Did you know that the French Mutuality protects more than 35 million French people ? And maybe you too. Its national federation has nearly 500 mutuals, spread across France. 🎙 She is a real actor in public life, who is committed to social protection topics.
But how can a company integrate the public debate? How do you raise public and political awareness of the challenges of your sector, here health? What is the recipe for legitimate speaking out? 🤓 To see more clearly, the team We Are COM went to meet Francois Rauch, communications advisor and former communications director of the Fédération Nationale de la Mutualité Française and member of the Club We Are COM. He reveals to us a media strategy not like the others…
To begin with, what is your definition of press relations?
I would say that the Press relations depend on two factors: quality and timing. Firstly, it is essential to provide content quality, sincere and transparent. On the other hand, without regular exchanges with the press, there can be no press relations. This regularity guarantees the bond of mutual trust between the media and businesses. It would be futile to think of convincing a journalist that we are doing better than the competition, in one shot. In other words, to do press relations, you have to love the press and share values and interests with it. And conversely, the press must enjoy interacting with you.
Press relations depend on two factors: quality and timing.
Six out of ten French people are protected by Mutualité Française. A major player in the SSE (social and solidarity economy in France), who are your stakeholders? How do you communicate with them?
As you have understood, the Mutualité Française is not a mutual insurance company but a federation of mutual insurance companies. As well, our external stakeholders are multiple : public authorities, administration, national and regional elected officials, social security, trade unions, political parties, etc. More broadly, our stakeholders include all health professionals, since our activities touch on this area via an entire care and support network (clinics, crèches, nursing homes, etc.)
There is no question of modifying our messages according to the recipient stakeholder. It is important for us to be consistent. On the other hand, it is necessary to modulate them and adapt them to our public.
Regarding the internal communication with mutuals, apart from a few institutional campaigns, it is impossible for us to address their members directly. Our messages are aimed more at the mutuals themselves, which then relay them to their members. We also bring these mutuals together regularly, around major events such as a congress every 3 years.
The Mutualité Française has developed the participatory system “Place de la Santé”. Can you tell us more about this means of nurturing public debate?
This project was born in 2016 from an observation: social protection concerns everyone, both the French and politicians (research, health financing, quality of care, medical deserts, etc.). However, these very serious issues were most often absent from public debate, especially during presidential campaigns. So, how to move the lines? How can candidates be encouraged to speak out on these topics?
In 2017, we decided to make Mutualité Française a central player in public debate thanks to Place de la Santé. This participatory system, which meticulously takes up the rules and codes of the media, allows candidates for the presidential election to express themselves as freely as possible, first on a website dedicated, then during an event. And we decided to step back so as not to interfere with their words, a discretion that has absolutely no impact on the omnipresence of this device in the media. Our desire was truly to create a media event for the parties and candidates, around the issues of social protection.
One of the main challenges was to convince politicians to take part in our show-event, then unknown and unpublished. For this, we have carried out important upstream work to decrypt their programs on our site. In effect, we scrutinized their political projects and flushed out their inaccuracies or imperfections. Think tanks have also taken a stand on our Place de la Santé site on issues relating to social protection. Finally, we invited the public to participate in the debate, by submitting their questions to the candidates.
Finally, we managed to convince Audrey Pulvar and 3 think tanks (Terra Nova Foundation, Jean Jaurès and Fondapol) to host our event in the form of a television broadcast. The media and political repercussions of this operation were unprecedented. The press was able to discover the limits of certain presidential promises and the program of the future President of the Republic. Political parties and the media have also been convinced of our seriousness, our professionalism and our role in the field of social protection. Clearly, the Mutualité Française has proven to be a fully-fledged player in the public debate and the subject of social protection has imposed itself in political discourse.
Our desire was truly to create a media event for the parties and candidates, around the issues of social protection.
The 2022 edition ended with Le Grand Oral Place de la Santé, at the heart of the presidential campaign. What were the challenges and drawbacks of organizing this major event?
As far as Le Grand Oral is concerned, the idea was to renew the 2017 exercise without completely disrupting it because the political parties are attached to it. Moreover, all the candidates supported the project, with the exception of candidates outside the Republican arc. However, this event having emerged in the very particular context of the war in Ukraine, Emmanuel Macron had to withdraw at the last moment.
That said the Grand Oral enjoyed significant press coverage, around 500, a notorious feat without the presence of the outgoing President of the Republic. This is explained by the seriousness of the content that we produce and make available to everyone, including journalists. Add to that that this content encompasses all points of view, even those who oppose the existence of mutuals!
It is certain that this formula is destined to evolve over time, but always with the same desire to offer a place for debate. I would add that we are proud to have carried out this project without the help of any communication agency, everything was imagined and carried out internally.
This formula is destined to evolve over time, but always with the same desire to offer a place for debate.
How do you prepare your spokespersons before speaking at such a high-profile event or simply before an interview?
Mediatraining takes place over the long term. Just as a trainer prepares athletes over time, press relations are worked over time, by multiplying exchanges and media appearances. The key is regularity.
Internally, we prepare ourselves continuously by making a list of all possible questions to be able to provide all possible answers very quickly. It is not so much to avoid a possible pitfall that we do this, but more to provide extreme precision in our responses.
Just as a trainer prepares athletes over time, press relations are worked over time, by multiplying exchanges and media appearances.
Do you have more developed relations with certain media?
It goes without saying that there is more or less appetite in the media, depending on the themes we wish to address. As well, when we choose to give exclusivity, it is to reach a more specific audience. For example, a subject on optics may be of more interest to Le Parisien – Today in France, while an observatory could correspond more to the content of AFP.
Our exclusivities relate only to temporality, never to the message. We make sure to be at the service of all the media, with identical content.
In your opinion, what are the major developments in the press and public relations sector?
Basically, press relations will not change. Quality will remain the sine qua non for any content creation. On the other hand, in the era of immediacy and brevity, it is the form that is impacted and will continue to be. It has become essential to adapt to this continuous information, to learn to check sources diligently and to be more inventive with regard to formats.
Indeed, in press relations, it is absolutely necessary to get ahead of your competitors by always having content ready to broadcast. As for the format, more and more, it must be educational to reach its audiences, with for example convincing and simple video clips – be careful not simplistic – carrying strong messages.
It has become essential to adapt to this continuous information, to learn to check sources diligently and to be more inventive with regard to formats.
Why should brands get involved in the City, take part in political debates? Are there pitfalls to avoid?
I'm convinced that if we don't get involved in the City, it's the City that gets involved with us. A company is fundamentally rooted in a culture and in a society, from which it feeds and which runs through it. And vice versa, the major brands participate in culture and living together. So yes, companies should all get more involved in the City.
More when it comes to societal commitments, status is not a virtue. It is not enough to proclaim oneself “cooperative” or “mutualist” to become one. Each brand must find what virtue it wishes to embody, reinvent itself and provide concrete proof. To understand and integrate the changes, it is essential to understand the actors: the citizens of course, but also the think tanks which shed particular light on reality. How to modify and adapt its actions, without apprehending the evolutions of individuals and organizations?
Finally, any speech must follow an action and not the reverse. We must speak, if and only if, we have acted upstream, expose concrete, visible and measurable actions. Not simply proclaiming oneself a champion in the making of CSR!
I'm convinced that if we don't get involved in the City, it's the City that gets involved with us.
Thank you for your answers. Before leaving us, do you have any last advice for communicators wishing to develop their company's press relations?
Again, keep in mind that good press relations require fidelity, transparency and regularity of exchanges. The journalist is not under the orders of a brand. And remember that mutual trust between communicators and journalists is earned, it is not imposed and it is not innate. The relationship of trust is established over time, in easy times but also in difficult times. You have to be able to interact with the press also and especially in times of crisis.
Journalists are not enemies, do not hold them responsible for such a title or such a quote, which most often are managed by the editorial secretaries. Be educational, explain to your leaders the inner workings of a newspaper. Press relations are an obligatory exercise in public life, so don't see them as a constraint but more as a sincere dialogue that takes place between equals.
3 things to know about François Rauch
His favorite medium? He doesn't have a favorite medium because he precisely likes the diversity of points of view: editorial mosaics. He also listens to the radio a lot. Continuous information is not to be deplored, it is an acceleration of time. Moreover, François invites us to re-read Balzac, Hugo, Flaubert, Dumas… to understand the origins and functioning of the press. The race against time is not recent!
Her favorite communication campaign? As a kid, he whistled the famous “Hollywood chewing-gum”; a French brand with a cross-Atlantic accent. It made no sense, but it was anchored: by its repetition, advertising can feed the imagination of millions of people.
His passions and his commitments? Rugby. In addition to having played there, he is now engaged on a voluntary basis so that rugby does not suffer from the excesses in which it risks falling, in particular concerning the health of the players.