Traditional approaches previously undertaken by companies and organisations are being challenged and somewhere we need to learn to work as integrated teams. And this means our role as reputation managers needs to reflect knowledge within each of our strategies. In this episode of Mrigashira, Charu Raizada speaks to Rahul Sharma, Senior Director & Division Head (Public Affairs &Advocacy) with Genesis BCW.
Do you think government affairs and corporate communication requires far greater collaboration within organisations today?
Over the last decade, with the explosion in the platforms that provide information to citizens, as well as drive dialogue on host of issues, any organisation today needs to look at multi stakeholder engagement, being at the core of it’s not just corporate reputation, but also its issues surrounding public policy. That’s something that has changed and today there are quite a few organisations who understand the importance of it. Earlier, most of the government relations functions typically would be driving the issues on policy, and most of it was behind closed doors. But one big change that we have seen is that over the years, the government has also become much more open in its conversation. And because those issues are being discussed at various forums, you cannot have an approach or a program where what you are communicating externally to wider audiences is different. They are also interested in knowing your position on those issues. So in that sense the government relations, as well as the corporate communications department need to work much more closely together than ever before.
As the lines blur between PR and advocacy, how can organisations build an integrated approach, merging both traditional and modern ways of both policy advocacy and building corporate reputation?
Collaboration between the two largely needs to start right from the beginning, where you are identifying the priorities for a business both from a business standpoint, reputation standpoint, as well as a policy standpoint, because all these three positions are inter-linked. In addition, if you are a multinational corporation, which is operating in multiple geographies, you cannot have different positions in different geographies. So, you can ensure that your organisation is being seen as authentic and credible only through a closer collaboration.
You can build that by developing plans, and also making sure that both the departments are in sync with developments. For instance, when you are looking at any change, there are pathways to a particular change. So, now when you are moving from your stated goal, then there will be a process pathway and as part of that, government relations team can drive the agenda and the corporate communication teams can supplement the narrative.
Now, there are two important things which are necessary for this. The first is that today, there is an information overload. It’s not just about what you understand from the meetings you may have with 1, 2, 3, 4 stakeholders, but it’s also about what is the position of various people. So, there is information, there are viewpoints, and the ability to decode that information in viewpoint. And one of the most important determinants is that you are not just looking at what is the popular view as that may be heavily skewed in one direction. Therefore, if you are not digging deep enough, you will not get the other point of view.
The other part of this closer collaboration is an understanding that both sides need to develop. For instance, when you are looking at communications, the understanding of policies and regulations is required. Else, how will you communicate that to the wider audiences, and some of it is not just top level, but actually going through some of those regulations in detail and thinking about how does it impact the business. For the government relations, the aspect to look at is – how can I use some of those narratives, as well as how can I communicate more effectively. Let me tell you, even if we look at the governments across the world, they understand the importance communication plays for public policies. So, in that sense these are the some of the prerequisites I would say of building a closer collaboration between the two departments, towards the objectives of the organisation.
India still needs to catch up when it comes to building campaign architects, which are completely backed by data. What can we do to change that?
When I look at the public affairs space in the last 10 years, there have been some significant changes and part of it is that you see a greater share of not just the companies, but also say the think tanks, which are working in the area. Some of the new age digital platforms are also driving far deeper discourse. So how do you build that knowledge and insight? I think it requires a specialist, who has the understanding in public policy, in law, infields such as economics, behavioral sciences. So, I think understanding of these domains is something that is beneficial because that’s the foundation on which you are going to communicate.
The second part is, there is a need for even the senior professionals in the communications space to invest in understanding and building that knowledge. So, if you look at the kind of discourse that is happening today, you have to read and read and read, and that will be in big demand, because otherwise, as senior professionals, how will you mentor the younger professionals? On the government relations side again, it is important to understand the discourse that is happening on different platforms. And I just want to add one more point that somewhere it is important that the campaign approach is needed more so for any organisation today. Whether you are a government organisation, or a private sector organisation, or you are a multinational or a non-profit – what’s very important in all of this is authentic communication. Let us not forget that each stakeholder has a role in that process, and you have to find that credible and authentic a partner.
Even governments recognise the need for knowledge and that is why they are looking at ideas and knowledge and evidence from different stakeholders around the point they make. So, I would say that the dialogue is definitely becoming richer and you will need more knowledge and insights, because that’s the only way it can create public policies that are for the larger good and for larger number of people.
How would you guide today’s communicators to upskill, to design strategies and campaigns to reflect the changing expectations of stakeholders?
I will say three things. First is to read. Whether you read an e-paper, or the physical formof the paper, or you subscribe to sectoral magazines, reading is very necessary. And that is also necessary because that gives us insights and rationale to why something becomes a front page headline or why something is inside and all of that. So, I think reading is absolute, absolute essential.
The second thing is understanding the communications landscape. There are different platforms which are available. For instance, if I have to put my point of view forward, do I look at a business daily or a general newspaper or a digital platform or a sectoral magazine; within that what would be the right combination, because the universe has expanded.
The third thing is picking up one or two areas of interest and developing a very strong understanding of that sector. This is something that will hold especially the younger professionals in good stead as they move along.