What was public affairs like before Brexit? My attention was recently diverted toward a conversation along these lines between a group of new account executives.
A seasoned colleague chipped in that there was once a time where there was an active domestic agenda, full of activity for businesses (and public affairs consultants) and, most shockingly, the same political stakeholders in the same jobs for almost five years.
An interesting debate ensued: has public affairs changed due to Brexit?
After almost a decade in the industry, I would argue that, while our politicians have (frequently) changed in recent years, the rules of the game have not.
It is a fallacy to suggest that domestic policy has stopped because of Brexit; that the entire bandwidth of the Civil Service and Parliament has ceased to focus on anything else.
Brexit hasn’t changed public affairs, but we have had to work smarter. Erratic parliamentary business has made it more difficult to organise events, and resignations and sackings have made the building of long-term relationships more difficult, but the result has challenged us to think bigger and broader.
Rather than focusing attention on the traditional, central decision-makers, businesses are building relationships across the parliamentary and political spectrum. This is reflected by the All-Party Parliamentary Groups and think tanks that have sprung up, looking to ensure key areas – such as health tech, further education or infrastructure – maintain momentum.
While our politicians have (frequently) changed in recent years, the rules of the game have not.Emma Dean, Hanover Communications
In my specialism – technology – public affairs is busier than ever. The sector is juggling a raft of digital regulation, including the Information Commissioner’s Age-Appropriate Design Code (with only a six-week consultation period), the Online Harms White Paper, and a consultation on ad restrictions for products high in fat, salt and sugar, to name a few. Indeed, the drumbeat towards greater digital regulation has been steady. And even as some CEOs have been calling for more global regulation of the internet, the policies have become harder to navigate – especially as they are interpreted as being contradictory.
Many are also a world first, making the role of public affairs even more important. Get it wrong and we threaten the development of not only the UK digital economy, but also those of countries that seek to replicate what they now see as best practice. Consequently, leaders of businesses big and small increasingly value public affairs to navigate this evolving landscape.
It is this mix of future-gazing, risk management and regu-latory analysis in an ever-changing political environment that has brought a heightened dynamism to public affairs consultants’ day-to-day. Analysis is not confined to direct client teams, but regularly circulated across the business – often globally.
So, my reply to those colleagues new to public affairs is that there has never been a more exciting time to work in the sector. And where better to be when there is breaking news than in a room full of fellow political junkies?
Emma Dean is an associate director at Hanover Communications