7 Jan 2015:
Five trends in 2015 that will change public affairs
Written By: Wayne Burns Straight out of the starting blocks for 2015, we are sharing five trends the Centre has identified will be writ large in the corporate public affairs management function in 2015, and that we recommend you watch.
These trends will affect how the public affairs function is managed, and how you and your colleagues work within it. We have identified them via our work with heads of the public affairs function in corporations globally, as well as through work with our international affiliates such as the Public Affairs Council (Washington DC).
We list them here in no particular order.
1. Convergence of internal and external communications
Signs that separate internal and external communications disciplines in large organisations were converging emerged in Australia and Asia in 2012. Deliberate management of communications practitioners to develop strategy and execute across both external and internal stakeholder communications channels is now a trend.
The management rationale for practitioners to work across internal and external channels and stakeholders is not budgetary. It is responding to or anticipating how internal and external stakeholders are using social media and communication channels convergence; as well as pursuing flexibility in communications practitioners being able to ply their trade where the corporation most needs them – some days focusing on external communications, and at other times on internal communications.
The Commonwealth Bank, Telstra and Johnson & Johnson are among corporations managing this discipline convergence.
2. More cooperation with marketing departments
It used to be the case in large corporations (and still is in some) that relations between corporate public affairs and the marketing department resembled those between Russia and the Ukraine.
In recent years, the ‘turf’ contested between these management functions in many large organisations (B2C, B2B and B2G) has receded: managing corporate reputation across online channels demands significantly more public affairs/marketing coordination and cooperation.
As it is bumped and kicked around the social media echo chamber, corporate brand and reputation stewarded by public affairs has never been more valuable, nor more vulnerable.
Public affairs teams have found that issues management and reputation stewardship is more effective when there is a clear line of sight to marketing activity and campaigns (including tone of online marketing communications and product/service PR), especially given customers and other stakeholders are being engaged by these separate management functions across some of the same (social media) channels, in real time.
Many public affairs practitioners have realised also that it can be very handy to spend the marketing department’s social media and market research budgets to meet their own objectives.
3. Social media for fast thinking
It was only in 2006 that social media was talked about as ‘New Media’. In 2015, even corporations once allergic to engaging with social media (a fad, a waste of time, too risky) are understanding that it is influencing stakeholder perceptions and behaviour.
In 2015 we will see more corporations embrace social media as a clutch of channels to communicate with and engage stakeholders with 'fast' thinking – seeking to influence the cycle of stakeholder first impressions and emotional reactions to manage issues and the corporate reputation continuum.
Best practice corporate communications via social media will be underpinned by engagement and research to understand how to talk to different stakeholders in a manner and through channels they most prefer (less guess work). This will be another year in which we will be spectators of the drawn out death of push communications and traditional PR.
During the next few years, watch also for innovation in how corporate public affairs functions engage stakeholders with ‘slow’ thinking – balanced consideration and discourse of issues, policy, values and advocacy beyond the average single issue social media attention span of six seconds or 140 characters.
4. The staple of stakeholder research
Still viewed by some organisations as exotic or a nice to have, socio-political stakeholder attributes and attitudes research underpinning public affairs strategy is not only best practice, but in 2015 and ensuing years will become common practice.
It looks as if 2015 could be the tipping point for stakeholder attributes and perceptions research to be de rigueur when developing public affairs strategy, and for testing and understanding progress and impact of the strategy.
5. A new 'Common Market'
The ‘local’ labour market for mid-level and senior Australian corporate public affairs practitioners over the past five years has seen Perth and Brisbane emerge to compete seriously with Sydney and Melbourne for available talent.
The expansion of the ‘local’ market for Australian-based corporate public affairs talent will continue apace in 2015 to include Shanghai, Singapore, Jakarta, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Beijing and Guangzhou – a new Asia Pacific ‘Common Market’ for corporate public affairs capability.
Careers in Asia have always been available for good Australian corporate public affairs practitioners looking to work there. Since about 2011, organisations have also come here looking for public affairs talent.
Based on demand from Asia since 2011, as well as our work with corporations with regional or global headquarters there, 2015 could be the year in which many practitioners see and feel they are part of a local labour market that does not end at Australia’s borders.
Being part of the Asia Pacific market for public affairs talent poses challenges for heads of function based in Australia to attract and retain good talent onshore; but presents opportunities for Australian practitioners to work in Asia in the world’s most exciting economic engine rooms.