Ahead of the publication of their new book, Mark Chong and Jin Montesano examine what forces are driving the rapid acceleration of strategic corporate public affairs in Asia Pacific
Corporate public affairs professionals have become full partners in leadership, executing against longer-term stakeholder management plans with measurable performance benchmarks
While most business executives understand the role of traditional functions such as human resources, finance, and marketing better than they do the role of corporate public affairs, there has been a significant shift in executive thinking in the last decade regarding the value that this latter function can play in Asia.
In the course of this shift, the function has grown from a primarily tactical focus and a stress on issues and crisis management to the embrace of a more strategic role in the business. Corporate public affairs professionals have become full partners in leadership, executing against longer-term stakeholder management plans with measurable performance benchmarks.
According to a 2009 study conducted by the Centre for Corporate Public Affairs, 65 per cent of senior public affairs executives in the Asia-Pacific region were members of the senior management team, and 70 per cent of survey respondents had a direct reporting relationship to the CEO, regional managing director or regional president.
Asia has taken centre-stage spotlight as a critical region for the rapid future growth of the world’s global corporations. It is prominent on the agenda of every global board. With over 30 markets, 2,000 languages and 60 per cent of the world’s population residing in this part of the world, the social, political, cultural, and economic complexities of the region pose immense challenges to companies unfamiliar with the sheer diversity of its marketplaces.
In the meantime, competition is no longer limited to a fight for market share among American, European, and Australian firms. Home-grown companies are quickly conquering domestic markets across Asia.
In their quest for growth and expansion, they are moving aggressively to build regional and even global footprints. With one eye cast on “making the quarter number”, many astute CEOs and general managers in the region have the other eye squarely on the longer term game plan. They seek to ensure a favourable or at least more predictable business climate even as they operate in the most dynamic societies and economies in the world.
As Asia becomes more financially material to the total revenue growth of global corporations, business leaders are under ever greater pressure to deliver business performance. Failing to navigate the policy, regulatory, and political complexities of Asian business environments can have a clear and significant negative impact on a growing number of global corporations. Successful leaders who operate in the region today therefore require corporate public affairs teams equipped to support the business vision and to go beyond being the “issues and crisis people” or “spin team.”
This book is written for a general manager heading up a business in the region, an experienced CEO arriving in Asia to lead an organisation, or a business leader about to embark on a major initiative with implications for a broad group of stakeholders. Other executives will also benefit from this book, including those interested in knowing how all the various disciplines under the corporate public affairs banner “come together” to deliver against key business objectives, in better understanding what “good” looks like in this field, and in mastering practical approaches to challenges in your own business.
A Unique Approach
Influencing business outcomes in Asia may not be the first book to delve into corporate public affairs strategies that have played a key role in delivering business outcomes, but we believe that it is the first to look at these issues from an Asian regional perspective.
Each chapter offers a case study of a specific business challenge that a company has faced while operating in Asia and of the strategies used to achieve successful business outcomes. Each case study, written by a senior practitioner or academic living and working in Asia, focuses on engagement with a particular kind of stakeholder – customer, government, the NGO sector, investor, or employee. This structure offers the reader the chance to gain deeper insight into the strategies and approaches used to work with these stakeholders.
While each case study in delivering business outcomes in Asia offers a wealth of insights and lessons for successful stakeholder strategies, several recurrent themes merit highlighting here:
• A single-stakeholder problem often requires a multiple-stakeholder solution: Effective public affairs strategies require multiple-stakeholder advocacy and engagement, pushing and pulling the right programme levers, initiatives, and partnerships at the right time and through the right channels.
• One size does not fit all: Understand all of your key stakeholders’ concerns and opinions and how they interact and influence one another. Strategic engagement nevertheless requires a tailored plan to address each stakeholder group’s specific concerns.
• A ‘license to operate’ is earned, not granted: With globalisation, a 24/7 news cycle, and “citizen journalism” thanks to Web 2.0, a company’s reputation and its ‘license to operate’ can be revoked in a matter of minutes, not days or months.
This last point frames the lessons of each of the following chapters. A corporate public affairs team can best be leveraged by an organisation when the team is led by a professional with a seat at the strategic table.
When the function is not represented at the management or leadership level at which strategic business issues are discussed and decided, it is often relegated to reactive, ad-hoc activities such as internal communications, media relations, or issues and crisis management. With a corporate public affairs team unable to contribute at the strategic level, an organization is destined to under-leverage the function’s most useful role.
Corporate public affairs delivers most when it serves as the strategic window through which the business understands the nuances, trends, and constantly changing dynamics of the external business environment. The function should in turn inform strategies to mitigate risk, strengthen reputation, and drive stakeholder engagement platforms that deliver business objectives.
Rather than a back-end support role, a high-performing corporate public affairs team takes on a front-end strategic function at the coalface of pressing issues and strategically and proactively manages the company’s reputation and its stakeholders.
Corporate public affairs is a fascinating and challenging frontier in the modern corporation. For companies entering into previously unknown and highly complex markets such as Indonesia, China, or India, investment in an effective corporate public affairs function is critical to delivering business outcomes. As diverse societal stakeholders take on more prominent roles in determining the viability or success of business strategies in Asia, the corporate public affairs function is increasingly viewed as a “must have” function for firms with aggressive growth agendas in this dynamic socio-political environment.
“Influencing Business Outcomes in Asia Stakeholder Management Strategies for the C-Suite” is published by McGraw-Hill later this year. Its editors are Dr Mark Chong, Associate Professor of Corporate Communication Practice, Singapore Management University and Jin Montesano, Vice President, Corporate and Government Affairs, Asia-Pacific Region at Kraft Foods