Why it is better that public affairs is public
Amidst the continuing discussions over transparency here in Brussels, a blog entry on the advocacy activities of eBay on the European Parliament Blog reminds us that whatever position an organisation advocates towards policymakers, they should be prepared for it to become public.
Brussels is, so the cliche goes, a small town. You’d be amazed how willing people are to talk about who is saying what on any given issue. Its part of the unwritten rules of the game. And that goes for institutional actors as well as lobbyists (consultants, corporates, trade associations, NGOs et al). The position paper that you just emailed to the MEP’s office could be forwarded to anyone at the touch of a button, more than that it probably will be.
As such, it is not just an organisation’s lawyers who should be checking what you write in your position paper. The public affairs team should also ensure that whatever is advocated fits in with corporate messages and the core values of the organisation. Such an approach seems like common sense, but in our experience is not always followed when an organisation’s bottom line is at stake.
Such an approach also makes a lot of sense in terms of ensuring that an organisation’s advocacy is effective. Decision-makers in Brussels need information and are happy to listen as long as you have something to say that is relevant to them and what they are trying to achieve. The result of Brussels openness, despite what some may say, is better legislation and a vibrant public affairs culture that stresses professionalism rather than personal contacts.
In such a system, what you say, how it resonates with policymakers’ objectives and when you say it are going to play a large role in how successful you are in persuading people. But underpinning this is how credible you are as an organisation in making that case. How much the decision-maker sees you as authoritative on the issue and how far your position echoes what they think you stand for are therefore important factors in how likely you are to be believed.
We think many organisations are getting this, as we have seen many more investing time in building their reputation with decision-makers in recent years. It is for a large part about ensuring that Corporate Communications and PA work together hand in glove. They are after all both communications functions. Such investments are sometimes difficult to justify internally, but PA functions in enlightened companies seem to be winning the argument.
One example of this is Sun Microsystems, an open source company that takes its approach to business over to how it communicates its stance on policy issues. You can find their policy positions on their website. Other examples that we have come across are consumer goods manufacturer P&G and of course Google’s (US focused) Public Policy blog.
Now there’s transparency at work.
February 12, 2008 | 11:12 PM
[...] The new book is timely for two reasons. Firstly, as homework for own Maria Laptev who takes on Bill Newton-Dunn MEP, Jeremy Rand (Council) and Sylvain Giraud (Commission) in a quiz on the intricacies of the Lisbon Treaty on 5 March at the European Centre for Public Affairs annual event. Secondly, given Stubb’s current role in the EP’s report on transparency, there are those of us who may be interested to see whether the book reflects a full understanding of how public affairs really works in Brussels. [...]
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[...] enlightened companies are increasingly joined up in their thinking (see our post on this), there are those who still believe public affairs is just good old one-on-one meetings and only [...]