We gathered these insights from a roundtable discussion at the Public Affairs Council’s European office, with some 20 industries and sectors represented. As the meeting was conducted under the Chatham House rule, we do not disclose the sources of ideas, but we hope they’ll be helpful nevertheless.
- Public affairs as a strategic function: Moving away from “mitigating legal challenges,” public affairs’ role is to shape strategic discussion about your company’s technology — be that privacy, sustainable transport, energy efficiency or something else. That is why public affairs, at its core, is about stakeholder relations and government affairs. And while legal issues may also be part of the responsibilities, they are just one slice of the job description pie.
- Internal vs. external lobbying: Business managers or those less exposed to public affairs often forget that sometimes as much as 90 percent of lobbying is internal — not external. Getting your company to agree on a position — especially if you operate in several key markets — can be very difficult. After working so hard to get internal approval, trying to convince policymakers of the value of your position may prove to be much easier.
- The silo effect: The larger your company, the higher the risk there is of silos being formed when information doesn’t flow easily or is hard to get hold of when you need it most. Of course, this problem goes far beyond public affairs, but when you need to contact various departments because they don’t share information with each other, it may harm your public affairs work greatly. A similar problem can arise when the different perspectives of engineers, lawyers and sales teams result in you being sent mixed signals. Therefore, to help minimize the effect of internal silos, public affairs must be interdisciplinary and, by extension, represented at a senior level of the company.
- What do you prioritize? Do you focus on the potential impact of some new legislation, try to eliminate a regulatory challenge or look at the long-term discussions on policy that may only appear on the business’ radar in two years’ time? Careful consideration is needed to evaluate the challenges and prioritize your activities.
- Face-to-face meetings: Technological tools are easier than ever to deploy and scale, but nothing can replace face-to-face meetings, at least twice a year, with teams spread around Europe (or beyond). This is even more important because while technology helps you share information, mitigating in-house political conflicts requires a personal approach.
- How to measure public affairs: Some companies tend to use agencies to get qualitative feedback about how they are perceived by regulators, while others are sceptical about the merits of such methods. Ultimately, your core mission is to advocate for policy change according to your strategic business objectives. How much of a role your company has had may often be difficult to evaluate. On the other hand, internal KPIs are easier to measure (see our free report here).
- Beware of cultural differences — even in-house: The political cultures in the US and at EU or member states’ level is vastly different. Because of their highly complex and diverse nature, European legislative processes tend to be far more compromise-driven than their trans-Atlantic counterparts. This approach may not be obvious to everyone dealing with public policy, so internal discussions and explanations may be needed.
- Employees as your advocates: Today, when “perception is reality,” you may want to consider using your employees as your industry’s or company’s best ambassadors to shape others’ views. While not all of them would be willing or able to fulfil such role, many are likely happy to spread the word.
- Do your internal myth-busting: Building on the previous practice, when employees are asked by their friends or neighbours about an issue your company deals with, will they know what to say? If they are in the accounting or IT department, they may not have any more information than the person asking them. Create an internal “newsroom,” collect the myths that circulate online and suggest a line to take. Helping them stand up for you is a good investment to make.
- Revenue-making vs. reputation-shaping: Though most electric cars are not yet the blockbusters that bring in huge revenues, simply having such environmentally friendly, forward-looking models can do a lot to improve the perception of the company’s societal commitment. That is, even if the monetary returns are modest, “progressive” products can positively affect the regulatory approach toward your business and improve your brand reputation, too.
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