Attention economy and alliances

European/Digital Public Affairs
Frau bedeckt von einer Reflektion aus Zahlenkombinationen

"How can we make our voice heard?" - International public affairs experts discuss the future of lobbying in a rapidly changing world.

5 seconds that decide relevance

Have you ever noticed that an advertisement on YouTube only lasts five seconds or that you can click "skip" after this time? This is no coincidence. Over the last about 20 years, our attention span has shrunk continuously. Today, five seconds is enough for most people to make a decision: "Am I interested or not"? Within five seconds, we are either "hooked" or click to the next page. This is the most obvious expression of the attention economy.

At the same time, we are confronted with an unprecedented amount of information. Every minute, almost 350,000 users post on Instagram, 4.5 million videos are clicked on YouTube and more than 70 million messages are sent via WhatsApp. Faced with this "avalanche" of new information and new content every minute, we have less and less time to assess whether something is relevant to us. The age of the attention economy is no longer just dawning, it is already in full swing.

In this sea of information, it is becoming increasingly difficult to make yourself heard. "One pagers" over 3 pages or sober, purely fact-based briefings - tried and tested methods for conducting an informed discussion - are simply no longer read today. When sober facts compete with impressive, emotional and vivid images, facts lose - every time. The new tone of discussion is more confrontational, more emotional and more dramatic - and it has to be in order to grab our attention. In a digital world accelerated by COVID-19, there is little room for face-to-face meetings - video calls have replaced most face-to-face conversations.

Expert discussion: How can we make our voice heard?

In light of this new reality, Gilbert Rukschcio, Mansur Philipp Gharabaghi and Diego Antončić from PANTARHEI Advisors discussed the question "How can we make our voice heard?" in an interactive, digital workshop with top experts and public affairs professionals at European level. Participants were Alicia Sanchis Arellano (Head of European Corporate Affairs, Bank Santander), Kirsten Glennung (Sustainability & Projects Director, E.DSO), Antonia Krische-Reitmayer (Senior Manager Public Affairs, Wienerberger AG), Rolf Kuby (Director, EUROMINES), Julia Riss (Head of the Brussels Office for EU Public Affairs, REWE) and Henrik Reimer (Head of the Brussels Office at the CDU Economic Council), who all brought with them well-founded and substantive observations from the field.

The following insights emerged on the basis of the white paper prepared by PANTARHEI together with the experts:

  1. build alliances in your industrial ecosystem

All participants agreed that in our rapidly changing world, politicians have lost their appetite for vested interests. We see a dramatic shift in interests, especially in Brussels, and a tendency to expect a broader view that goes beyond one's own company. Quite simply, if you can't demonstrate your relevance and the relevance of your concerns within the broader industrial ecosystem, it will be hard to be heard. Voicing your concerns as part of an industry association, platform or initiative can help increase visibility.

With the current EU Commission enacting new legislation at an unprecedented pace, this point becomes even more important. Information needs to be tailored for policy makers. This also means that it will be difficult, if not impossible, to succeed with technical arguments alone. Public affairs as an industry must become more political and emotional in its messages in order to be heard. With any issue, it will be important to show the impact on society as a whole or outline the impact on the entire industrial ecosystem. This can only be achieved by building alliances with like-minded stakeholders and highlighting potentially unseen impacts. In other words, it becomes imperative to demonstrate one's relevance and contribution to achieving the common goals that Europe has set for itself.

  1. landscape vs. portrait: the new digital reality

COVID-19 has rapidly accelerated the digitalization of public affairs. Not everyone was prepared for this. While most of us have adjusted to this new reality in which meetings are largely held online and the possibility of face-to-face encounters is greatly reduced, the accelerated digitalization also brought some fundamental changes in the way we interact between companies, organizations and the EU, but also a shift in the speed at which laws are made.

There was agreement on the ambivalence of this development. There are advantages, but also disadvantages. On the one hand, virtual meetings are much easier to plan as no time is needed to physically move from one place to another, which opens up additional opportunities to exchange views. On the other hand, we all agreed that the personal connection is much harder to establish when there is no opportunity to interact in the real world. Trust and personal relationships take time to build, but are an important foundation for our work.

That being said, participants also discussed the more subtle but important nuances of moving work and information into the digital realm. As content and information is now mainly consumed on computer screens and tablets, which are often used in landscape format, information that was designed for a portrait format (the classic sheet of a pager) is suddenly harder to read. This has a clear impact on how you prepare and arrange data so that it is easy to see on a screen without excessive scrolling. Making proper use of this newfound screen surface by designing information, factsheets and infographics in landscape format (which requires less scrolling) makes for a better user experience. Although this may seem like a triviality, it can go a long way to engaging readers in their native format and getting your message across on an easy-to-read page.

  1. the growing importance of social media and new skills

It was widely felt that digital reality was encroaching into the realm of public affairs. First of all, meetings shifted from one minute to the next to the "online world" because, as mentioned above, face-to-face meetings were not possible during a pandemic. Now that our "offline" world is slowly coming back to life, it is becoming apparent that online meetings are here to stay. This offers more opportunities to involve people from all over Europe (or even the world) in such a meeting. On the other hand, it requires greater and different skills to be applied.

How much influence do social networks (as a channel) have on opinion formation? A question that was lively debated among our participants. Being able to use these powerful tools is one of the key skills required of public affairs professionals. This is driven by the attention economy with its short-lived "information fragments" based on social media posts, which have now also penetrated the public affairs world and the political arena through and through.


The group agreed that specific social media networks such as LinkedIn or Twitter are becoming increasingly relevant for getting one's message out to the public and connecting with people. However, this also means an additional workload, as such activities cannot be done "on the side" or outsourced. This new reality also opens up an immense amount of data, as every tiny interaction can be monitored, tracked and effectively analyzed as to what works and what doesn't.

All participants shared the view that social media offers many opportunities. However, everyone also agreed that as public affairs professionals, we sometimes do not (yet) have the skills or the "process expertise" to manage such platforms efficiently and effectively. To take full advantage of the new reality of digital communication in public affairs, we still need to improve our "toolbox" for effective digital advocacy work, adapt our mindset, our organization and our skills.

We would love to hear your thoughts on this topic! Get in touch with us via social media or write to [email protected].  We look forward to further exchange of views.