In an era where government and politicians act on a hair trigger, and where small campaigns, around localised issues can jump from the twitter sphere to the President or PM’s office in record time, what lessons can business learn to best engage with government, politicians and the political process?
Traditional corporate affairs and government engagement was framed around a “media cycle”, where senior leaders undertook media training, organisations would issue statements and focus would be on the message. When the President of the US has millions of followers on twitter, and the Australian Foreign Minister tweets using emoji’s – is media training, message framing and issuing a statement relevant in your engagement with government?
Increasingly engagement with government is taking on an “intertwinement” approach, where you need to be managing your community stakeholders, environment stakeholders, shareholder activist, backbenchers and government departments simultaneously – all of a sudden a heat map doesn’t apply to just one issue, but thirty of forty different potential issues, across Political, Economic, Social and Technological stakeholders. How you respond can mean the difference between a permanently tarnished reputation and a profitable business opportunity.
Historically Corporate Affairs functions have emerged out of a media, or communications frame, often with a specialist focus on PR. Yet with reputation being front and centre for boards, and political, divestment and activist attacks becoming more common, what is needed for 2017 is different to the corporate affairs function of the past. Emerging ideas such as the concept of “social license” are already shifting perceptions around corporate affairs – going beyond the production of a few corporate social responsibility pages for the annual report, to a function with the potential to seriously impact competitive advantage and corporate value.
Best practice is also seeing the function get closer to the CEO and the board, as both begin to take more account of the value of reputation to the relationship with customers, employees, shareholders and regulators. Along with an overall elevation in the status of corporate affairs, a new approach to government relations is also required.
When unexpected candidate can be elected, Brexit can happen and minor parties consistently poll up to 1/3 of the primary vote in Australia, government relations needs to evolve. New approaches are emerging to working with government, as opposed to “selling to” or “influencing” government.
Genuine partnership with government require an improved understanding of both politics and policy and what that means for your business. Whether its seeking an outsourcing opportunity, pushing for regulatory change, or seeking approval for a proposition, governments want to see both risk and reward shared. And these risks and rewards extend to reputational and public affairs risk. There are dangers for organisations that choose corporate affairs and government relations practices which worked in the 20th century. Given this, building your own capabilities, at board and management levels is critical, anything less is fast becoming a high risk, volatile and expensive strategy.