Public Affairs

public affairs mountains

How to Start a Public Affairs Program

Public affairs is generally referred to as the practice of maintaining relationships between corporations and politicians, governments and other key opinion leaders. It’s often called lobbying, and includes research, strategy and planning, and offering advice to leadership on policy development.

Large global companies like Uber, Royal Dutch Shell and The Boeing Company have teams of people working on these relationships in Washington, D.C. and at state and local levels across the country. They also have similar teams in Brussels to build and maintain relationships in Europe and in Beijing for relationships in China. 

In fact, sophisticated companies maintain good working relationships with their key stakeholders in every country where they do business.   

Many of these countries have specific rules around lobbying, and in countries like the U.S. and Canada, there is a mandatory registry for lobbyists to increase transparency.

Public affairs is a fast-growing industry and usually falls under public relations or corporate communications in a corporation’s organizational structure.

It is our opinion that public affairs is vital to corporate strategy, and can mean the difference between success and failure in a competitive business environment. 

Sophisticated companies maintain good working relationships with their key stakeholders in every country where they do business. 

Where are you at with your public affairs program?

Scenario 1

“We have a problem. We need a research grant to help us get our product to market. Who should we meet at local and state level? How do we get an appointment? What are their opinions of our business?” 

If you are asking any of these questions – it’s most often too late. 

Scenario 2

“We should meet the Minister of Innovation to keep her informed of the current situation. I can call and explain our challenge over the phone or meet them at a time convenient in the next few hours. They know our business and we know we have their support or at least they will hear us out before arriving at a decision.”

If this is the case, you likely have a robust stakeholder mapping process and are actively engaged in a Public affairs process.

Why a public affairs strategy is important

The process of transforming your stakeholder engagement process from reactive to proactive can have a huge impact on your business. It can literally mean the success or failure of a product, service or even the likelihood of manufacturing a product in your home state or country.

It can mean a policy decision that helps or hurts your business. 

The process of Stakeholder Mapping and Classification (SMC), along with a Stakeholder Engagement Plan (SEP), is often obvious to companies operating in challenging business environments and for those whose industries were deemed controversial. 

But what about companies that are in good shape, with little opposition?

Why engage stakeholders?

The common answer is to: 

  1. Reshape policy to operate successfully
  2. To explain your views on policies implemented by authorities and their impact 
  3. Create more practical and better legislation 

In my 20 years of experience in the field, I would add that public affairs also allows a corporation to: 

  • Build and maintain a strong reputation 
  • Find common ground with stakeholders 
  • Get a seat at the table to help influence policy decisions 
  • Grow the business

Don’t wait for a crisis

Your corporation’s stakeholder map and engagement plan should be ongoing, monitored, documented and intensified when needed for better outcomes. There is no better time to start planning.

The 5 Benefits and 10 Steps to Starting a Public Affairs Program.

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About public affairs expert Angela de Silva

public affairs program

Angela has more than 20 years of experience in strategic communications, public affairs, brand and marketing.

She is a specialist in crisis communications with industry experience in banking, finance and tobacco. Her expertise in stakeholder mapping and communication strategies has helped major corporations through challenging government disputes. For example, Angela helped a tobacco giant achieve its business objectives by lobbying for practical regulatory outcomes.

She also led a major bank’s communications and marketing team through unprecedented changes to its workforce, the digitization of services and a consolidation of its business.

Angela started her career as a journalist and was an on-air personality for a leading news channel during the civil conflict in Sri Lanka.

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