Influencers And Their Impact on Public Affairs

Moving a bottle of soft drink may not seem like a big deal but when Christiano Ronaldo is involved then the world takes note. And that includes politicians.

When Ronaldo moved bottles of Coca Cola, one of the main sponsors of Euro 2020, from view at a press conference, social media went into overdrive. Graphs appeared showing how much their share price had taken a hit and it was generally agreed that Ronaldo’s call for people to drink water, albeit bottled water, was a significant statement.

The growing role of influencers is there for all to see. There continues to be issues with disclosure by some but in Ronaldo’s case, the move appeared spontaneous and in keeping with this reputation as a health obsessed athlete (although his past sponsorship deals may query that…)

There is no doubting that influencers can also look to secure political change. We can see what the likes of especially Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling but others such as Jordan Henderson have all achieved in recent years.

Rashford, and many others, are represented by RocNation. As Michael Yormark, the president of Roc Nation Sports International, has said: “we don’t really consider ourselves a traditional agency – we really are a movement” and also that it is focused on “protecting and defending those that can’t protect and defend themselves”.

These are not influencers focused on selling products but influencers seeking to secure change. That is obviously a massive change and challenge for politicians but also for public affairs as well.

Many campaigns look to work with an influencer and there are obvious risks assessments that need to be undertaken to ensure that reputations are protected. But in this new environment, you may not choose the influencer, but the influencer could choose you.

For the really big influencers it won’t be any finances, it will be about being authentic to their brand. So, not about what influencers, or celebrities, we can work with in the available budget…

But the fundamentals of good public affairs remain in place whoever is doing the political, and other, engagement.

There also needs to be a planned campaign. That could be put in place in advance or could be more ad hoc and follow-up on opportunities such as that presented by Ronaldo. There is nothing wrong with trying to take advantage of some unplanned, ad hoc, opportunities.

We also know that politicians don’t like to be on the wrong side of a high-profile public argument for too long. They need to be seen to be taking action.

Some will have been made juddery by the impact on Coca Cola’s share price, but the real, longer term damage comes from what politicians do and what action they could be forced into by a well-organised activist campaign. It is not that the big global brands are unused to that sort of campaign.

So, could we be looking at an even more onerous advertising ban or changes to sponsorships? There is certainly a precedent for both so governments can do that and know they can do that. Campaigners know the success can be achieved and so do influencers.

This incident also shows just how interconnected reputations are. Thought may have been given to potential political risks involved but I doubt they featured highly if at all (but happy to be put right if there were!)

In other words, all aspects of engagement are always essentially related to one another. We just can’t separate them.

At some point Ronaldo’s footballing career will come to an end and he will not be short of options about what to do next. It could easily be anticipated that he could lead a global health campaign, but he will be in charge of that decision.

The question for us is really is public affairs sufficiently plugged into the decisions the organisation makes?

Photo by Gary Lopater on Unsplash

Stuart is a public affairs and communications specialist with BDB Pitmans advising clients on all elements of their public affairs strategies including political and corporate communications and reputation management. His work also includes consultation and planning communications and he has advised on a number of high profile media relations and crisis communications programmes. Stuart is an honorary research fellow at the University of Aberdeen and is the author of several books including ‘New Activism and the Corporate Response‘ (heralded as a book that “every aspiring business leader should read” by MIS Asia), ‘Public Affairs in Practice’ and ‘The Dictionary of Labour Quotations‘. His most recently published book, ‘Public Affairs: A Global Perspective’ has been called ‘an absolute treasure-trove’ and is a recommended read by the Government Communication Service (GCS). Stuart regularly writes and lectures on a range of business and political issues and as well as blogging for BDB Pitmans he contributes to the Huffington Post and has written for the CBI, (former) UKTI, Total Politics and LabourList. He is also an adviser to the Entrepreneurs Network (TEN) and a regular speaker and chair at conferences. He has appeared on Sky News, BBC 5 Live, BBC World, the Today programme and on Ukrainian TV and has been a judge for the Public Affairs News, PR Week, Public Affairs and the European Public Affairs awards. Stuart is a CIPR trainer leading the 'Practical Public Affairs' course.

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