A recruiter’s perspective on the importance of public affairs…
Public affairs can reap great results for businesses – influencing the policy landscape for the better and boosting public profile and perception. However, one area in which its importance is often underestimated is its impact on the bottom line. In this article, consultant Luke Boobbyer argues that it is time more businesses recognised public affairs as not a cost centre, but a profit centre…
A public affairs strategy – that is, building meaningful relationships with government and other key influencers – is crucial for organisations wanting to influence public decision-makers.
Falling under the auspices of public affairs are campaigns affecting all aspects of public life, whether that’s alcohol retailers pushing for lowered duty on alcohol, animal charities campaigning to make microchipping dogs mandatory or – more recently – pharma companies trying to push for an interim deal with the EU to facilitate the passage of medicines between the Europe and the UK post-Brexit.
Many businesses and organisations still shy away from investing in this very specialised arm of communications. Yet there are lots of critical reasons to make it a key part of your strategy…
Trying to bring about change from the top down makes business sense
Whatever goal your business is trying to achieve, it often makes sense to try and bring about change from the top down rather than the bottom up. If, say, you’re a retailer potentially impacted by a tax increase on the sale of certain foodstuffs, isn’t it better to make the case against the government making that change in the first place, rather than trying to implement compensatory measures after the fact? Influencing government can help businesses prevent problems before they happen and create solutions when changes are implemented and is therefore a very effective use of budget in the long term. For example, removing regulatory barriers in place etc. that would enable a business to conduct what it’s trying to do more easily.
Brexit means it’s more important than ever
With the seemingly ever-moveable feast that is Brexit on the horizon, all businesses can expect change – whether that’s in areas such as trade, employment law, access to talent or goods, or just being affected by the fluctuations of the economy. With the regulatory landscape likely to see so many changes over the coming years, businesses can help maximise the chances of decisions being favourable to their organisation by building relationships with key stakeholders and making the case for regulations that will help, not hinder, how they operate.
It’s good PR
An informed, insightful, influential public affairs function won’t just maximise the chances of government making regulatory changes that work in your favour, it can also form a key part of your public relations strategy. Having influential stakeholders speak on your behalf can position your organisation as an expert and an advocate. Depending on the issues being discussed, this can also boost the public perception of your business as, for example, standing up for local economies or consumer rights. At the very least, this can be used to help build credibility with the media. Often, if you are successful in influencing change, your business can become a key component of the resulting media coverage too, something which can help to reassure and win over shareholders and investors.
If you’re not influencing change, you may fall victim to it
Many readers may remember Napster, the music-sharing site that went viral in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Though well-positioned for success as how the public consumed music evolved during this period, it experienced a drastic drop in users after a series of damaging copyright infringement cases and was more or less shut down by federal government. If only it had sought to influence government, rather than react to it, perhaps Napster could be occupying some of the highly lucrative space that services such as Spotify do now.
Compare this with electric car giant Tesla – another business perfectly positioned to take advantage of evolving technology. The business was actually kick-started by a loan funded through the Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing program signed by President Bush and via the Department of Energy and members of Congress. Since its inception, a close relationship with government has played a key part of its success story, with the business the recipient of billions in government subsidies and incentives, loans, environmental credits and tax breaks.
It can have a positive impact on public life
A healthy public affairs function can make a huge contribution – not just to an organisation’s effectiveness (and bottom line) but public life. The government and other public bodies can only make decisions based on the data and decisions that they are aware of. Usually, it is those operating ‘on the frontline’ who are best placed to be able to identify, influence and prepare for the changes in legislation.
Despite the often negative reputation of political lobbying, ensuring that decision makers are aware of all the issues before taking action can sometimes be a public service, with the potential to do everything from save jobs to improve health outcomes.
Whatever your business’ appetite for public affairs, one thing is clear: It is the businesses who work alongside governments that come out as breadwinners in the long term.