The Art and Science Of Influence
Public affairs is another term for stakeholder relations among individuals and groups with common and competing agendas. It’s typically found at the crossroads of public opinion and public policy. Stakeholders often include politicians, civil servants, influencers, customers, communities, clients, shareholders, trade associations, think tanks, business groups, charities, unions, the media and more.
Public affairs practitioners engage stakeholders to educate, motivate and de-escalate. It’s essentially a specialized form of marketing, where the product is an outcome that usually impacts people, planet and profits. Public affairs professionals help shape the debate with strategy and messaging. Not all lobbyists are registered. Most work behind the scenes with research, strategy, writing and coalition-building.
Public affairs work combines government relations, media relations, issue management, stakeholder relations, corporate and social responsibility, and strategic communications advice. Practitioners aim to influence public opinion and public policy by building on common ground with stakeholders. Unfortunately, propaganda and misinformation has long been part of the equation.
Political chaos is the norm and public affairs professionals must anticipate, plan and respond without missing a beat. Strategists are reevaluating the best practices of opportunism and risk management.
While stocks soar, trust in corporate America and elected officials in Washington, D.C., continues to drop. America’s discontent with politics and business is not party-specific. A new survey conducted by the Public Affairs Council, in conjunction with Morning Consult, finds that Clinton and Trump voters have more in common than you might think: neither group trusts Washington politicians nor America’s CEOs.
● Clinton and Trump voters agree that Washington can’t be trusted. 58 percent of Trump voters, 59 percent of Clinton voters and 63 percent of conservatives say elected officials in Washington have low honesty and ethical standards, despite Republican control of Congress and the White House; and
● Only 47 percent of Americans trust major companies to behave ethically, and only nine percent of Trump voters and eight percent of Clinton voters give CEOs high scores for honesty.
“Businesses are worried about core issues like trade and tax reform, and they’re also jumping into public debates on immigration, racism, LGBT rights and climate change,” said Doug Pinkham, president of the Public Affairs Council.
“But with all the political turmoil in Washington, their world feels riskier. Many firms are having a difficult time finding their footing at the intersection of business and modern American politics.”
According to the study, there’s a correlation between the most untrusted industries and perceived underregulation. When compared to other industries, technology companies are considered the most trustworthy and least in need of new regulations. Conversely, pharmaceutical and health insurance firms are considered the least trustworthy and the most under-regulated.
● Not all lobbying is bad. The public largely approves of corporate lobbying as long as companies have a good reason such as protecting jobs (61 percent), leveling the playing field (54 percent) and supporting social causes (53 percent). The survey also measured the impact of traditional and digital media in shaping public perception about corporate behavior;
● Business news = bad news: Americans are twice as likely to assume a media story about a major company is negative rather than positive; and
● Social media not a major driver in shaping views about business. Most Americans form their opinions of major companies through work experience or knowing others employed by major companies. Only 14 percent (mostly young adults) say social media has a lot of influence on their views about Corporate America.
As the national debt, government dysfunction and political divisiveness reach all-time highs in America, it’s time to close the gap between public opinion and public policy. Unfortunately, institutional corruption and public apathy have become our greatest threats. Informed, engaged and empowered citizens can turn the tide.