January 21, 2016
Digital and social media can make public affairs more effective. But not always in the same way: depending on the environment in which an organisation operates, and its goals and challenges, strategies should differ.
Broadly, there are 3 levels of digital and social media applied to public affairs:
- Supporting day-to-day public affairs
- Digital as a campaign tool
- Digital and internal communications
Supporting day-to-day public affairs
In PR-speak, the 3 “core deliverables” of the PA professional are:
- Providing intelligence (and analysis)
- Helping deliver a message to policymakers (directly or indirectly)
- Building relationships with said policymakers and others (civil servants, media, activists etc.)
Digital and social media can support each element e.g. more efficient intelligence gathering using online tools; delivering a message via web content and search; stakeholder engagement via social networks, for instance.
This is the nuts and bolts of digital public affairs, applicable in varying degrees to all public affairs functions and probably covers 90% of all digital PA work. It is equally relevant to organisations trying to operate under the radar, given that they are on the “wrong side of the public debate” or generally have a behind-the-scenes culture (many B2B companies) although they are less likely to engage on social networks.
Digital as a campaign tool
This is a step up from day to day support. It involves utilising digital and social media tools to mobilise supportive constituencies and generate or leverage support for a policy position. It can be done via broader use of social media and content, and online petitions, for instance. NGO campaigns, like Greenpeace’s new Detox Outdoor initiative, or a number of campaigns on sites like 38 Degrees or Avaaz, showcase digital as a campaign tool for policy outcomes.
Admittedly, most corporates do not utilise digital as a campaign tool in this way. They may be on the “wrong side of the public debate” and have no major constituencies to mobilise (e.g. banks and energy companies, say). Or the PA function may be legal/government relations centric and removed from other marketing and communications functions more adept at running campaigns of this nature.
Digital and internal communications
An oft-heard lament in corporate PA is that the function is not well understood by the business, and is as a result seen as an irrelevant cost centre and poorly funded. Digital and social media can’t magically fix this, clearly. PA professionals need to be more adept at quantifying the value of their activities e.g. how much is mitigating policy X really worth in € terms? However, improved, jargon-free internal communications by PA professionals, including internal online content strategies and better use of enterprise social networks, certainly can’t hurt.
I’ve previously summarised the tactics in a pretty(ish) visual: the digital public affairs wheel.
January 6, 2016
In my last post, I considered 2 levels of campaigning in public affairs:
- Campaigning as a necessity when an issue is politicised and on the public radar
- Campaigning on a non-politicised issue to gain an early advantage
As ever, I was guilty of over-simplifying. I implied that an organisation that campaigns as a necessity due to issue politicisation is on the wrong side of the public debate and needs to reframe it (e.g. sugar or GMO, say). And that an organisation that campaigns to gain an advantage on a non-politicised issue will invariably be on the right side of the public debate (e.g. fish discards).
There are further nuances to consider:
- An organisation that campaigns on an issue that is heavily politicised can clearly also be on the “right” side of the public debate (e.g. anti-fracking campaigners; indeed, most activists).
- An organisation that seeks to gain an advantage on a non-politicised issue will not necessarily be on the right side of the public debate (once debate ensues). Indeed, forward-thinking organisations that know they’ll face a backlash should seek to gain an advantage by framing their issue before it is on the radar.
In summary, a checklist for anyone considering PA campaigning:
Organisations scoring 2 or 3 in the left-hand column will likely have to run a resource-intensive, multi-market, multi-discipline campaign. Conversely, with 2 or 3 in the right hand column, a smaller, single constituency campaign might work. It’s never easy though.
December 5, 2015
A public affairs campaign revolves around a single, clear policy goal. The goal can be defined in one sentence. It’s channel agnostic and has a visual identity. It has an end-date. And it seeks to build and/or showcase some form of public support (sometimes broad, often narrow). Keep me Posted is a PA campaign. As is Save the Internet.
PA professionals don’t always need to campaign. In Brussels at least, the quality of technical information provided to facilitate policy-making remains the most important determinant of interest group success on most issues. Frankly, PA professionals should avoid campaigning if possible. It’s time intensive, expensive and bloody difficult.
Enter the two levels:
- If an issue is highly politicised (nuclear, sugar or GMOs, to cite obvious examples), campaigning is a pre-requisite because policy is broadly dictated by public sentiment. However useful the technical input provided.
- If an issue is not politicised but an organisation could benefit were it to be so (Keep me Posted, for instance). Competent campaigning will put an organisation on the radar and increase the likelihood of a win.
There is a vast difference between the two levels.
On highly politicised issues, organisations are potentially up against pre-existing beliefs held by millions of people. Shifting the pin will likely require a 7-figure, multi-year and multi-market investment. Culture and business practice change may be needed before campaigning even begins. And the campaign cannot be PA driven: a broad marketing-communications line-up is required.
On level 2 issues, an organisation can start much smaller because there is no well-known, existing frame to counter. Starting afresh means headway can already be made by building a modest community of support in a single constituency and channelling it via lobbying.
Unpopular industries continue to run campaigns either trying to affect public sentiment on the cheap or seeking to influence policy without channelling some form of public support, however narrow. They should probably not bother.