Features, Must Read, Opinion

Government Relations With Impact: An Interview with Sarah Crawshaw

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Sarah Crawshaw, Managing Director, Asia, at Taylor Bennett Heyman explains how government relations professionals bring value to their business, examining why the industry has become a fiercely competitive environment for many companies

When leading firms need talent for corporate and government relations in Asia, many turn to Sarah Crawshaw to assess and fill their top positions. Based in Hong Kong, Sarah has considerable experience in executive search and talent management in the Asia Pacific region. Given her expertise, we invited Sarah to sit down with Karen Scott to discuss the future of government relations roles in the face of trends toward localization and disruptive technologies.

PublicAffairsAsia: To lay the foundation, what are some key global or regional trends that are impacting the role of government relations professionals?

Sarah: Broadly speaking, in recent years, disruptive technologies and globalization have created a fiercely competitive environment for many businesses. This competition has put pressure on functions like government relations to become more commercially attuned; businesses of a highly-regulated nature have looked to government relations to help create a fairer, competitive operating environment.

Looking to the future, there appears to be a geopolitical movement away from globalization and towards a more protectionist environment. Assuming President Trump follows through on the policies for which he has been advocating, his seemingly protectionist agenda, his hostile stance on trade and his anticipated withdrawal from the principles of globalization will undoubtedly have an effect on government relations activities across the world, particularly for US-headquartered multinational companies. The policy course that he pursues, in respect to any area relating to trade, will create repercussions for US-headquartered businesses in any market where these policies are deemed to have an effect on the national economy.

PublicAffairsAsia: And in this environment, what are the most important predictors of success for a GR hire today?

Sarah: Success of a government relations hire will depend on the value of the function to the business. And whilst for any highly-regulated business the value of government relations should be evident, it is extremely important to demonstrate the value of the function.

Communicating to the business and leadership about the activity taking place and the short and longer-term objectives is critical. Most importantly, this activity needs to be linked to the bottom line, as you have to be able to demonstrate the commercial value of the function. Being able to identify the most critical issues, and to prioritize them, is essential to success in this function.

Furthermore, any government relations professional has to be continuously tuned into the public policy dialogue. Getting ahead of a potential policy issue is important, as is the need to be aware of potential local, regional, and global implications of market-level issues.

PublicAffairsAsia: As the field of government relations matures, what do you think will change about the skills required to be effective?

Sarah: Government relations is a reasonably young profession. Whilst the activities associated with government relations have been carried out by businesses for years, the formulization of the function is a relatively recent phenomenon.

As the role becomes more formalized in businesses there has been, and will continue to be, a growing emphasis on technical skills and knowledge. Strong and active networks in government circles continue to be a theme in government relations remits, but there is an increasing emphasis on specialist policy knowledge, and an understanding of the wider regulatory environment.

Advocacy, diplomacy and strong communications skills will continue to be sought after in this field, though they need to be accompanied by strong intellect and an ability to understand, if not a knowledge of, technical policy areas.

A number of businesses and industries have sought to combine their legal and government relations functions, which marries with the trend that we see towards a demand for technicians, as opposed to just tacticians.

PublicAffairsAsia: How can organizations more effectively leverage the government relations professionals they have?

Sarah: Most global government relations teams are lean. Thus, organizations and functional leaders need to promote ways in which they can pool resources and create a cross-functional working structure.

The most effective way that we see this being done is when members of the team are assigned as the regional or global lead on a particular theme, whilst still taking responsibility for their specific market.  The establishment of this type of framework, which sits beyond formal structures, has been shown to deliver improved outcomes through knowledge sharing, relationship building, proactive collaboration, shared problem solving and increased employee engagement.

Businesses need to look beyond the fact the government relations is a relationship and market specific function and encourage the idea of market level team members supporting on country, regional and global public and regulatory policy matters.

PublicAffairsAsia: As companies aim to attract top talent to these jobs, what types of incentives would you say are most effective?

Sarah: In my experience, government relations professionals are attracted to roles that offer meaty issues, and where the management of these issues, whether long- or short-term, will have a fundamental impact on the business or industry in question. Businesses that are facing challenging operating environments, due to the policy and regulatory landscape, often tend to attract the most talented government relations professionals.

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