Reflections on a secondment to the Netherlands

In 2015, PLMR founded the Global Communications Alliance (GCA), a global network of likeminded communications agencies. Among the many benefits of having this international collaborative network to tap into is the exchange programme, which gives colleagues the opportunity to choose another agency to work in for two weeks. I was thrilled to be selected to take part this year – I chose to go to Bijl PR in Rotterdam, The Netherlands in April – the peak of tulip season.

The Bijl team was incredibly welcoming, and we bonded as they taught me Dutch phrases, mannerisms and culture, and I filled them in on all of the history I was learning about on various walking tours and the sights I was taking in – the sorts of things that you never do in the place you actually live.

Bijl, similar in size to our education practice at PLMR, is a close-knit, friendly environment. Their welcome pack for new starters included Bijl-branded items such as a notebook, pen and even socks, a lovely, fun touch.

My first week was filled with individual 1:1 meetings, allowing me to get to know each colleague and their work. Many long-time employees spoke about how it doesn’t feel like they have worked for one employer all this time – one of the perks of being in an agency is the variety that comes with working with a range of clients and building those relationships, something I completely relate to.

Immersing myself in another agency and country’s way of working was a first for me (with the notable exception of course of having worked in the States for many years about an eon ago). I quickly adapted to their daily routines, like the communal team lunch at the office picnic table every day from 12:30-1pm. I really should keep up their habit of ending every lunch with peanut butter and hagel slag (chocolate sprinkles) on crackers.

I had the chance to participate in various brainstorming sessions both with their internal team (including one on improving gender equality) as well as clients (including raising awareness of the life-changing impact of a new health device), and learned more about how they do things like newsjacking, proposals and stakeholder engagement. I also took part in their AI workshop looking at the practicalities and limitations of the tech, and the critical need to fact-check and humanise what it can do.

They shared insight into how they measure impact and raise the profile of awareness days, and they enjoyed hearing about the extensive reputation management and crisis communications expertise we’ve developed in education. Sharing insights to take ideas back into your own organisation is one of the key benefits of these secondment opportunities.

The big Rotterdam Marathon was on my last weekend there, and eight colleagues were taking part. I got to be part of the support team cheering them throughout the city and taking in the atmosphere of one of the city’s landmark cultural events.

On a personal level, the secondment was refreshing. I absolutely love soaking in new places and spent hours every evening after work wandering all over the city, and weekends taking the incredibly efficient trains to explores places like Amsterdam, The Hague, Delft, Utrecht and their pretty beaches. I also checked off a bucket list item by visiting the Keukenhof tulip fields in spring and spent lots of time with dear Dutch friends whom I’ve known for years, which added to the overall enriching experience.

It was an invaluable and memorable experience and I’m so grateful to have had the chance to go. I love that these sorts of opportunities are available through PLMR and the GCA and really hope to welcome a ‘Bijler’ to our offices in the near future.

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