COVID-19 is a catalyst for the evolution in public affairs

How you influence political decision-makers has evolved over the years, but in recent times it has changed dramatically, catalysed by the coronavirus experience.

A change to the way we do public affairs has been coming for a long time, argues Nick Williams
A change to the way we do public affairs has been coming for a long time, argues Nick Williams

For some time now, there have been shifts in the spheres of influence on political decisions that shape the world in which we live and in which businesses operate – but in 2020 we have seen that shift accelerate, at both global and domestic levels.

The pandemic has led the silent to find their voices and those in power to reach for and respond to influences never seen before.

For individuals – and coalitions and advocacy groups when they combine – it creates a new way to express views and support those of others; to apply pressure and have an impact on decisions where perhaps before they only applied consideration; and to push for change fuelled by the fast pace of technology and social media.

For governments, it creates the unification of many and the divergence of many more, and necessity to listen and respond in ways they have never done previously.

Business now finds itself in a framework being shaped by vocal, fast-paced movements, with an equal focus on social and economic capital, and with greater powers to influence those who govern than ever before.

As all of this changes, so too, of course, must public affairs.

Seeking to engage and influence the top of the pyramid in isolation is no longer fit for purpose – the old, purely ‘top-down’ model appears incredibly limited.

What is emerging is a much nimbler approach, focused on partnership and engaging conversations at grassroots or ‘bottom-up’ level, to influence the environments in which decisions are taken.

This works in different ways.

At a macro level, companies can no longer simply respond to campaigns and conversations, they need to be a part of them, with a clear understanding of the value they can bring to bigger, broader agendas.

Partnerships with initially opposing pressure groups will become more of the norm, as collaborations turn toward common causes and recognition that change cannot be achieved alone.

Those who put themselves at the forefront of such an approach will be afforded recognition, time and space to get it right.

And of course, all this is scalable and can be used with smaller coalitions and partnerships or through employees to engage decision-makers.

Flexibility and the ability to think in terms of integrated campaigns at multiple levels is now crucial.

As a result, businesses need to re-evaluate how they seek influence and impact in public affairs.

By combining the nexus of both top-down and bottom-up activities – and amplified through digital and social channels – this duality of effort ensures that one enables the other to create a continuous sphere of influence and engagement.

With data, insights and creativity at its heart, this is the new way to engage and exert greater influence. This is modern public affairs.

Nick Williams is managing director of issues and public affairs at BCW London

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