Overheidscommunicatie tussen 1995 en 2010

De moeizame slag om het publiek vertrouwen

 

The euro case

 The euro will belong to all of us     
A unique, long-term government campaign

The introduction of the euro is a unique operation. Everyone will be affected by it. No-one can avoid it. What is more, cooperation is asked of everyone. The euro campaign is unique. This makes it difficult to find good models, something you might try to imitate. But it is also difficult to see an example in the euro campaign. Because where in the world is there someone with a similar assignment, a similar time period to be bridged, a similar number of uncertainties to be overcome and a similar critical public to be convinced? But the hesitancy, the choices, the approach with its several different fronts – these do not differ fundamentally from other campaigns.

A look back to the beginning
At the end of 1995 the Dutch government decided to establish the National Forum for the introduction of the euro (NFE)[i]. It was composed of organizations of which it could be assumed that they, or their members, would become closely involved in the introduction of the euro. The chairman was the Treasurer-General of the Ministry of Finance. One of the first decisions of the NFE was the founding of the Public Information Forum. The spokespersons or public relations officers of the organizations involved were invited to join it. The Director of Public Relations of the Ministry of Finance chaired this group. The forum was given the responsibility to facilitate a ‘smooth landing’ for the euro by providing information. When it was founded, it was agreed that the forum’s activities as a group would not make the information activities of its member organizations superfluous, and that the budget would not serve as a subsidy for the work of the individual organizations.

Structure and development of organization
A campaign requires a solid organizational infrastructure. This is even more true of a campaign with a long time horizon. Shortly after the founding of the Public Information Forum work groups were established that would focus their efforts on certain target groups or on methods of information provision. A number of these work groups include, alongside their members from the Public Information Forum, representatives of other organizations such as senior citizens’ associations (senior citizens’ work group) or organizations of disabled persons (work group for persons with a disability). Their expertise was considered essential in order to reach the target groups as effectively as possible. The diversity of society, the outline of which was already visible in the NFE, was thus reflected even more clearly within the public relations infrastructure. The Public Information Forum determined the strategy, permanently monitored its effectiveness and made adjustments if necessary. It also coordinated the public relations efforts of the participating organizations.

Until mid-2001 the infrastructure was almost completely focused on developing the campaign for the general public. Starting in September 2001, aspects of press information demanded greater attention from the Public Information Forum. In addition, a National Information Centre was being developed that would oversee the final phase of the introduction of the euro. It was staffed by public relations officers of the Ministries of Home Affairs, Justice and Finance, De Nederlandsche Bank (the central bank), the police and the Public Prosecutions Service. While respecting the responsibilities and the authority of each of them, the group was meant to ensure that the information provision went smoothly and make sure it had the same ‘tone of voice’. Procedures used in relation to the European Cup Football in 2000 were a source of inspiration here.

 

Specialized agencies
A campaign needs to have a face (logo and house style). An agency competition was organized to design a logo, and a house style for the correspondence material. Then a pitch was written for a concept for the mass media campaign. The approach developed by Publicis, in which the main role was not played by euro experts or celebrities, but by ordinary people, was felt to be the most convincing. The payoff was: the euro will belong to all of us. Collaboration with Publicis intensified as the campaign progressed. In addition to the almost daily contacts to develop the various radio and television spots, meetings were held with some regularity to evaluate recent activities.

But so much of the euro campaign fell outside the mass media. Several agencies were enlisted for this purpose. The euro website, numerous brochures, the handouts for small and medium-sized enterprises, the free euro kit people could collect in December 2001, were designed by Rotterdam advertising agency Via. Another agency, Tint, produced, among other things, a magazine entitled Eurokoers and a euro-info folder containing all questions and answers about the euro. The information material had to find its way to the person ordering it: mail-order firm Pondres in Tilburg was enlisted for this purpose.

The infrastructure of the government communications service was utilized to the full for the euro campaign. The radio and television spots used both the broadcasting time of the public information organization (Postbus 51) and the broadcasting time purchased by the Netherlands Government Information Service in regular block advertising. The brochures could be found in the Postbus 51 displays in libraries and post offices. People could ring the euro-line 0800 1521, staffed by employees of Postbus 51, to ask questions and order brochures.

The campaign: a bird’s-eye view
The campaign was launched in October 1996. It was based on providing useful factual information. But at that time no answer could be given to a few elementary questions. Which countries are going to introduce the euro? How much will the euro be worth in the present national currency? What will the coins and the banknotes look like? Where can I get euros and when? The answers were still not known a year and a half later. In a letter of January 1998, the Minister of Finance wrote to the Dutch Lower House, “Only by providing information can Dutch society be ready for the changeover from the guilder to the euro by the end of 2001. But the fact remains that in the coming months it will not yet be possible to answer many questions voiced by the general public. And so it is not surprising that many individuals are not very enthusiastic about the changes, and would prefer to leave things as they are. This may well cause confidence in the euro to decline in the short term.”

All information that was known, based on the decision-making at the Maastricht Summit in 1991, was communicated. Starting in early 1997 advertisements in daily and weekly newspapers and in professional journals pointed out the availability of this material. The emphasis of the campaign was on informing interest groups and business and industry.

Not until the spring of 1998 – at the time of the euro summit held the first weekend in May, where the decisions about participation in the euro would be taken – did the campaign come into people’s homes by radio and television. The core message was: the euro is on its way, but is not coming just yet.  “It’s coming”, a young man reading a newspaper mumbles in the television commercial. Two elderly ladies standing with him on an empty train platform are unable to hide their surprise. Later in 1998 a second peak in intensity was reached, this time aimed at the introduction of the euro on the stock exchange floor and in non-cash transactions.

The strategy: private individuals
To make the campaign more effective, very quickly a distinction was made between two main target groups: private individuals and businesses. Different approaches and different phases were developed for these two groups related to the specific roles assigned to them with respect to the introduction. It was attempted to involve private individuals in the various points for decision-making, to familiarize them with the currency that would soon replace the guilder and to help them adapt their payment behaviour to the conversion; businesses were sooner expected to show some activity of their own.

The introduction for the public was divided into three phases. The first one was the run-up to the decision-making in May 1998. Information in this phase was aimed at encouraging people to be involved. This focused on the questions: what are the consequences of the euro, what is the point of having a common currency, and what are the conditions for entering the EMU? The answers could be found in a Postbus 51 brochure, which was distributed via radio and television starting in February 1998.

From May 1998 until mid-2001, the second phase, a mass media appeal, asked the attention of the public to the euro at fairly regular intervals. Important facts in this phase were that the euro would be introduced for certain, that it would be introduced in 11 EU countries (12 in 2001), and as of 1 January 1999 also the value of the euro.

The third phase, the conversion campaign, started in September 2001 and would last until 28 January 2002. This was the most intensive phase, encouraging the general public to grow towards the arrival of the euro. Attention was focused on the outward characteristics of the new coins and banknotes, the times when people could obtain coins and when they could obtain banknotes, how long it would be possible to pay in guilders and how people could adjust their own payment behaviour and thus play a role in the rapid and more particularly, smooth introduction of the euro. During this phase the banking world also approached the general public in an effort to encourage the use of bank PIN cards and smart cards at the time of the euro introduction. And from mid-October until early December, as period focused on savings, banks worked to convince people to put the coins they kept in piggy banks and banknotes they kept under the mattress into bank accounts.

The strategy: businesses
Already at an early stage it was decided that a separate informative procedure had to be developed for business and industry. In connection with investment decisions, businesses would need to be informed earlier about practical consequences of the euro for their business operations. They would thus be given an opportunity to determine their business strategy in a timely fashion. Retailers (over-the-counter sales points, in euro-speak) were asked for their cooperation to ensure that the euro would quickly be used in payment transactions and the guilder taken out of circulation. And all organizations were required to convert their bookkeeping records to the euro in plenty of time. Moreover, numerous economic activities used machines that accepted coins, and they too had to be prepared for the new currency.

The information campaign reserved a clear role for financial intermediaries, because it was assumed that businesses would take their questions about the introduction of the euro to their usual advisors such as professional or sectoral organizations, accountants and management consultants. Numerous meetings were organized in 1998 focusing on these groups.

The information material for businesses was generally in the form of a checklist. It allowed them to take stock of the preparations they still had to make and to make an estimate of the time they would need for it. A folder, The Rules of Conversion, and a booklet containing numerous handy tips were developed specially for them. Retailers showed satisfactory compliance with the request for dual pricing starting on 1 July 2001 (see table).

Around 1 July all businesses were sent a letter (1.2 million copies were printed) expressing appreciation for their efforts made in dual pricing. The letter also indicated that the end was not yet in sight: from then on, they would need to focus their attention on ordering euro coins and banknotes and on training their staff. The letter enclosed a summary of the information material that could be of help to them in this respect.

In discussing the campaign for business organizations, a frequent suggestion was to threaten with sanctions. Such suggestions were primarily heard from accountants and ICT consultants. This urge was resisted. The campaign continued to be based on showing understanding for the situation in which many businesses found themselves. Under such circumstances, increasing pressure by threatening to impose sanctions if preparations for the euro were not set in motion in plenty of time might prove to be counterproductive.

Studies of the preparations made by business and industry showed that clear progress had been made since early 2001, thus confirming the correctness of the approach chosen. The actual result could only be determined at the beginning of 2002. In the meantime businesses were encouraged to train their staff for the euro in plenty of time – for instance, in a letter they received dated 1 July 2001.

Specific target groups[ii]
Dutch television advertising witnessed a first-time event in January 2000. A commercial used sign language to explain that the euro was on its way and that information material on video and CD-ROM was available specifically for people who were hard of hearing. The medium is the message. It was made clear to one and all that the euro would belong to all of us, including specific target groups such as people with a hearing impairment. The video and the CD-ROM comprised the general brochure entitled ‘Step by step to the euro in 2002’.

At the same time, radio commercials pointed out that specially adapted material was available for the blind both in Braille and on audiocassettes. These two spots were exemplary of the attitude taken throughout the campaign towards the specific target groups. They were addressed as complete equals.

Although it was assumed that almost everyone would take cognisance of the euro spots with some regularity, their reach among the specific target groups was lower. And so, in consultation with the relevant work groups, channels were sought by which to bring the information even better to its destination. Starting in early 2000, a speakers’ pool of some 50 former employees of the Ministry of Finance and of the Dutch tax administration gave around 500 euro lectures each year, principally to organizations of elderly people and women. Brigades of euro consultants, organized by Utrecht communication agency MCA, visited numerous multicultural events to provide information on the euro to minorities, often in their own language. The opportunities afforded by local radio and television broadcasting stations for the various ethnic communities were also utilized to the full. A “cash tester” was developed for the blind: a device with which they could determine the value of the euro coins and banknotes. In addition, thanks to collaboration with De Nederlandsche Bank and the Rabobank, special meetings were organized in which they – the only group – were given an opportunity to feel the banknotes, naturally under very strict safety measures.

Education
The field of education was surely not omitted from the euro campaign. As early as the end of 1997 letters went to publishers of regular teaching methods to point out to them the arrival of the euro. And to give them the correct and most up-to-date information. Very soon the development was started of additional teaching materials for primary and secondary schools. A special activity for primary schools was a contest called ‘The last guilder’, for which more than 50,000 pupils sent in their design. The last guilder bearing the winning design was struck in June 2001. Subsequently sixteen million ‘last’ guilders found their way to household pocketbooks. Thus pupils were given a special role in publicizing the departure of the guilder and the arrival of the euro.

Research
The information campaign was accompanied by various forms of research. In the two years prior to the introduction of the euro, a quarterly survey was held among consumers and businesses to measure both knowledge of and views on the euro. Businesses were also asked how far they were with their preparations. Thanks to the successive measurements, it could be determined whether progress had been made. Also important for the campaign was the research concerning the various forms of communication: the radio and television spots, the advertisements and the billboards. The television spots in particular were subjected to a pre-test to determine whether they actually served the intended purpose of the spot. After the spots were aired, the tracking study measured their effectiveness.

| Most frequently mentioned sources of information on the euro (named spontaneously) in the weeks prior to the measurements in 2000 and 2001 (percentage of Dutch persons who said they certainly or possibly had seen or heard information about the euro))[iii]

 

 

May ‘01


Feb ‘01


Dec ‘00


Sept ‘00


May ‘00


·          Television spot


77%


80%


76%


75%


 73%


·          Television programme


25%


16%


17%


16%


25%


·          Radio spot


19%


13%


11%


12%


10%


·          Newspaper article


18%


22%


22%


25%


19%


·          Newspaper advertisement


12%


16%


16%


21%


13%


·          Brochure (other than Postbus 51 folder)


10%


11%


8%


8%


9%


·          Magazine article


6%


6%


4%


6%


6%


·          Postbus 51 folder


5%


3%


2%


3%


3%


·          Bank, bank statement


3%


1%


7%


8%


14%


·          Free door-to-door newspapers


3%


2%


3%


3%


2%


·          Outdoor advertising


3%


2%


3%


3%


1%


·          Magazine advertisement


2%


3%


4%


7%


5%


·          At work


2%


4%


4%


5%


5%


·          At school


1%


2%


3%


3%


2%


·          Euro-calculator


-


-


-


1%


8%


If the pre-test showed that a television spot did not adequately meet the expectations, it was adjusted on the aspects criticized. When it appeared that elderly women in particular were less familiar with the various aspects of the euro, it was decided to broadcast commercials of 2 minutes in length on daytime television. When confidence in the euro fell off when the exchange rate in relation to the dollar declined, it was decided to have a small-town housewives’ club talk about the purchasing power of the euro. After this, research showed that men and women of different age categories were moving forward about equally in their knowledge about the euro. 

Service to the press
Starting at the beginning of 2001 services to the media were intensified. In addition to the usual press information a toolkit was developed containing numerous facts about the guilder-euro changeover. It could be consulted either in hard copy or on the internet ( www.euro-media.nl). Image material that could be used free of charge was made available in this way as well.

Complete information pages were supplied several times specially for free door-to-door newspapers. They discussed the current euro news of the month of publication. Information was also provided to the professional journals, aimed specifically at the various sectors of business and industry. The business organizations represented on the National Forum lent their cooperation to this.

Finally: managing public confidence
Based on the research, knowledge about the euro had reached a reasonable level by mid-2001. Compared to the other euro countries, results in the Netherlands stood out somewhat more.[iv] And so attention could be shifted to the conversion campaign. The same research showed that people were ready for this. They felt they were well informed and wanted to learn more about the practical consequences. The conversion campaign started in September 2001. It was meant to convince 16 million Dutch inhabitants that it was in the interests of one and all to conform to the distribution scenario. Because if everyone did their best, all payment transactions would be converted to the euro in a period of scarcely two weeks. The introduction of the euro was not a contest, of course, but a rapid transition would restrict the number of complications due to the simultaneous existence of two currencies.

The cooperation of the general public could best be obtained if they had some confidence in the operation as a whole. The campaign for the general public and the information for the press therefore went hand in hand starting from September 2001. The Minister of Finance and the president of the central bank, together with the police and other officials responsible for security aspects, gave a joint press conference at which the new coins and banknotes were presented. From that point onwards all action was taken in close consultation between the spokespersons and public information officers. Starting on 1 December 2001, press briefings were held every day in a joint information centre. The press briefings continued until the first week of January 2002. This procedure made it possible to explain each phase of the conversion period and to respond to every hiccup in the media, thus avoiding a ‘hype’.

In conclusion, the Public Information Forum organized a ‘back patting campaign’ to conclude the introduction of the euro and to thank everyone who had contributed. This final phase was only implemented when the operation could be termed successful, and it was termed successful very early in January 2002. The research carried out in respect of €-day showed that everyone felt they were well informed. The confidence of the public had been rewarded!