Communication should be in the cockpit more than ever

And suddenly, you find yourself at the helm of a successful, leading PR agency: this is how 2021 started for our brand-new managing directors Sara Vercauteren and Anja Peleman. Fortunately, they are jointly building on a solid foundation of more than 30 years’ experience in the business. Armed with coffee, we sit down for a vibrant, coronaproof chat with the new top women in the Bepublic Group. About how they got there, but also – and especially – about their views on communication.

“We have only started about a month ago and yet today – after some inspiring and great conversations with clients and colleagues – we have already said to each other: Yes! This is a good thing!” Things are instantly enthusiastic. Sara and Anja felt as if the request to take over the leadership of the Bepublic Group from founders Jeroen Wils and Dajo Hermans was meant to be. Sara had just decided – after 10 years as communications director and spokeswoman for DPG Media, and before that as a political spokeswoman for ministers Vandenbroucke and Van Brempt – to assist and coach companies in the field of communications, spokespersons, and PR on a self-employed basis.

“That I could do this at the Bepublic Group together with a fantastic team and for even more companies and organisations was an incredible opportunity,” says Sara. “Especially since I was able to form a team again with Anja, who has 11 years of relevant experience as a deputy spokeswoman at DPG Media, and as an expert in PR, (crisis) communications, and guiding and coaching media personalities.” Anja also immediately saw the value of taking over the leadership of Bepublic Group together with Sara: “Sara and I have worked intensely and very well together all these years. Sometimes we even joke that our brains have synced. We are not copies of each other and we each have our own individuality, but when we work together, two heads are definitely better than one. And that is why we wanted to do this together. Add to that the incredible team we’ve ended up with, who go to great lengths for our clients, and you know we’re incredibly excited about this new story.”

Preparation is essential

The new management started the year by entering into a dialogue with the clients of the Bepublic Group. “ It is very enriching to immerse ourselves in the different sectors in which we operate,” says Anja. “We have a very diverse and interesting client portfolio. Yet we can clearly see a common theme. Whether it is real estate, a banking institution, or a museum, companies and organisations often have the same concerns and come to us with the same questions. Our initial discussions show that organisations are mainly looking for help in learning to communicate better, especially in times of crisis, which are becoming more and more frequent. Many companies initially tend to shy away from a crisis. But overcoming a crisis is done together with journalists. By communicating in a thoughtful, respectful, and authentic way, and paying attention to the small gestures.” It’s clear that Bepublic Group wants to help with that. “Just building up a nice story is not enough. We must also dare to be the devil’s advocate for our clients. Dare to ask them difficult questions before journalists or their clients do it on social media. We make companies think about difficult topics in advance, so that they can go into a crisis with as much preparation as possible. For us, that is one of the keys to good communication: preparation is essential,” Sara adds.

Breaking down barriers

According to Sara and Anja, the value of communication for companies has only increased in recent months due to the difficult circumstances. Sara: “If the Covid-19 pandemic has made one thing clear, it is just how important communication is. After all, the more communication is in the cockpit of the organisation, the more effective it will be. We hope that companies will remember that communicating well helped them, and realise that this will continue to be necessary, even once things improve.” And that’s when the ladies switch to discussing PR, as well as internal communication with employees working from home, and other external communication channels, such as websites and social media, to safeguard an organisation’s reputation. “The communication barriers are quietly disappearing, but we’re also breaking them down. All the pieces of the puzzle together ensure that your story is picked up more quickly,” adds Anja.

“Making ourselves invisible”

When have they succeeded in their task? “Once we’re invisible,” is the surprising answer. “Communication is at its strongest when it is supported and disseminated by the organisation itself. We can use our expertise for that, guide the organisation, prepare the communication for them, or practise with them via many tailor-made training sessions, but it is the company itself that ultimately has to disseminate it. People can feel whether a company is sincere in its communication or not very quickly. It’s up to us to bring out those heartfelt stories.”

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