Learn from the experts in Public Affairs – Blogger #3 – Ludovic Basset, Director Corporate and Public Affairs, ACEM
At which time do you wake up in the morning?
Being French, I’ll start with a quote from French author Jules Renard. I guess everyone knows it: the world belongs to those who get up early. I wake up at 5:45 every morning with whatever plays on the radio at this time of the day (night?), usually to the sound of Led Zeppelin, Rolling Stones or Crosby Stills & Nash. If I’m not lucky, it’s right in the middle of a radio advert for an insurance product or for a kitchen design company.
What is the first thing you do?
Checking my email box(es), in case something crazy would have happened between my last check at midnight and now. Obviously, there’s never anything new apart from more spam. While I’m at it, since my mobile phone is on, I have glance at the latest football results from France.
Which news sites do you read (if any) in the morning?
After emails and football I usually scan through linkedIn and the French and Belgian press apps I have on my phone. No time for more than this, I need my double espresso first!
At which time do you go into the office (or start working remotely)?
I am not a big fan of home working… too old for that. I do enjoy my office, so I usually come in at 7:30. That gives me a good 2 hours head start on colleagues. Not that we have an internal competition on who arrives first, but I am more efficient in these 2 hours than on the remaining hours of the day, as we are constantly interrupted by calls, discussions, meetings etc. Twice a week I hit the gym for some heavy lifting with a friend of mine, but I’m always in front of my desk at 8h30 the latest.
How many times a day do you check emails?
For many, emails can be quite distracting. For me they are vital. I cannot tell you how many times a day I check them because my mailbox is constantly opened. I use 3 screens with my computer, one is exclusively for emails. Being hyperactive (yes, I am…) I strive to respond to all emails within an hour of receiving them. Even if it is to say that I will have to get back to the person later because I need to first check or to think more before replying extensively. I believe my colleagues and members do like this about me: they know I will respond immediately.
When is your first meeting?
When I set the meeting, I usually do prefer 11AM. It gives me time to organize my day before the meeting. Of course, since I work in a sector association, many Working Group meetings start at 10AM, even before. But late morning is better for everyone, especially for our north American colleagues joining calls. Last meetings finish around 17:30 the latest, taking into consideration our Japanese colleagues.
How do you plan your meetings across the week? (spread them or concentrate on certain days and times?)
I don’t have a “meeting” culture, which admittedly may seem strange in the context of Public Affairs. I truly believe that at least 60% of the time I devote to meetings is basically “lost time”. I consider that I don’t “really” work during a meeting, so the shorter the better! Working in a membership association does imply that you are at the service of your members, therefore I tap in all the meetings of the association, from the most technical expert group to the Board of Director. I mostly listen, intervene when/if necessary and I tend to work at the same time on something else. Hyperactivity usually rimes with multi-tasking. I consider myself quite blessed for this.
What is the split between internal and external meetings?
A typical week usually consists of many internal meetings, though recently we addressed this issue in our organization. We hired new Public Affairs colleagues to support the work. We therefore have more time for external activities. I still think we spend too much of our time in the office, in meetings. I guess it really depends on how you or your organization understand Public Affairs. In my current situation internal meetings with the members are as important as external meetings with policy makers: my role is 50% explaining the industry positions and concerns to the legislator and 50% explaining the policy-makers middle/long term EU policies to the members.
How do you follow news development between meetings?
I have great colleagues! We do not work in silos but collectively on files. 2 or 3 people, always different people depending on the issue, mixing PA, Coms, technical people. That means that we constantly exchange infos, ideas, thoughts, feedback, output. Of course, we also get news from Public Affairs platforms, our members (especially our national associations for local developments) but mostly we benefit from the constant flow of information between us. Hence the reason why I prefer working in an office.
How do you organize your calendar?
I do not “organize” my calendar. I have never and most certainly I never will. I trust my ability to cope with everything thrown at me. For that, I am certainly not an example to follow. We have a sharepoint system with key meetings on a shared agenda, that’s more than enough for me.
How do you take notes?
You meant “Do you take notes”? joke aside, I don’t take a lot of notes. If so, always in my little blue moleskin notepads. I have 6 or 7 in front of me at all times.
What is your relationship to Excel?
I love Excel, for what it is meant: formulas handling! I do use it for budgets and reporting but not so much compared with my technical/regulatory colleagues. I use also excel to track amendment versions, to compare EP with Council and Commission’s text, or to prepare mailing lists.
What is your favorite app & why?
I personally love Slack. The only problem: nobody around me wants to use it! So frustrating because I think there is great value in working with Slack. I do also like Teams, it’s efficient; and of course I love the EU LOGIN app that really saves time when registering to EC expert group meetings or other EC workshops.
How many external lunches do you have a week?
In the past, since I was leading the Brussels bureau of a French Public Affairs consultancy, I was booked for lunch almost every day. Nowadays, way less but since we are back from the harsh COVID situation I have developed a true appetite for quick coffees outside, with colleagues of the Commission, the European Parliament, stakeholders etc. It’s fast, efficient and way less expensive!
Where do you keep up to date on Public Affairs?
I try to exchange a lot with other experienced Public Affairs colleagues. After more than 15 years in the Brussels’ world you would think you’ve seen and done it all but this is simply not true. Recently I learned quite a lot from a junior Public Affairs colleague who showed me what he could do with Python programing to automatically grab tweets based on our specified key words. My advice: talk to people, be interested in what they do and what they say. There is always something to learn from others in life.
What is your best tip for managing work/life balance?
There is so much you can do in a day. Work is important but certainly not the most important activity in my life. I have a long experience in EU affairs which most certainly helps me understand issues faster, create strategies faster, take decisions faster. I therefore don’t need to spend hours and hours in the office over-thinking. Of course, that does not mean that I am always right, but at least if I need to adapt, modify or bend I have no problem in doing so, fast. Every evening before I close my eyes, I ask myself the question: am I happy? If I can say “Yes” objectively and without hesitation, it’s already a good indication that I have a pretty decent work/life balance.
What do you do to unwind?
I have many activities (remember, I’m hyperactive). I play the guitar, I rehearse weekly in an amateur theatre company, I train a lot at the gym, I participate to discussions in a philosophy club, I cook a lot…
What is your favorite collaboration tool?
Sharepoint. We have a nice sharepoint platform that has been design especially for our needs. This is really great.
How does your desk look?
Very organized, neat, clean… I wish! It’s a mess. An organized mess, but yes, it’s a mess. While responding to you for this edition of the blog, I have in front of me: keys to motorbikes, a bottle of hot pepper sauce, a collection of ink bottles for my fountain pens, my EP accreditation, a folding knife, I see my skateboard hanging on the side of my desk, the remote control of the aircon, a sunscreen bottle (in Belgium?), some chopsticks, 6 piles of business cards, 4 hard-drives, printed tickets for a dance event and my moleskin notepads.
Do you answer emails on your phone?
Yes, for snap answers to questions. Otherwise I do prefer responding on my computer as it helps me focus and shape a sharp and clean answer.
Name a PA pro in the industry you respect and why
There are so many I respect: Rania Georgoutsakou from Lighting Europe, most certainly one of the best in our small world, Sylvia Gotzen from FIGIEFA who has mentored me when I stepped in Brussels as a young lobbyist, Agnès Dubois Colineau, my former colleague at ARCTURUS GROUP, always spot on when it comes to PA analysis and such a fast thinker, Manuel Marsilio from CONEBI, the bicycle industry in Europe, who conducts EU affairs in such a gentle Italian way. So many. But if I have to pick one, it will have to be Gilles Teisseyre. Perhaps the most unorthodox PA professional I’ve ever met in my entire career. I had the chance to work for him as he was (and still is) the founder and chairman of PA consultancy ARCTURUS GROUP. Gilles created ARCTURUS GROUP in 2001 in Brussels before opening new offices in several European capitals, including Paris and Berlin. Though he is mainly in charge of commercial prospecting and international development of the group, he truly enjoys participating in institutional strategies development on important client’s dossiers. I respect him because he is direct, honest, and most importantly because he forces you to always think outside the box when confronted with a difficult PA challenge. Everyone who has worked for or alongside Gilles – colleagues, clients, policy-makers – can testify: With Gilles it’s always epic!
When you go on vacation, do you still answer emails?
Yes I do, though I do understand that it is not a thing to do… Not that I am forced to, but if I can provide support for someone who needs something while I’m on vacation, I’m always happy to quickly respond.
Who is your idol?
Idol is perhaps a strong word here. I try to get inspired by people, whoever they are.
Which book did you read recently or are you currently reading?
I am currently reading a theatre play by Joel Pommerat, “Cendrillon” (Cinderella). It is a modern version of Cinderella in which the little girl has to constantly think of her mother who has passed away. She is convinced that if she forgets to think of her, she will die for good. I am actually not reading it, I am learning the text as I will play it with my theatre friends in June. Before you ask, I play… the Fairy (a really annoyed one, with my beard and tattoos, smoking and cursing all the time).
Do you read anything before you go to bed?
No, never. I listen to podcasts usually.
Which time do you go to bed?
Not too late, but usually I say hello to Morpheus at around 1AM.
Do you use LinkedIn and/or Twitter for work?
Not a big fan of Twitter but I do use LinkedIn. I re-discovered it few months ago and try to post (interesting?) stuff there once a week.
How big is your PA department (PA employees)?
ACEM, the Motorcycle Industry in Europe, is your typical small Brussels’ based sector organization. We are 9 in the office, and honestly I don’t think we can say we have a PA department as such. We all work towards the EU institutions, so let’s say that we are 9 in the PA department: 4 lobbyists, 2 engineers for technical/regulatory issues, 1 for communication and the remaining 2 for data analysis and office management.
Where is the PA departments placed in your organization?
The PA function is a horizontal tool in our organization. If I focus on the true “Public Affairs” profiles, we intervene in all the 20 or so Committees, Working Groups and Task Forces of the organization. Some of which are lead by other colleagues (comms, technical people) but our role is to provide expertise on policy developments, strategy building, and implementation of actions at EU level. As Director of Corporate and Public Affairs I second my Secretary General in all issues of the organization. I see myself as a kind of “sherpa”. We complement one another quite well: he is patient, composed, always in search for a compromise. I’m the exact opposite: I am always in “action mode”, fast thinking, and ready for a battle at any time of the day.
- Ludovic Basset, 46, French (and Belgian) national
- Director Corporate and Public Affairs, ACEM (the Motorcycle Industry in Europe)
- Education: Law + International Relations, in France and in the UK
- Work expertise: 15+ years experience in Automotive/mobility/transport/environment issues in Brussels
- Experience: Sector associations (automotive) and PA consultancy
The idea of the blog is to invite a new Public Affairs pro each week to answer a battery of questions about their daily tasks, habits, routines etc. and thereby provide readers with a more realistic view of what Public Affairs is really about: honest and hard work! So with this blog we want to learn from all the good or bad habits from our peers in the industry. Small things, as well as bigger things.
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