and have empathy with people who are for and against your project objectives.
  • Share all the information you have: scientific facts; information on safety, ethics and regulation. Explain what you do and why you do it, and the medical need underlying this decision.
  • Have a great, clear position statement: acknowledge the fact that you are aware of a different way of thinking, but here is what you do, and why.
  • Engage with social influencers, or people who are opposed to your project, ideally in non-public forums; invite them to seminars or focus groups.
  • Humanise the project through a proactive strategy: have case studies ready introducing people (and their families) who are interested in taking a treatment, in participating in a study or trial, and explain that it is a choice. Tip: interview them!
  • Language: be careful with your choice of words.
  • Translation: we have to go beyond speaking in English; consider translating your stories and website.