Stakeholders will consider you arrogant and merely self-serving rather than appreciating any work you do with other stakeholders, such as employees or the local community. Action against opponents will be considered the norm and you should get used to hearing the phrase ‘sledgehammer to crack a nut’, in other words ‘big’ organisations lose all sense of priorities, humility or proportionality.
Just look at two recent examples. In an article in the latest Wired about Hampton Creek and the trouble they have had with ‘big’ food in trying to introduce egg-free products. As the editor says,
“the powerful egg lobby in the US was recently found to have used dirty tricks to keep Hampton Creek’s products out of American shops. Guess it must be doing something right.”
So how can public affairs help?
- Realise you are part of ‘big’ and understand that assumptions are being made about you. This means all your actions will be viewed through this prism. There is a requirement on you to understand the position of stakeholders and their views of you. Once you have this then how you engage with those stakeholders will become more effective. The messaging, the types of campaigns you get involved with and when / where you stand up for yourselves all need to be considered with this information in mind.At the moment, being ‘big’ also says something about the way you treat tax and is being turned back onto corporate social responsibility (CSR) programmes as well. The attitude of some ‘big’ businesses is adding to the likelihood of more regulatory and reporting requirements.
- Bring employees into your public affairs campaign as well as into wider communications efforts. Employee engagement is a whole communications field in itself but for ‘big’ organisation it is imperative the political audiences hear from your people. They are often best able to challenge any preconceived ideas politicians have and, at the end of the day, are potential voters as well.
- Be careful of how you engage with others in the sector. Putting to one side the often stringent regulatory requirements of how you deal with competitors, you must not simply come together for campaigns. The implications of such collective action need to be fully considered. By treating sectors as a collective, i.e. ‘big’, also brings with it a need to consider the role and position of trade bodies as well.
- Do not forget the advantages of ‘big’ as well. These could be in supporting larger government initiatives, contributing to growth or providing the UK with a presence abroad for instance through exporting. Government also needs help in developing policies as well and these need to support existing industries. Larger organisations often have the size of teams needed to engage and provide support.
- Innovate. Being ‘big’ doesn’t mean that innovation is not possible. Often, especially in some sectors, large amounts of investment are needed and that only comes with being ‘big’. Stakeholders need to know and appreciate this rather than just focusing on the negative aspects that often come with larger profits.