12 Tips for Successful Internal Communication for Public Affairs

 12 tips

 

  1. Stay close to business units: Although the public affairs function is often viewed as an entity unto itself, never forget that you are an integral part of strategic business operations. Being located in Brussels or Washington can easily make you ‘out of sight, out of mind’ if the business operations are located elsewhere. Consequently, for visibility reasons and to justify the case for your department’s value on an ongoing basis, you must meet regularly with operations managers, get their input and communicate your work’s impact on the company.
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  3. Educate your colleagues: Don’t assume that your colleagues in accounting, operations or marketing understand the work that you do. Instead, explain the basics of the political issues you cover, the impact of politics on your business and what the official organizational policy is on major regulatory issues. Whether it’s a brown-bag lunch or a formal training session, it helps you get buy-in. This, in turn, facilitates better two-way communication because your colleagues now know why you need their input.
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  5. Get senior management’s support: Your perspective on shaping business decisions will bring in an angle that may not have been considered strictly from a business point of view. When top executives understand the value public affairs brings to the overall business strategy, you and the function can only benefit. For example, when your CEO gives public credit to the public affairs team or builds ‘assistance to the public affairs team’ into managers’ bonus schemes, it can have a positive impact. In addition, you may find that senior management becomes more available to accompany you when meeting government officials, which would then give more credibility to your advocacy efforts.
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  7. Quantify your efforts: For business managers, numbers speak volumes. However broad the figures may be, earnings and loss potential can be valuable arguments. As long as you have a sound process for measuring business impact, you can justify your activities and convince others whether an issue is worth pursuing. Scorecards can be particularly helpful since they add further transparency and define what ‘winning’ and ‘success’ actually mean. When predicting outcomes, a best-case/worst-case scenario approach is also appreciated.
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  9. Establish clear lines of command: Chains of organizational command and channels of communication can affect activities like the sharing of political intelligence as well as requesting endorsement for a corporate position on a sensitive matter. Sort out your org chart before you need an urgent decision made.
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  11. Act as a project manager: When soliciting input from technical, scientific or business staff to formulate your position, set deadlines and create milestones just as a project manager would. Public affairs is often viewed differently from operational roles, but it is just as practical and outcome-driven as any other business function. One of the best ways to stay on top of things is to use customer relationship management (CRM) software to track activities and communications.
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  13. Clarify job titles: Whether your colleagues in the regional office have the title of ‘country manager,’ ‘director of external communications’ or ‘political risk manager,’ job descriptions may not match across the board, which can cause confusion. Clarify employees’ exact expected tasks and the wording of the job description. Creating a checklist of the issues you might need their input for is also useful.
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  15. Meet with your team at least twice a year: In spite of travel budgets being cut, if you can meet your global team at least twice a year to discuss strategy and emerging political and communication trends, exchange ideas, improve processes, and build the team, it pays off in terms of efficiency and cooperation.
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  17. Leverage external assets: Using a public affairs agency for monitoring, issue management or to run a campaign can add significant expertise and efficacy to your in-house efforts. Similarly, trade associations can expand your knowledge, open up sources of information and grow your networks. If you use these resources well, they can significantly boost your internal reputation without anyone getting jealous that you took credit for yourself.
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  19. Publish a newsletter: It’s hard to compete with the latest baseball or football scores (which most people get via Twitter in any case). Nevertheless, there is a strong argument to draft and send out regular updates via a newsletter or dedicated space on the corporate intranet. Once you do that, mention the issues you are working on, showcase your high-profile activities and outline legislative developments affecting the business.
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  21. Avoid false impressions: The size of the European or country office, the number of public affairs staff and your budget have a significant impact on how important your work is perceived internally. This is often false as your effectiveness depends on many other factors. Once you’re aware of the message this gives, work to change this false impression by showcasing success stories, legislative wins and other ‘outcomes.’
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  23. Create a task force: When an issue requires scientific, financial, operational and international input, establishing an ad hoc task force with an agreed-upon end date ensures that you tackle it from all of the necessary angles. By leading such a team, you are in a strong position to brief upper management on developments and be seen as a go-to resource when questions arise.
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