Global Public Affairs in the Age of COVID-19
March 20, 2020
by Dasha Iventicheva
Global businesses are trying to function in unprecedented circumstances due to the borderless coronavirus pandemic. Companies are faced with financial, logistical and staff-related challenges as global travel becomes more restricted, employees are told to stay home, and many industries are seeing their operations come to a halt.
Those working in global public affairs are no exception to this new reality. So, how can you still do your job effectively when the word “global” has become reduced to the confines of one’s living room, and your coworkers are suddenly underage and have a regularly scheduled nap?
Maintain your network. Relationship building doesn’t have to be put on hold even when mobility and face-to-face meetings are limited. Leverage e-mail, video conferencing and other numerous communication platform to keep in touch with external stakeholders that are key to your global advocacy and engagement strategy. This is an essential time to demonstrate to your external networks that you are still committed to your in-market relationships and key issues you have worked on together, as well as to communicate the steps your organization is taking to address the crisis in your various markets. While few are operating with a “business as usual” approach, it is still valuable to maintain strong relationships with external stakeholders across the world.
Don’t panic and stay informed. It is essential to stay on top of the issues most relevant to your line of business, even if those issues are going to be put on the backburner by external stakeholders until the crisis abates. Leverage your external resources like trade associations, government contacts, consultants, think tanks and region-focused business councils to make sure you are staying up to date on relevant developments that may impact your company’s operations abroad once business begins to return to normal operations. Staying informed will position your function as a source of information and stability in a time of information overload and a rapidly changing global business environment.
Identify internal stakeholder needs. Working closely with business units, C-suite leadership and other internal stakeholders is important as companies work to address this new global challenge. Make sure you are leveraging or working to establish strong lines of communication across internal departments to identify areas where public affairs can be a resource. Can you help develop a communications plan for external stakeholder outreach? Is there an internal coronavirus task force that is helping business units stay informed in this time of crisis? Can you leverage your global network to connect international colleagues with new resources and advice? Colleagues tasked with your organization’s coronavirus response may be overwhelmed and would welcome help. Demonstrating the value and ROI of global public affairs is one of the biggest challenges of working in the industry, and those working in a public affairs role will have to find new ways to use their skills to benefit company operations.
Be realistic. With governments prioritizing resources on public health initiatives, few companies are going to achieve a major public affairs win in other policy areas in the coming months. Be realistic about which of your strategic goals can be accomplished, and which ones will be put on hold until the global health crisis is under control (for example, new market entry or a piece of legislation unrelated to the crisis moving forward). Where there is crisis, there is also often opportunity. Many companies are examining their lines of business to determine how they are best positioned to help tackle this new global challenge. Companies like LVMH and L’Oreal are pledging to provide hand sanitizer for communities where they operate, while numerous others are pledging funding, free distance-learning resources, and uninterrupted internet services to affected communities.
As global businesses adjust to this new reality, the Council hopes to continue to be a resource for our members and the public affairs community. Stay healthy and safe, and don’t hesitate to approach us with your questions and concerns, as well as take advantage of the Council’s numerous virtual executive education opportunities.