Your partner in British Dutch Business


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NBCC were pleased to interview Jonathan Steffen of Jonathan Steffen Limited, an international communication agency based in Cambridge, UK. Jonathan’s work is in the interrelated fields of sustainability, nutrition, and leadership communications. He support clients ranging from global corporates and entrepreneurial start-ups to NGOs and not-for-profit organisations.

Can you tell us about yourself and the work you do? 

My work focuses on the world of international corporate communications and business-to-business marketing communications. I've been active in these interrelated fields for a long time, working for blue-chip corporations, major non-governmental organisations, think tanks, and start-ups as well. My work ranges from advising companies on issues of reputation management, positioning and communication strategy, to the delivery of speeches and presentations, ghost-writing, and the creation and editing magazines, external and internal, in both print and digital format. It also covers the editing of books – including, for instance, the first ever comprehensive history of AkzoNobel, which was published in 2008. 

Your work focuses on sustainability, nutrition, and leadership communication. Is this your USP? 

Those are certainly areas in which I've done a great deal of work. If we look at leadership communications first, I’m often asked to ghost-write for chief executives, heads of business groups and divisions of large companies. I've done a lot of that over the years. I've also advised individuals on their presentation technique, preparing them for major speeches and important events. So that's one part of it. The nutrition component is also a large part of my work. I've been active in this field since 2003, working for think tanks and non-governmental organisations as well as nutrition businesses. My activities here range from commercial operations in human nutrition & health and animal nutrition & health to the humanitarian end of the spectrum, with the Swiss Foundation Sight and Life. In sustainability, the third pillar of the business, I'm very fortunate in having had the Dutch company DSM as a client since 2003, and they are one of the world leaders in sustainability reporting. I edited and project-managed their Triple P Report on two occasions in the 2000s and have worked on their Integrated Annual Report for the past six years. So that’s very important aspect of my work as well. 

How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted your business? 

It had a massive impact in the year 2020; for about six months, almost all client work dried up. Unsurprisingly in the circumstances, people just stopped commissioning work, and many projects were suspended. It was a difficult time, but the business started to recover in the fourth quarter of 2020. Nowadays my work is back at normal levels. So did it impact my work? Certainly, and some interesting ways too. 

One of the areas in which I’ve specialised over the years is internal communications and change communications. Typically this used always to involve a significant on-site presence, requiring a lot of overseas travel. In 2021, when we were all in lockdown, I did major shared services implementation project for Bunzl, a FTSE 100 company that is headquartered in the UK and is the world’s largest value-added distributor. Because of lockdown restrictions, I was never able to go to any of their sites, and I met all of the people I was working with online. It was a little strange to be writing for employees about their working experience when I couldn’t even visit them in their offices. It was interesting, however, to see what was feasible and what the limits were. I think for people like me who've done a lot of this kind of work, the online world actually does offer a great deal. It's amazing how well you can communicate using today’s videoconferencing technologies. But I think we’re all hungering now for normal travel and normal meetings once more – although perhaps not at the same level as in the past, because some of the travel requirements were frankly crazy. I can remember a moment earlier in my career when I was supposed to be in meetings on different continents simultaneously. It was rather mad. I don't think any of us really want to return to those days. 

And Brexit?

I would say that Brexit hasn't impacted my business, for the simple reason that I'm not a producer of goods and so don't import or export. I offer an intellectual service, and such services are not subject to the border controls that cover physical goods. From a personal perspective, I will say that Brexit was not something that I wished for. I’ve spent almost all of my working life working with Europeans from the continental mainland. I lived abroad, in Germany, for 16 years, and have worked in the Netherlands for over 20 years, although I've never been resident in the country. So I've always felt myself very much a European, and I speak various languages. I certainly know western Europe extremely well. The prospect of Britain isolating itself from the Continent, psychologically and culturally, is a terrible loss, in my opinion. 

You are based in the UK, but how big is the NL market to you?

It's very important. I mentioned DSM; they've been my biggest client since 2003. And there are other Netherlands-based organizations in the mix, such as Caldic, Corbion, Forestwise and the Perspectivity Foundation. I'm currently doing a project with Topigs Norsvin, a swine genetics company originally founded in the Netherlands as farmers' collective. We're setting up a new global online employee magazine. So the Netherlands was, and remains, a significant element in the business’s portfolio. 

Why did you join NBCC? 

I joined because I'd done such a lot of work in the Netherlands and I know the country well. The history of AkzoNobel, which I mentioned earlier, contains a detailed account of the industrial development of the Netherlands from the 18th century to the early 21st century. I should explain that I'm not fluent in Dutch, but I can understand the language reasonably well. I can read it pretty well and I do try to speak it, at least a little. So I may not be unique, but I'm probably quite unusual as a British communication specialist who has an extensive familiarity with the Netherlands, and I was thinking there might well be Dutch companies that need help with their English-language communications. I think I have a good understanding of how business works in the Netherlands, and  I'm sure that there are things I could be doing to make a useful contribution. So that's why I decided to join. I’m delighted to have been given the opportunity to introduce myself by means of this interview. Thank you! 

What are your plans for future growth that you can share with NBCC members? 

My first plan is, like everyone else, to stay in business. I want to do work that I find personally stimulating and enjoyable and which is helpful to my clients. That’s one of the nice things about my job:  people only come to me if they have problems. They need to get something done, and they think I might be the best person to help them with it. If I take on something that I know I can deliver and it's a success for everyone, that’s great. I would always be open to partnering with other people, as I do at the moment when the need arises. Occasionally I'll bring in specialists, consultants, people I've worked within the past and whom I really trust because I know them well. We share the vital experience of having worked together. I don't have plans to turn Jonathan Steffen Limited into a huge organisation employing lots of people worldwide. It will always be niche, and it will always be a boutique offering. It will always involve myself, but I hope that there will be opportunities to do lots more exciting work in the years to come. So I’m planning for growth in that sense, certainly.

Do you have any additional notes? 

One of the things that's difficult about this kind of role is entering into relationships with new clients because it requires a lot of trust on the part of the potential client. It often involves the disclosure of confidential information and there are frequently sensitivities involved. Suppose a company is going through a restructuring, for example, or planning a merger, or launching some new product, or disclosing its key financials from the previous year. That's why most of my work comes through referrals and recommendations. I can of course always provide testimonials for companies who don't know me well. If you think I might be able to help you, well, just drop me an email, pick up the phone, and let's have a talk and see where it might go. It's not that I sell a product; I provide a tailor-made service which is very specific to the individual client. It may take some time before one can actually start working in an active relationship, but you have to get to know each other for that work to be possible. This kind of work can only be born of out of relationships of trust. 

So if you are looking for a partner to help you on your communication needs, Jonathan Steffen is the one for you! Learn more about his business activities and his creative work. You can find his CV here and his bibliography here. Don’t hesitate to give them a call on +44 (0) 7747 793248 or send him an email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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