Rapidly advancing technology, spurred by COVID-19 and a renewed collective consciousness regarding sustainability, has forever changed how governments, NGOs and businesses collaborate. As companies continue to expand operations, supply chains, and environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals beyond traditional borders, it is crucial to think strategically about how corporate public affairs initiatives and partnerships are designed and received across nations and regions.
The cornerstones of public affairs have evolved from their roots in traditional communications, advertising and grassroots activism to being far more interdisciplinary, where the consideration of legal, political and socio-economic complexities shape global programmatic design and implementation.
With this evolution comes a need for self-reflection and evaluation to ensure your public affairs campaigns remain relevant and meaningful.
Adaptability, purpose, and impact have become the new competitive advantages for companies that are looking to build successful global public affairs campaigns, underpinned by cultural competencies and understanding of social nuance.
The global public affairs agencies, departments, and practitioners who best understand this shift will be the ones who create the most successful campaigns and create the most value for stakeholders and society in the long-term.
While technology has been a major driving force in inextricably linking our world, it has also created challenges for external affairs professionals trying to reach stakeholders and audiences.
Digital communication technologies have made information sharing instantaneous across markets and geographies but have created greater opportunities for individuals to insulate themselves from differing viewpoints or messages. Self-publishing tools have made it easier for new opinions and ideas to be shared, but have also made it harder to decipher the credibility of source data or information. Demographic and psychographic data capture has created openings for incredibly precise microtargeting, but also opened the door to privacy and property ownership concerns or regulatory frameworks that differ from country to country.
As legacy forms of communication increasingly are challenged by new methods and tools, entirely new strategies for engagement and advocacy are needed to break through the noise. How public affairs strategies adapt to this rapidly and continuously changing communications landscape matters.
Movements and campaigns, now more than ever, need to be driven by purpose and rooted in action.
There is a growing desire among the world’s youth to support companies and products that share their values for sustainability, social equity, human rights and ethical sourcing. And along with this desire for purpose-driven consumption is an increase in representation. By 2025 close to 75% of the workforce will be comprised of millennials and younger generations. We have already seen this reorientation of values taking root worldwide, and have seen the sustainably-driven public affairs campaigns looking to take advantage of this sea change (pun depressingly intended).
It’s no surprise that the largest delegation at COP26 was no single country, but the fossil fuel industry lobby looking to align themselves with these value-driven conversations. The good news is that while our world’s youth matures into professional demographic significance, their unprecedented access to knowledge and information provides them with an even greater ability to understand corporate initiatives, and to decipher between promise and delivery.
Public affairs professionals must ensure initiatives are focused on impact.
Specific metrics or indicators to evaluate success and transparent performance data disclosures are the “walk” behind the “talk,” and can transform a PR campaign into a tangible force for good. Creating these kinds of measurable public affairs programs along with relevant milestones or roadmaps that demonstrate year-over-year progress towards goals is necessary for building trust.
How industries step up will shape how they are perceived for generations to come. Companies will undoubtedly benefit from prioritizing long-term preservation of our world over short-term profits, but failure to outline specific metrics on the minimization of human and environmental impacts will cause public affairs initiatives to fall flat and corporate reputations to suffer the consequences.
While globalization continues to shrink our world, corporate external affairs and public relations departments will have an outsized role to play in helping their organizations to build strong and sustainable coalitions, culturally-relevant communications and advocacy campaigns, and purposeful ESG initiatives that meaningfully address our world’s greatest challenges.
Through the creation of innovative and comprehensive public affairs campaigns, new audiences can be reached, new ideas can take root in meaningful ways. New movements can be inspired, and new coalitions can be built. This collective responsibility to build a better world as it shrinks around us will be the defining endeavor of our lifetime, and how corporate public affairs departments and professionals rise to the challenge will define their social and corporate success for decades to come.
Rebecca Cowle is a vice president in the public affairs & crisis practice of BCW and a master’s student at The George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs.