Public Affairs and corp comms: making them work in tandem in a policy town

April 4, 2012

Organisations, including agencies, often have separate public affairs and corporate communications functions in Brussels (not Fleishman-Hillard). It’s a tad peculiar, given that PA is a communications discipline, and that the comms piece is increasingly important: good PA must incorporate more elements of disciplines such as reputation management and branding than before, while the proliferation of channels means there are far more ways to reach policy-makers, and often in more markets. Combined, there’s no doubt that success isn’t easily attained with traditional PA tactics alone.

So why are the functions often still kept separate?

  • Culture. By and large, PA professionals tend to value knowledge (policy-based), while comms people think communications strategy and output (audiences, content, engagement, measurement etc.)
  • Comms people weren’t required back in the day: there were fewer target audiences and channels, even PA people could do it properly! These same PA people still rule the roost and are loath to change their ways.
  • Structurally, the fact that the disciplines were separate means separate silos developed. Hence the Brussels phenomenon where companies have their European HQs out by the airport and a PA office near the Parliament.

So what should organisations looking to assimilate their PA and corporate communications functions in a PA town do? As is often the case in this blog, there’s no definitive answer, but a series of thought starters:

  • The bleedin’ obvious: combine the corp comms and PA teams.
  • Bring in new blood to stir things up, especially senior corp comms talent.
  • Focus on avowed generalists who bridge the PA and corp comms gulf most comfortably.
  • Position the corp comms folk as thought leaders and have them lead a series of first-rate internal training sessions (PA folk are smug and will inherently think they’re more cerebral – this may help!)
  • When possible, make a corp comms specialist head of PA too…
  • Make it about more than corp comms and PA: build bridges with marcomms, even if they’re in a different country.
  • Do the boring stuff to support this: create processes e.g. monthly calls, annual meetings to exchange best practice (based on very clear templates and agendas to ensure relevance).
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