Another day, another European Commission web communications mess. Today it’s “Science: It’s A Girl Thing” and this video. The website for the initiative is here, and reactions that range from The New Statesman to the very rude tweets. This is just three months after the Commission had to pull a Kill Bill video due to the perception that it was racist, although at the time of writing the new science video is still up.
Why, oh why, is the Commission screwing up like this?
The answer can be found at the end of the 1990s. It was a low point for the European Commission with Commissioner Édith Cresson found guilty of fraudulently employing her dentist, leading to the resignation of the Santer Commission. As a result throughout the 2000s we saw the progressive tightening of the rules for being able to bid for Commission work – as anyone who has ever bid for EU work will testify, the paperwork required is now extraordinary and burdensome.
So how does this apply to web communications? Essentially there are only a few companies in Brussels that are large enough and well connected enough to bid for the large web communications contracts and jump through the bureaucratic hoops to get the work. Mostra, one such firm, was the agency behind the Kill Bill video, and it’s another one of the big Brussels players Tipik behind the Science website (do a WHOIS lookup for science-girl-thing.eu and you get the details shown in the screenshot here). Add to this the need for the Commission to outsource a lot because – like national administrations – it’s practically and presentationally easier to do that than recruit new staff internally.
As I see it, the bureaucratisation of the procurement process might have improved financial management in the strictest sense, but – in web comms at least – it has created an uncompetitive closed market, and within that agencies that produce poor quality work. Today’s furore will not be the last while this arrangement persists.
[UPDATE 23.06.2012, 0945] A number of people have pointed out that Emakina made the video, not Tipik. The latter only hosts the site. I think the main gist of the article remains valid though.