Some of the trickiest decisions that CEOs face revolve around politics and political engagement. This is especially the case because of the impact on reputation this can have. But what are some of the main decisions that they face and how should they consider them?
Politics often features highly on the agenda of CEOs. Some approach the issue through a mix of gut instinct and a belief in their inherent understanding. But this isn’t how other business decisions are made, so why should it apply to public affairs?
So, the first place to start should be considering politics as part of a risk register. This will help to focus the minds and also secure general buy-in for the approach across the organisation. It also means that the threats as well as the opportunities can be considered.
If there are blind spots then, similarly, the organisation can do something to rectify the situation.
But what are some of the political decisions that face CEOs?
- Whether to engage? Some may be concerned that by raising their profile in any way that they make themselves a target. This is rarely ever the case. Organisations become political targets through their own actions or, more often, inaction. Just take a look at the general approach of the tech sector. Many, early on, took a hands-off approach to engagement and then when political scrutiny came along they have few real friends or allies. The scrutiny came but they weren’t in a position to counter it or really understand it.
- Invest in building a network? There is never a time when a network is not useful. A network is not just about developing friends and allies but also understanding the position of opponents as well. A network helps develop understanding and insight. It can also help not just to counter threats but also reveal where opportunities may be as well.
- Whether the media / social media can help? In the political engagement context, this is also about reputation management. Social media can play an increasingly important role in public affairs campaigns so having a wider strategy in place is essential. Knowing you way around the media and having contacts may not always be about seeking coverage. It can be about improving understanding of your business and sector. Again, having a network can be helpful.
- Develop an in-house team? Some organisations are very lean at a central level, relying more on external consultants. Others carry larger in-house public affairs / external relations / communications teams. The final decision will depend on the nature of the organisation and its business model. However, having someone in place can enable you to be a little more fleet of foot and quickly kick up on opportunities. Government likes to hear from organisations themselves.
- To go positive or negative? Most of the time, positive engagement is more constructive and more likely to have an impact. But sometimes, especially when a reputation is on the line, being seen to defend yourself can be the best approach. Whichever is chosen, it is always recommended to come up with some form of solution to the issue being dealt with. A moan-fest may be therapeutic but it is unlikely to prove successful.
CEOs have to appreciate that public affairs can offer substantial business benefits but we all have a role to play in conveying those benefits. Some of that can also come about by thinking through the forms of measurement that may be relevant to help deliver the ‘proof’ as well.
CEOs may find our public affairs roadmap (below) to be a useful and straightforward starting point to help kick-start their thinking.
While there are decisions to be made, as a general rule, CEOs should consider that engagement is more likely to be beneficial than simply hiding away.