Communication: From science to feelings and instinct

What is it like to be a spokesperson for the EU Budget?

As a student in your last year of Multilingual Communication, you are bound to think more and more about your future job. Over the last few months, I have found myself thinking about thousands of options such as becoming a social media consultant, assistant in human resources or even a spokesperson. Well, why not? Becoming a spokesperson will definitely not happen overnight for an (almost) freshly-graduated student like me but I was still curious to find out what this job involves, aside from simply being an excellent communicator.

Patrizio Fiorilli answering journalists' questions

Patrizio Fiorilli answering journalists’ questions

Mr Patrizio Fiorilli was very kind to meet with me at the Berlaymont. You might think that meeting the spokesperson for the European Union’s budget made me nervous but Mr Fiorilli was very friendly and easy-going. You can tell that he has got a genuine interest in people and communication. Why meeting the EU’s spokesperson for the budget? Budget is clearly not my field of expertise but I was rather impressed with Patrizio Fiorilli’s rich professional background, which he modestly describes as “purely journalism and communication”. After his studies at the ULB in Brussels, he moved to London to work as a journalist for the BBC World Service while being the UK correspondent for various French and Belgian media. Then, he wanted to become a communication consultant to be “on the other side of the fence” and to help big companies improve their communications. Before becoming the spokesperson for Budget and Financial Programming at the European Commission in 2010, he also worked as a press officer and a communication director, while teaching communication at the Institut des Hautes Études de Communication Sociale (IHECS) in Brussels.

What encouraged him to become a spokesperson was simply curiosity. He certainly misses a few things from his previous jobs but “it is great to be involved in the decision-making process and to defend a position.” What about his way of communicating in everyday life? Has it been influenced by his job as a spokesperson? He answers that it is not linked to his job as a spokesperson but rather linked to his professional career in communication. “You are taught that the first principle in communication is to adapt your message to the audience. That is what we do – all of us – every day in every single context.

Some people have got a negative picture of the European Union’s budget, its purpose and the ways it is used. Other people simply do not understand it. If he needs to describe the EU budget to an ordinary citizen, Patrizio Fiorilli uses a very simple yet effective metaphor: “Imagine there are 28 houses next to each other, facing a river. Rather than each of the households building their own little bridge to cross it and you would then end up with 28 bridges […] they put the money together to build one single bridge that will be much stronger and much cheaper, more convenient […] and that is what the EU Budget is about.”

Another thing that encouraged me to get in touch with Patrizio Fiorilli is the fact that he also works in a multicultural environment, which makes him the perfect interviewee for a student who aspires to work in a multilingual environment. When you work in a multicultural institution, one of the first things to keep in mind is that “whatever you will say or write will end up being translated. Therefore, you have to be really careful in terms of wording.” After all, “keeping simple is the second rule of communication, whether it is multilingual or not”.

As if his professional background was not impressive enough, Patrizio Fiorilli also proves he has got a solid general knowledge and a soft spot for literature. A while ago, he actually started a blog where he publishes short stories in French. He has been interested in literature from a young age and thinks that “rather than letting sheets of paper rot in a cupboard, just let them rot on the Web because it’s safer”, he adds laughing. “It is also a way to escape and create lots of different characters and situations”.

As the 15 minutes were getting closer and closer, I asked him whether he would advise someone to become a spokesperson. According to him, some people are just not spokesperson-material, no matter how smart they are. Communication is more than science, “it is about feeling and instinct” and involves other aspects as well such as psychology, sociology and many others. One thing he insists on is that journalists need to teach something new to their readers or viewers. But in order to do so, a journalist will need the spokesperson to convey a clear and concise message, summarised in words that ordinary citizens would understand. The first thing defining a spokesperson is “the notion of service”. Spokespersons are there to help journalists do a good job and promote their employers’ interests and views. Which is why he adds that “at the same time you are on a boxing ring with the journalists because you have not got the same agenda”. All in all, “it is like a Rubik’s Cube challenge, it is fun”, he adds smiling. I, for one, am convinced. Aspiring to become a spokesperson is now officially on my list.

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