At which time do you wake up in the morning?
I set the alarm at 06:00—that gives me enough time to check the news, quickly workout, shave, shower and then wake up our five children
What is the first thing you do?
First thing I do when I open my eyes is to turn off the alarm—our youngest one still sleeps in our room and the later he wakes up, the longer I have to get ready!
Which news sites do you read (if any) in the morning?
I check the news, both generalist outlets such as BBC, FT, and Brussels policy specialist like Politico and Euractiv. I then take a quick look at my Twitter thread and, I confess, glance at my inbox in case I missed something overnight.
At which time do you go into the office (or start working remotely)?
I always go into the office unless I’m travelling, and I typically get there before 09:00. Connecting physically with colleagues improves dramatically the ability to cocreate, which is key in public affairs. Our office is located relatively close to the EU institutions, which makes it easier to meet for coffee with stakeholders and contacts around the Brussels bubble.
How many times a day do you check emails?
Emails are a key vector of our work, and much still gets communicated over emails. I check my emails about every half hour when I’m in and out of meetings, though I try not to when I’m doing deep work and meeting with somebody.
When is your first meeting?
I usually schedule in-person stakeholders meetings around breakfast or lunch time as it allows for uninterrupted individual and team work in between. Otherwise, first meetings typically start at 09:30, and last meeting at around 17:00 when I need to dash to pick up the kids from school.
How do you plan your meetings across the week?
I strive to be as available as possible for my team and colleagues, and try to accommodate stakeholder diaries’ needs when possible. I also have regular meetings with clients. To make sense of that all, what I’ve become diligent at doing at the beginning of the week is setting time aside for individual work—and mark it down in my diary with a polite “please DnD”! That helps signaling to colleagues I’m not to be disturbed, in principle.
What is the split between internal and external meetings?
Internal and external meetings are typically equally distributed, with possibly a longer tail of external meetings depending on the period—before major legislative milestones meetings with clients and stakeholder levitate.
How do you follow news development between meetings?
I glance at my Twitter feed in between meetings, though I traditionally catch up on relevant news in the evening when it’s quieter.
How do you organize your calendar?
I try to be as flexible as possible with my diary as much of my added value depends on cooperating with colleagues, clients and stakeholders. Most important for me is to set aside time for individual deep work. For the rest, I adapt to clients’ demands and team priorities.
How do you take notes?
I tend to write important action points from meetings and project updates in OneNote. I find it’s an effective repository of information and knowledge I can easily get back to.
What is your relationship to Excel?
I love XLS! I used to be an analyst and still remember my way around tabs and formulas. Unfortunately I don’t have the chance to get creative with XLS any longer, but I still use it for budgets and qualitative work.
What is your favorite app & why?
I’m pretty conservative when it comes to apps, and I spend most of my laptop time on emails, PowerPoint and Word. I don’t think I have a favourite app, though I find Teams a practical tool for both communicating and synchronous and asynchronous work.
How many external lunches do you have a week?
I find breakfast and coffee in the morning or afternoon more effective social occasions to schedule meetings with stakeholders, clients and feed the talent pipeline. Lunches are good for longer catch-ups with contacts—or just friends I have not seen in a while and work in the same line of business.
Where do you keep up to date on Public Affairs?
I think crosspollination at the office is great to get up to speed with public affairs and lobbying best practices. At the company I work with we organise regular knowledge sharing sessions structured around topics. We also have shorter updates in smaller groups as part of team check-ins. But just crossing a colleague at the coffee machine is a huge opportunity to exchange on how to best engage with clients, get political messages across, and interact with policymakers. Though I prefer practitioners’ feedback, I also value academic and professional literature on PA.
What is your best tip for managing work/life balance?
Work/life balance suggests work is somehow separate from life, which to me risks leading to a schizophrenic approach to work, and life in general. I prefer work/life integration as life is a central part of life—though not the only one. I’m blessed with a dynamic family life which keeps me grounded and naturally defines boundaries between work and everything else (like not being on email when you want to be fully engaged with others). On the other hand, work is fundamental to my growth as a person, and helps me appreciate all other aspects of my life. But it’s a balance to work out every day, and I still got a lot to learn.
What do you do to unwind?
I don’t have much time for relaxing though listening to podcasts whilst I cycle to work after dropping the kids to school is a good and effective way of learning and letting my mind wander in creative ways.
How does your desk look?
I don’t really use the small desk we bought during the lockdown, so it looks rather tidy. Compared to the past I’m printing much less stuff, and at the office we have a free address policy, meaning I’m gently reprimanded every time I leave any of my belongings around.
Do you answer emails on your phone?
I do if there’s a real urgency and if I feel I don’t have to think it through that much. If for instance colleagues are waiting on me to move forward on a project I find it not efficient to wait until I’m back at my desk to answer. When responses require more pondering then I prefer the comfort of laptop and keyboard.
Name a PA pro in the industry you respect and why
I’ve had many masters across my different jobs—I won’t mention them here, they know who they are!—who helped me grow professionally and personally. I learnt something from each of them, being it thinking down the line when embarking on a new project, the value of speaking proficiently, or reading the room you’re in. If I had to name two trade association Sec Gens I respect, they would be Paul Voss of European Aluminium and Kristian Ruby with Eurelectric. I’ve had the good fortune of knowing them and both have the acumen to define the strategy of an organisation and bringing stakeholders along, the gravitas to represent the interest of a sector, and the human wisdom to select great people that will help them get the job done.
When you go on vacation, do you still answer emails?
I definitely monitor my inbox. I simply abhor the idea of going back to work and wasting hours to sift through thousands of emails in one go. As to answering—it depends whether I feel I need to give guidance to colleagues or remove roadblocks.
Who is your idol?
I don’t think I have an idol—beyond my wife! There’re many people I look up to though. One of the most consequential books I read is “The seven habits of highly effective people” by Stephen Covey. A notion that helps me a lot in my professional and personal life is around the existence of a space between the input and the reaction. The ability to take in external inputs (be it an email that comes in, a word from a colleague), pause and process them is extremely powerful—and something I’m learning everyday.
Which book did you read recently or are you currently reading?
I just got back to reading again Jim Collins’ seminal “Good to great” book, this time with different eyes as I’m at a very different point in my life. The book is well known amongst business circles though the idea of getting the “right people on the bus” before defining a strategy bears fruits across any profession, including PA. Surrounding yourself with real talent is key for any PA campaign to be successful.
Which skills will PA pros need the most in 5-10 years from now?
I think the ability to process intelligence into sound judgement and translate that into execution is the number one skill for PA professionals. Political intelligence has become a commodity, with lots of news outlets and professional services firms providing monitoring services, so knowing it is not any longer a clear competitive advantage. But the proficiency in actually making use of information to guide actions is what sets great PA professionals from mediocre ones.
Which time do you go to bed?
I try to go to sleep as early as possible as my nights are traditionally interrupted by multiple human beings (usually in need of water, going to the toilet, or just checking if I was actually sleeping) though after tidying up the kitchen I sometimes need to go back working for some time, so it’s almost never earlier than 23:00.
Do you use LinkedIn and/or Twitter for work?
I do. Twitter is for checking news, whilst LinkedIn is for deeper analysis of trends, and for sharing updates about my professional endeavours. LinkedIn is also great for talent scouting.
How big is your PA department (PA employees)?
Kellen is professional services firm working with trade associations. We offer services to trade bodies across public affairs and lobbying, stakeholders management, events, and accounting. We have about 20 PA professionals working across 40 trade organisations, with another 20 staff in support functions. The large majority of trade associations based in Brussels have between one and three people involved with PA, though there are larger ones with 50 or more employees. Brussels representations of corporations also have relatively few staff exclusively devoted to PA.
Where is the PA departments placed in your organization?
PA professionals sit at the heart of any trade associations, so traditionally the direction of travel is set by staff active in the policy realm. In my past corporate jobs the PA team sat in the strategy department and reported to a member of the board, though not the CEO.
Where should the PA function ideally be based in an organization & why?
I think the best place does not exist in absolute terms as the added value of a PA function in a corporate context depends on several factors, including the needs of the company, the market it operates in, and corporate practices. For instance, a company in the chemical sector undergoing intense scrutiny of its products might need a lot of compliance work and little advocacy. In such case the PA team will be somehow subordinate to the regulatory affairs team—because that is what the company needs at that time. Though if the company moves on and finds itself in the position to be able to shape policymaking to its advantage, then the PA team might get more traction and become more independent. In general, as policy increasingly drives business, PA as a corporate function should become strategic in creating a favourable environment for business opportunities to materialise. As such, the closer the PA function is to the actual decision making in the company (board or C-suite), the more added value it will be able to deliver to the organisation.