Strategic public affairs help CEOs to sleep at night

About the author

Heather is a key member of our assessor team. PhD, BSc, PG, RSA, CAM  

If there’s one thing that keeps chief executives awake at night, it is the threat of political action that fundamentally affects their ability to achieve an organisation’s strategic goals.

Politicians have the power to change the operating environment of most organisations – whether they are multinational corporate concerns, small-medium enterprises (SMEs), charities of all shapes and sizes, or public sector bodies.

A demand to appear before a parliamentary select committee takes even the mightiest executive out of their comfort zone. Demonstrating that self-regulation is more effective than legislation avoids imposition of additional red tape. Needing to negotiate the details of policy documents, understand the nuances of political ideologies, make effective submissions to White Papers, and provide a solid evidence base to guide a new law are all key reasons to employ professional public affairs support.

This is not simply a matter of tackling the tactical terrain of Westminster or Brussels, having the right contacts or knowing which buttons to push with friendly politicians. Today’s public affairs is a strategic matter as can be seen in the syllabus of the new CIPR Specialist Diploma (Public Affairs), which is offered by PR Academy.

This vocational qualification is taught and assessed at the same level as a postgraduate degree. It aims to develop specialist knowledge and expertise to support development of ethical public affairs strategies and plans. It is assessed by production of an executive report (and supporting analysis) that identifies and examines a practical case study situation or issue that can be addressed by a public affairs strategy.

Developing management capabilities in strategic public affairs is important for anyone who wishes to specialise in the discipline as a career, as well as those with experience in related disciplines such as public relations or marketing (gained in-house or a consultancy).

The role of public affairs in organisations and wider society is impacted by the dynamic nature of contemporary politics. This complex environment means it is vital for public affairs practitioners to be able to:

  • Analyse and evaluate political, economic, socio-cultural and technological factors with the potential to disrupt or advance organisational performance.
  • Gain critical insight into a full range of political stakeholders, influencers and networks.
  • Anticipate and assess risks, forecast the impact of issues, capitalise on opportunities, and address crisis situations.
  • Contribute towards leadership in corporate governance, integrated reporting, social responsibility, and reputation management.
  • Develop strategic responses that may guide organisational policies, encompass direct and indirect lobbying initiatives, activate public and media campaigns, and/or build effective coalitions.
  • Establish key performance indicators and SMART objectives.
  • Measure the effectiveness and strategic value of public affairs and the political capital it generates.
  • Articulate complex arguments and produce compelling proposals.
  • Operate within ethical frameworks and to the highest professional standards.
  • Reflect critically on personal performance and enhance professional capabilities.

Strategic public affairs couldn’t be further away from the image of lobbying as a murky business of brown envelopes, or a secretive ‘black art’ where who you know is more important that what you know. The recent demise of lobbying firm Bell Pottinger following its attempts to manipulate South African politics underlines the consequences of unethical practices. The collapse of Carillion speaks to the importance of transparency and accountability in political interactions.

In the 21st century, strategic public affairs practice has a well-deserved reputation for being intellectually challenging and well paid. But to achieve the respect of CEOs – and help them avoid sleepless nights – those working in public affairs need to prove their credentials.

The new CIPR Specialist Diploma (Public Affairs) qualification meets this need through a rigorous, yet practical, programme of professional development. PR Academy has developed an interactive online environment, alongside a schedule of webinars and face-to-face workshops, to support those studying the qualification as a blended learning course.

Find out more, and sign up for the next course starting on 23rd February 2018.