ESA communication is special! Bernhard von Weyhe on doing PR for an intergovernmental organisation
Why and how did you join ESA?
European cooperation and successful integration have always been a key topic in my life. I believe that the space missions developed and operated by ESA are an excellent way to demonstrate the concrete success and usefulness of European cooperation. We can make Europe progress, increase scientific knowledge, provide high-tech applications and make our industry and researchers competitive on a global scale.
Originally, I am from "planet media", having worked for several years as a news journalist and media marketing professional - in the USA, in France and in Germany. In late 2002, I saw a really exciting job opening as "ESA Communication Officer" at ESOC/Darmstadt, applied, was interviewed by a standard interview board, and got the job. Since then, I have been working in the fascinating ESA PR, media and "institutional liaison" business.
What did you study and what did you have to learn on the job?
There are many ways to study to get ready for a job in international PR or Corporate Communications. I started by studying political sciences, intercultural communications and linguistics in Germany (Saarbrücken) and went on to the USA (Columbia-Missouri and Washington DC) to study journalism and American political sciences. In addition to my German M.A. degree (thesis: "European foreign and security policy"), I obtained a French post-grad degree (DEA) in European political sciences from IEP Strasbourg, with a special research project on government online communications.
With the above academic education and journalism and marketing background, I felt quite well-prepared for European PR. However, I was still a novice in space science affairs, of course, and in complex administrative mechanisms of an intergovernmental organisation like ESA. Over the years, I had to learn to be more patient and to allow that a news production cycle in governmental context, working with tax-payer money, can take a bit longer than in an external TV, web or radio newsroom.
What do you like about the working atmosphere within ESA?
I have always been a person driven by certain "values" and "ideals", in the very non-monetary sense. What boosts my motivation is to provide PR support to very devoted and talented technical colleagues who are driving ambitious space exploration or application projects. Also, as before in my life, I really enjoy the multicultural and multilinguistic environment of ESA, where you can often take major synergies out of the classical assets of Europe's big cultural basins such as "Latin creativity, flexibility and passion", "Germanic rigor and structure", "Anglo-Saxon professionalism, efficiency and business focus".
What is particularly interesting about your work? What are your current projects?
If you work in PR and Communications, it is very important that you can identify well with your topics. "Launching rockets with new satellites on top", "observing our home planet", "discovering traces of life on Mars", "sending European astronauts into space", "developing a new European navigation system" are all a true gold mine for PR! In this context, I have a large and varied number of projects to handle, such as media relations, visits to ESA's Operations centre, PR event preparations, web publications, presentations and briefings for ESA management, loads of daily coordination calls, emails, strategy issues and reporting.
Do you have to travel much for your job?
Compared to some of my colleagues, my travel frequency is quite reasonable. I normally have about 1 business trip per month, to the greater region of Frankfurt, to Berlin, to Amsterdam/ESTEC or to Paris/HQ. So, it is also nice to be out of the office and the Centre once in a while.
How about your work-life balance? What are your hobbies and other (space-related?) activities?
When you really enjoy the job and have exciting projects to work on, you do not feel like always looking at your watch. However, regularly, I enjoy my various hobbies, 'outside ESA', such as sports (running, swimming, skiing, ball sports), cultural activities (theatre, music, exhibitions) or spending time with friends and family.
What recommendations can you give to students/young graduates if they are interested to work for ESA?
Here, I can only talk from the PR business perspective, which is certainly a minority in the overall ESA world. When you have a true passion for European or international high-tech projects and you like to deal with people of many different backgrounds, you have good chances to land in the ESA world. Of course, as a basis, you need to have a solid academic background and strong language skills that will help you to get around and to be able to interface with inspiring technical colleagues, who are often under tight deadline pressure and need the proper information straight to the point. After ten years in this amazing organisation, I can say that it is worth taking up this challenge!