USA vs Belgium: Public Relations & Public Diplomacy

By Gabrielle Bellamy


Yesterday, my classmates and I went to the US Embassy here in Brussels where we had the opportunity to visit the Media Hub and the office of Public Diplomacy (PD)/ Public Affairs (PA). Although visiting the Media Hub was a complete surprise, I personally learned a lot of information about the office of PA and how it operates in Belgium. Here, the division is divided into 3 embassies:
1) US mission to the European Union
2) US mission to the Kingdom of Belgium
3) US mission to NATO

At the Media Hub, they record press briefs; the briefs are provided to journalists online. An interesting fact is that they only have a staff of about 4 people. The Media Hub had 1 recording studio for TV, one studio for radio, and a control room. It’s actually interesting to think how they do so much, yet use so little. We had the opportunity to see the different studios and the equipment in them. Here, they use Final Cut Pro 7. The senior producer at the Hub, Laurens Vermeire, mentioned how if they were to change programs, they would have to change, alter, or update all of the other equipment in the Hub so that it would compliment that program.

When we met with the PD/PA office, we watched a movie that showed the historical relations between Belgium and the USA. In this office, nothing is done unilaterally or for the purpose of propaganda; however, they do establish partnerships with NGOs. It is important to remember that the main purpose of this office is mission work with different audiences, such as providing contact with Belgian journalists. This office is not a private PR machine for the ambassador. They merely assist him with things such as press releases and when dealing with social media.

On this study abroad trip, we have been learning about the segregated media environment here in Brussels. Due to this, the Embassy has to release 2 publications (1 Flem, 1 French) of their exclusive Op-Eds. However, I love how the US Ambassador interacts with the two regions of Belgian in a way that he is connecting them and bringing them closer together. Ambassador Gutman has visited all 589 cities in the country, which, in my opinion, is phenomenal! A downside to the segregated environment is that the French (Walloons) dub all of their TV shows and do not use a lot of English on them, so the ambassador does not have many opportunities to interact with them. The Flemish, on the other hand, do not dub their TV shows; they use subtitles. They also have many talk shows. The ambassador is able to interact more with the Flems because there is less of a language barrier. I wonder if anyone has mentioned this dilemma to the French-speaking region of Belgium. Have they ever considered altering their style, or should everyone continue adapting to the French? #CommunicationIssues

I think it would be cool to work at the US Embassy in these departments because one would have the opportunity to work in different areas of communications. There’s journalism, PR, social media, and multi-media combined into one; PLUS, you get to work in a foreign area. And don’t be afraid, because many of the people who worked in the Brussels office didn’t even speak French or Dutch prior to working there. Even the US Ambassador isn’t fluent (but it was confirmed that he was taking lessons).

Au revoir


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