FH Success in EPACA's John Houston competition

Every year, EPACA (the European Public Affairs Consultancies Association), holds the John Houston essay competition for young Public Affairs professionals as part of an initiative to encourage them to share their experiences and ideas while developing their original thought and writing talent. This year, FleishmanHillard, was very proud to see several of our younger members put themselves forward for this contest with a variety of interesting pieces and perspectives as they addressed the given topic –“The Impact of Digitalisation on Public Affairs” – in 300 words or less.

And this collective investment of time and energy has come good. One of our research executives for the Digital, Social and Creative team, Laurence Childs, was fortunate enough to be awarded second place in the competition. This achievement came with the further honour of sitting on a panel at the EPACA AGM lunch, on Thursday 8th March, where he and his fellow finalists were asked to discuss the topic they had covered.

After an interesting discussion moderated by Lisette Tiddens-Engwirda, the general consensus was that while digital would never entirely replace face-to-face and research practices in public affairs, it was nevertheless an incredible addition to our industry. Digitalisation should not be seen as a replacement or a threat but rather a tool which we can and should adopt to increase our impacts beyond what can be achieved in-person.

We would once again like to congratulate Laurence for doing so well and thank him for representing the company to such a high standard. You can find Laurence’s full entry below:

The Impact of Digitalisation on Public Affairs

To my mind, public affairs has always been about audience. About speaking, not just to the most people but the right people; engaging them with content and issues relevant to them. As society ‘goes digital’, the Public Affairs community must first and foremost keep pace with its audiences.

Digital tools allow for accuracy in targeting like never before. Incorporating online data analysis enables identification of and contact with key groups. Feedback on ‘who clicked what’ or ‘which posts were popular’ can be gathered easily and concisely.

However, the main impacts go beyond just the software benefits. A key component of digital is the interactive side. The firm-audience relationship now flows far more fluidly, in both directions. It offers new opportunities to connect personally with the public.

The price paid for these advantages is the accompanying scrutiny Public Affairs output will increasingly receive. Audiences now expect personalisation, businesses are expected to keep up with the fast-flowing news cycle as live participants in the conversation.

‘Fake news’ placing as 2017’s word of the year illustrates the burgeoning scepticism towards the media, on or offline. PA has to work further towards open engagement with their digital audiences, establishing an image of transparency and credibility, insuring against critique.

Public Affairs must adapt their techniques to this digital audience. With any content now competing against the entirety of the internet, the focus becomes engagement. Without a captive audience, the new priority is capturing viewers’ attention. For this reason, eye-catching visuals are on the rise, with estimates that 82% of digital traffic will be video by 2020.

Public Affairs needs to tell stories quickly, simply and persuasively or lose the limelight… But these skills should not seem unfamiliar, only the platforms and packaging. As always, efficient, emotive, engaging storytelling remains a lasting mainstay of Public Affairs.