The need for a chief executive of a major company to meet with diverse groups of stakeholders has never been greater. CEOs are moving from meetings with heads of state to calls with investors. They are listening to their customers and addressing questions from members of Congress. You will see them engaging with employees at town halls and conducting interviews with journalists.
Companies have come a long way from their fortress-style posture of the 20th century. With the rise of stakeholder activism, digital media, and a broader worldview, the walls around corporations have started to fall, along with the old one-way style of communication. The 21st century has seen a more interconnected relationship among companies, customers, and stakeholders.
The rising demand from stakeholders for interaction is shaking up the traditional view of PR and helping shape corporate affairs into a recognizable management function. As a result, CEOs are increasingly looking to senior corporate affairs executives who can assess the social impact of issues through the lens of government, the media, and corporate responsibility.
For professionals in corporate affairs, our jobs have never been more dynamic. We must recognize that as companies are evolving, so must the value we create for businesses. The era of tactical PR teams embedded in marketing and government relations as a function of a legal department is over. The next generation of corporate affairs professionals is expected to be business leaders, who understand the company’s operations and can interpret how stakeholders view the organization. These senior execs must anticipate how the opinions of interested third parties impact the ability of the company to achieve its’ goals.
Companies today are asking corporate affairs professionals to connect and collaborate with unlikely allies. Given this, it is important to remember that while we may not always agree with all of our stakeholders, when we engage respectfully, there are always mutual benefits. Today’s business executives must build bridges by finding common ground with the communities the company touches. Corporate affairs departments are emerging as the strategic function that is expected to design and manage these bridges.
Sally Susman is EVP of corporate affairs at Pfizer. She is also a board member of WPP and the International Rescue Committee, as well as a trustee of the Library of Congress.