Multinationals recognize the need for global coordination

Multinational companies are increasingly developing coordinated public affairs strategies and campaigns for global issues.

Multinational companies are increasingly developing coordinated public affairs strategies and campaigns for global issues.

While agencies and corporations have long established global public affairs roles in key capitals around the world, some agency leaders say that the economic crisis and growing influence of the Web are two reasons why companies are increasing their focus on addressing global issues.

"Whenever there are new questions at the forefront and regulators don't have an answer in their pocket, those are the areas that now require a coordinated global response," says Mark Penn, worldwide president and CEO of Burson-Marsteller.

In particular, Penn cites the tech sector as one industry where issues carry over from Washington to Beijing to Brussels, which he calls the "iron triangle of multinational issues management."

"There are so many issues, whether privacy or antitrust issues, in these very fast-changing marketplaces," he explains.

Penn offers global warming, as well as ongoing issues relating to energy and the environment, as other examples.

Where many corporations used to develop public affairs strategies country by country or region by region, many of those companies now have multina-tional, not regional, business strategies in place.

Public affairs pros also say the Web's influence on communications affects how companies address policy issues globally.

Edelman's Capital Staffers Index, which was released in December 2010, surveyed legislative staffers in Washington, London, Brussels, Paris, and Berlin and showed that an overwhelming 96% of participants said they have used online information sources to research policy issues over the last 30 days. The index also noted how the digital world is shaping communications between policymakers and constituents

"There's a broad recognition, especially after the global economic crisis that we're recovering from, that firms are facing the same issues in one country they will be or are facing in any number of these other regions," says Jackson Dunn, MD and practice leader of public affairs for the Americas at FD.

Yet Dunn is also quick to note companies still seek agencies that understand and have relationships with local media and opinion leaders.

Julia Harrison, managing partner of FD's Brussels operations, says trade and intellectual property are two global issues at the forefront of multinational public affairs efforts.

More sectors on board

She adds that the energy, healthcare, and luxury goods markets are three other sectors increasingly coordinating global responses as companies become more interested in addressing geopolitical activity.

In the past, says Harrison, some multinational companies would have passed over addressing geopolitical issues through communications if they were too broad and without a seemingly direct link to their business operations.

"Because of the financial crisis, it's become important to every sector, not just financial services," says Harrison. "The economic crisis has pushed people to be much more attentive to those links and that interface between business and politics."

For example, some of the market for luxury goods has shifted to Asia, where sales volume is rising. As this shift has occurred, intellectual property has become an issue for the luxury goods sector and the challenges for companies range from addressing issues such as production to intellectual counterfeiting, says Harrison.

Penn says this trend has ac- celerated in the past two years, though he adds the work his agency does on global issues management comes from current clients, not RFPs.

"You have to look at these public affairs issues as coordinated campaigns in not just even three capitals, but sometimes others," he explains.

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