How to Grow Your International Public Affairs Function

13 Jan, 2016


How to Grow Your International Public Affairs Function

According to the 2017–2018 State of Corporate Public Affairs, almost two-thirds of public affairs executives surveyed reported that their company’s public affairs activities target international markets. Inevitably, as businesses expand into new markets, international public affairs engagement is likely to grow also. If you want to expand your own public affairs function to an international scale, here are some strategies and steps to consider:

Use your assets wisely.
Since an average of only one-quarter of a company’s total public affairs budget is dedicated to international activities, it’s important to know how to make the most of your current budget by leveraging existing resources. Seventy-seven percent of respondents indicated that international public affairs is integrated with their domestic public affairs function to some extent. A first step might be sharing FTEs across both segments to ensure better coordination and expanded human resources without additional budget outlay.

Strategize for the future.
Before expanding your function, you need a plan. You must ensure that your international public affairs goals align with business goals and that resources match key priorities. Here are three keys to consider when creating your plan:

  • Integration cannot be underemphasized: Develop a strategy to better integrate your company’s domestic and international public affairs efforts. If annual strategic planning processes are conducted together, you may find better efficiencies and ways of partnering with your domestic peers on key initiatives in foreign markets. More than two-thirds of SCPA respondents were able to identify staff within their company who are involved in both international and domestic public affairs activities, while 33 percent responded that staff from other corporate functions were also involved in public affairs activities. The more integrated domestic and international public affairs are, the easier it will be to ensure efficiencies. And by engaging business units in your work, you establish consistent messaging across markets, manage risk better and develop a more holistic issue management response system.
  • Ramp up resources slowly: Consider using contract lobbyists or consultants in key markets before making a full commitment with on-the-ground operations. Ninety three percent of SCPA respondents reported using contract services, and 40 percent reported an increase in the percentage of the public affairs budget allocated to such outsourcing. Contract help and consultants gives you more flexibility to pivot if priorities shift, while still giving you the ability to ramp up or ramp down your team quickly.
  • Engage leadership and stakeholders: Sixty percent of respondents described their company CEO’s engagement in international government relations activities as limited to nonexistent. Only 12 percent said their CEOs were “extensively” engaged. While their time is limited, their impact can be tremendous. Your senior leadership’s knowledge and power can move the dial significantly on major international issues and relationships.

Craft a compelling case for more international public affairs resources.
A 2011 McKinsey survey suggests that the economic impact of government on business in the coming years will increase, with almost half of the global respondents saying that managing external affairs is one of the top three priorities for their company’s CEO. You can leverage these statistics to:

  • Emphasize the importance of your function: Speak to the bottom-line impact you’ve recently made or cite case studies from peers and competitors that were affected by legislation or regulation. Public affairs impact can include positive or adverse changes to market access, freedom to operate, revenue losses or gains, competitive advantage — and yes, when “nothing happens,” that can be a victory, too. If you helped stop onerous policies from occurring or kept a story out of the international media, explain what could have happened if you hadn’t been involved.
  • Name your price: Almost 70 percent of SCPA respondents reported an increase in company spending on international public affairs, but insufficient financial resources was cited as one of the top four greatest challenges faced by those leading an international function. Insufficient staffing was the number-one greatest challenge, while complexities of global business operations and difficult political environments placed second and third, respectively. Know what you need in order to be successful before you make your case. Be prepared with budget estimates, staffing requirements and specific examples of how additional resources will benefit your function and the company as a whole. If you don’t know where to start, benchmark against your peers and leaders in the field to know what’s required to take your international public affairs function from good to great.

Nick Desarno
Director of Digital and Policy Communications
202.787.5971 | email