The ROI of Global Public Affairs: What, How and Why

22 Jul, 2016

Defining and demonstrating the value of global public affairs tends to be a frustrating topic for those working in the field. In order to communicate the value of the function effectively to management and internal stakeholders, it’s important to examine the “what,” “how” and “why” of ROI in the context of global public affairs.

The ROI of global public affairs can sometimes be hard to quantify, as often the number of meetings held with legislators, for example, does not necessarily reflect the result or the value those meetings bring. WHAT should be communicated to internal stakeholders are the public affairs-specific activities that often end up overlooked by other units of the company. These activities include, but are not limited to:

  • The shaping of public policy;
  • Protecting a company’s reputation;
  • Engaging with external stakeholders who may have an impact on the business’s ability to operate;
  • Recognizing emerging threats or opportunities; and
  • Managing issues that affect public perception and the company’s competitive position among key stakeholders.

HOW can your function achieve this?

  1. Integrate: Public affairs must be treated as an essential part of any business function’s problem-solving process. In fact, public affairs should be seen as a business function. In order to achieve this, you must first understand the business’s main goals and priorities. Spending time with business leaders will allow your team to not only translate these needs into specific public affairs actions, but also to create goodwill and establish you as a strategic partner instead of a crisis manager. Determine how public affairs relates to the company’s overall business strategy and which activities bring the most value, then focus efforts accordingly.
  2. Communicate: While written reports, emails and newsletters are often appropriate ways to provide updates on broad issues, the importance of in-person communication cannot be stressed enough. An email can be ignored: a voice in the room automatically becomes a part of the decision-making process. Don’t merely ask for ideas. Suggest areas and issues that the company should be focusing on. Ask for feedback, provide perspective and establish a dialogue. If in-person communication is not possible, identify an ally within the business function to be your point of contact on a regular basis. Not only can they speak on your behalf, but they can help you better understand what value looks like from the business executive’s perspective.
  3. Demonstrate: Be specific, and demonstrate that you help the company in terms of its specific goals and objectives; which actions can make these goals a reality; key stakeholders for these actions (e.g., legislators, NGO’s, community leaders); and the qualitative and quantitative deliverables.

Once you evaluate these factors, you will be better positioned to demonstrate their impact. While it’s not always possible to quantify the effect of your work (e.g., change in taxes, size of new market accessed), qualitative change (e.g., change in legislation language, shift in decision-making timeline) should not be dismissed. Furthermore, the importance of something not happening is often just as significant as something that does happen — monetary loss avoided, market value preserved and favorable business conditions maintained, to name just a few.

To prove the value of public affairs to the business, you must not only show what it is that you do on a day-to-day basis, but also WHY you do it. Only when you are able to confidently demonstrate the “why” behind every public affairs action will you gain support from key internal stakeholders and cement the public affairs function’s position as an essential and respected part of your company’s operations.