Companies grasp bottom-line benefit of touting policy goals

Earlier this year, Eric Spiegel took over as president and CEO of Siemens in the US. The energy expert also announced that he planned to stay in Washington and that the company would be moving its headquarters there

Earlier this year, Eric Spiegel took over as president and CEO of Siemens in the US. The energy expert also announced that he planned to stay in Washington and that the company would be moving its headquarters there.

In August, Siemens continued building its Washington presence by hiring Camille Johnston, first lady Michelle Obama's former director of communications, as its VP of corporate affairs.

It is a significant shift for the German company, which has tried to establish itself in recent years as a market leader in the high-speed rail sector in the US, in part by securing billions of stimulus dollars.

"We have to work closely with our DC office on policy issues," says Jim Whaley, SVP of communications and marketing at Siemens. "From a marketing perspective, we also have to integrate those policy issues and what we are hearing in DC with what our marketing strategy is."

While the intersection of policy issues and marketing is not new, the Obama administration, changing consumer preferences, and the recession have created an environment in the US that demands companies address both business and policy objectives in communications.

"When you have leadership more interested in looking at regulation, it forces companies to be more thoughtful about their public positioning," says Glover Park Group MD Arik Ben-Zvi.

Direct business impact

Wal-Mart is one example of a successful company repositioning. It is not just a corporation that reported $408 billion in revenue in 2009, but a Beltway thought leader with a CEO who voiced his support for healthcare reform.

Lane Bailey, president of public affairs for GolinHarris, agrees the line between public affairs and corporate communications has been gray from some time, but notes the role of government is increasingly shaping the direction of business.

"The real work," he says, "is about alignment of public policy goals to business imperatives."

Ford has had a communications function in Washington for 20-plus years, but it has bolstered the way it communicates with policymakers on business issues, says Mike Moran, director of communications in its DC office. Its portfolio of policy issues includes tax policy and energy.

"We've probably seen more interaction with the government in the past few years," he says. "We're not looking to be an inhibitor, but rather be part of the solution."

As Big Business looks back on the two years President Obama has been in office, the companies that have been proactive in offering solutions, discussing innovation, and communicating their value as job creators are the ones who still sit at the proverbial table.

"Companies understand that policymakers are weighing how best to grow the US economy," says Jano Cabrera, MD of the issues and crisis group at Burson-Marsteller. "They're looking at corporate players and asking, 'What is your role in providing positive economic impact?'"

He added that the question of jobs is a "box that needs to be checked with decision-makers and policymakers."

As the number of companies and business sectors facing new regulations and legislation grows, the corporations that inform their marketing strategy with policy objectives allow themselves the ability to shape and prepare for the policy issues that could affect their bottom line.

Jobs is the message that's found in the slew of issues-driven campaigns that have launched in the past year, including the "Answers" campaign Siemens began to promote in September 2009. The initiative seeks to highlight the company's expertise in transportation, healthcare, and energy.

"Of total business, high-speed rail is a small portion of our portfolio," says Whaley. "But we believe high-speed rail is an iconic image for a company like ours."

2010 agency news

SKDKnickerbocker

Hired Glover Park Group's Alex Slater to expand the political firm's corporate communications practice

Edelman

Steve Schmidt, former senior advisor to Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign, is set to join as vice chair of public affairs. The firm said corporate clients increasingly seek counsel on policy issues

Huntsworth

Acquired Dutko Worldwide to better serve the public affairs needs of its corporate clients

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