Public Affairs

Public Affairs – Franchising Thought Leadership and Developing Market Access

Public Affairs (PA) is an important strategic activity for professional societies and trade associations to gain market access and to strengthen their position in the market by triggering new demand. When it is well designed and deployed, a PA plan becomes indispensable for anticipating strategic trends, building and maintaining a strong reputation, influencing public policy and finding common grounds with key stakeholders. In a nutshell, an organization cannot successfully become a “thought leader” without using PA as a key ingredient in its strategy.

Although PA techniques are often considered similar for most regions in the world, global public affairs professionals recognize that differences in “style and substance” will remain whether you are active in Washington, Brussels, Beijing, or in any other capitals where governmental policies and decisions are shaping your business and professional environment.

For instance, the traditional, consensus-based approach to EU policy-making and lobbying will probably continue to contrast with the highly professionalized and more aggressive US-style for many years to come. Above all, political institutions in Brussels and Washington are different animals which require to be approached in quite distinct ways.

Nonetheless, these distinctive local features seem to be all influenced by the same global trends. Particularly relevant to regional and international associations are:

  • Managing the over-abundance of stakeholders, sources and forms of content, information and knowledge
  • Creating public consensus to promote sustainability and social responsibility in all economic and business fields.
  • Acknowledging the growing importance of stakeholder management as public decision-making processes which are constantly gaining in transparency
  • Endorse greater government intrusion and the trend to create more public private partnerships (PPPs)

In order to be or remain successful, associations need to develop a global understanding of the issues affecting the needs of their members. In a world of abundant information, the capacity to gather the key strategic intelligence (i.e. updated information + relevant recommendations) is the prerequisite for any association willing to be recognized as thought and knowledge leader

Although the sustainability challenges have to be met first and foremost by the policy-makers and the corporate world, associations have a critical role to play as well. First, important developments around sustainability in the professional or in the trade sector have to be monitored and part of the intelligence. Secondly, associations are best placed to find the right balance between what is realistic or not, and thus finding the right balance between a) incenting their members through sharing best practice and benchmarking while b) defending the interest of its members in front of policy-makers asking for unachievable goals.

This is only one reason why “openness” to stakeholder dialogue is something that any association should be prepared for. The typical approach to representation of members’ interests which consist in most cases of lobbying governmental officials and let them be the referees deciding what information to use is fading away.
Stakeholder management is not and should not be a reserved area for public officials. For more and more associations, it is becoming part of the key objectives (along intelligence gathering and advocacy work). Managing “issues” without managing the respective stakeholders makes less and less sense. The good news is that many approaches to successfully manage relationships with stakeholders already exist, and are constantly further developed to deal with the complexity of such situations.

European Union

United States

Public funding Commission tries to balance financing of corporates and NGOs The US government rarely funds NGOs
Political System The election of the European Parliament reflects mainly national interests as the elections are held on the national levels. Lack of knowledge about EU politics leads to election outcomes which reflect national interests. The US democratic system makes members of Congress seeking re-election particularly attentive to the voices coming from their constituencies.
Financial Support In the EU, the public sector supports the civil society in form of grants, state aids, subsidies and contracts. In the US election campaigns are routinely financed by corporations and thus play an important element in US politics
Transparency Among EU public affairs professionals there are several voluntary codes of conducts to be kept in mind when approaching EU officials eg. The one developed by the Society of European Affairs Professionals and the Public Affairs Practitioners. Lobbying in the US underlies several transparency requirements as stated in the Lobbying Disclosure Act
Diversity The EU has 27 Member States, which means that Public Affairs professionals need to take in to account that there are 23 official EU languages and (political) cultures when dealing with EU officials. In the US a less diversified approach can be taken

When observing how the world has evolved over the last decade, it is quite striking to see the free trade and market economies as well as the more centrally planned economies have made either progress but also mistakes, demonstrating that both of them need more to be balanced either by the existence of a public sphere or a private sphere. Whatever the final “name” may be, a large variety of public private partnerships (PPPs) will be created, mature and disappear as new vehicles to ensure economic and social progress. The associations prepared to follow such a trend and be key players for future PPPs (whatever their scope and objectives) will also be among the future though leaders.

Now if these trends are all global, capturing their essence (as strategic feed) will depend on association leadership ability to invest regionally or locally. Becoming a global player is a complex project. As often this is not quite an end in itself that will transform any association, but rather the road taken to achieve it.

Profiling the own association on other markets is a valuable task in order to increase ones reputation and market outreach. One example of gaining market access and strengthening ones position on that, but also on the “home” market could be the recognition of vocational training in Europe. For an American professional association obtaining recognition of their training courses in Europe could lead to a boost in reputation and lead to becoming the thought leader on the European Market. However, in order to obtain such recognition of training in the EU, a thorough understanding of the functioning of the EU, the relationship between its member states and the world of vocational training becomes a precondition when developing a successful PA strategy for market access.

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