In the second part of the article, we will present you with the internal communication difficulties that Public Affairs experts face in their work, according to a study conducted by FTI Consulting, as well as the aspects they would like to improve in 2024.
In general, a job in Public Affairs involves monitoring, analyzing, managing, and mitigating regulatory and political risks, as well as identifying strategic opportunities for the company. The challenges faced by Public Affairs teams primarily pertain to their internal responsibilities. Many teams in this field struggle to demonstrate the value of their impact within the organization to which they belong.
Most company executives can be expected to focus on matters such as product development, revenue generation, logistics, and marketing – commercial, operations-driven workstreams with clear KPIs and outputs. Public Affairs professionals work to assess information, develop relationships and generate influence for the company, all in order to maintain the social right of their company to operate, its ability to expand, and a favorable regulatory environment –
workstreams which, though crucial, are less tangible to the rest of the organization. As a result, it can be easy for other employees – and business leaders – to underrate their contributions.
Did you know?
40% of Public Affairs professionals believe the biggest challenge they face is the lack of understanding senior corporate leaders have for their work.
1 in 4 Public Affairs professionals feels that they do not have clear key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure their performance.
56% said that they expected to see more priority put onto improving the recognition of PA work by other functions and the CEO over the next 12 months.
The value the Public Affairs team bring to the organization
Harvard Business Review estimates that 70% to 80% of the market value held by companies comes from hard-to-assess intangible assets such as brand equity, intellectual capital in the form of employees, and goodwill. These are areas of business value that fall directly within the remit of Public Affairs. Positive perceptions of the company bring it more customers, employees, and opportunities for collaboration with external stakeholders. Positive perceptions enable companies to form more relationships, develop more influence, and collect more information on the world around them.
Political and economic pressures also have a significant impact on how corporations conduct their business, which is why anticipating and influencing strategic environments are key to a healthy company’s development. On the other hand, the speed and diversity of today’s communication channels demand a rapid and efficient response to changes and crises. Public Affairs teams provide invaluable benefits to the organizations they work in by anticipating, adapting to, and responding rapidly to regulatory changes.
Public Affairs teams are struggling to communicate their value. This hinders their internal influence.
Despite the evident benefits that Public Affairs teams provide, many of them face challenges in communicating their value within the organization. 40% of PA experts who participated in this survey felt that their work was not understood by management. Moreover, 32% of respondents believed that their biggest internal challenge is garnering support from other stakeholders to achieve Public Affairs objectives and implement their business strategy.
Leaders in this field are interested in reducing this lack of recognition. When asked to list the top activities for their function in the next 12 months, 56% expected to see an improvement in the recognition of Public Affairs work by other functions in the company and by the CEO.
Access to internal decision-makers is another challenge for Public Affairs teams.
Part of communicating value involves having adequate access to internal decision-makers. It is clear that the executives who participated in FTI Consulting survey appreciate access to the “C-suite” level for their Public Affairs teams, but in many cases, they felt that this was lacking. When asked about the ideal reporting lines for their Public Affairs function to thrive, the majority (52%) said they would like to report directly to the CEO. Influence within the Board of Directors was also considered important, with nearly 3 in 10 respondents (29%) stating that they would need this.
There is a disconnect between the desire to have high-level access and the current reality. Only 3 out of 10 Public Affairs professionals reported having direct access to the CEO, while only 12% said they report directly to the Board of Directors. In fact, most Public Affairs teams find that their influence is intermediated by other stakeholders. Almost 1 in 4 executives (23%) said that their function reports to the Corporation, and 26% reported either to the General Counsel or a diverse mix of senior executives such as the CFO and Investor Relations. 6% reported to either the “sustainability” team or “marketing.”
Direct, unmediated access to decision-makers is an important element in determining their ability to exert influence within their organizations. Additionally, this aspect speaks to the overall health of the organization – when decision-makers have direct channels for advice from Public Affairs teams, they are better prepared to make strategic decisions.
What Public Affairs experts would like to improve in 2024
Public Affairs teams have a series of improvements to make in order to develop the ability to work effectively with other functions. However, leaders in the field of PA have also identified a series of gaps in their teams. Significantly, in many cases, they felt that their Public Affairs teams do not have the necessary competence to fulfill their core roles in developing influence and monitoring information.
Alarmingly, a quarter of respondents felt that they faced difficulties in the research and analysis necessary to understand, review, and distill political and legislative developments. Nearly 3 in 10 (28%) respondents felt that their team lacks the ability to consistently monitor political and legislative developments, and another 28% were concerned that their team did not have the ability to design and implement effective multi-stakeholder campaigns.
These aspects could be improved with the help of a virtual assistant, an expert in public policy, capable of delivering information from various areas of interest, such as health, finance, energy, environment, digital, in real-time. Behind this virtual assistant is the work of eight experienced legislative monitoring experts. You can find out how to automate research and legislative monitoring with just one click here.
Collaboration is essential for the success of PA teams.
Almost 1 in 3 (32%) Public Affairs leaders believe that their teams lack the ability to work efficiently with representatives from other functions.
92% identified effective collaboration with other functions as a priority when evaluating personnel-related priorities for their company’s Public Affairs function in the next year.
82% of Public Affairs leaders stated that improving collaboration will be a priority in the next year.
Internal collaboration generates positive impact.
Improving metrics and general appreciation of their work is only one element in creating an effective Public Affairs team. To be successful, PA professionals must also be able to collaborate with other teams within their firm, and to do so in ways that help achieve business goals. As the interface between the company and external stakeholders like governments and regulators, they must be able to effectively inform the actions of their colleagues, and – where necessary – advise these colleagues around which activities to engage in based on regulatory and political priorities. To do this, they must have well-developed and collaborative relationships. Failure to have these relationships exposes the company to risk.
In conclusion, the Public Affairs function of 2023 faces a diverse set of challenges. Political and regulatory developments pose significant risks, economic conditions pose threats to profits and customers, and rapid technological change continues to reorder the environments in which companies operate.
To succeed in this complex and ever-changing landscape, PA professionals need a deep understanding of the political, social, and economic factors that affect their organizations. Furthermore, to manage this broad set of responsibilities and maximize their strategic influence within their company, Public Affairs teams need to ensure that they equip themselves with the tools, partnerships, and internal collaborations that will enable them to drive the desired changes and increase their influence both internally and externally.