Anthony Rose offers some critical pointers for planning success at the corporate affairs front line
The tough times we live in have made it imperative for us to plan even more creatively. Below I’d like to offer you a blueprint that will help Corporate Affairs (CA) professionals across Asia navigate the increasingly important role we play, not just as image builders but as contributors to the business of the organisations we represent.
1. Listen and Understand:
Spend time understanding your company, its unique culture, the perspective of the CEO, the competition, your CA organisation and its relationship with other areas of the business. Apply cross-industry trends to your planning. I’m often surprised to see how few CA professionals can read a balance sheet….or understand how important culture is in an organisation. In October 2010, as I walked the stores with Global President & CEO Mike Duke in China, he gave me a lesson in the unique culture of Walmart. Stopping in the apparel section, Mike pointed out that a jacket with sleeves cost 40 per cent more than a jacket without.“Is that value for the customer, to pay 40 per cent more for two sleeves?” challenged Mike. I understood immediately that at Walmart, culture is all about value for the customer… saving people’s money so that they can live better.”
2. Define a clear and simple vision for CA: A good CA vision and strategy should be simple and easily understood by practitioners and non-practitioners. Walmart is the world’s largest company in terms of sales, but speaking to employees at my orientation meetings I realised that few were interested in working for the company on that basis alone: there was far more passion for its being the world’s best retailer. Based on this, we defined a simple CA vision: “To help establish reputation and business for Walmart as the Best Retailer”. This was supported by a four-pillar approach, focusing on what it would take to be the best retailer in Asia (performance, value, good employer and good corporate citizen). This approach instantly resonated not only with my CA team in the markets but also with other functions in the business, which could now clearly see the collaborative role CA played in delivering business priorities.
3. Focus on the biggest priorities:
Keep a relentless focus on the biggest business and reputation drivers first, and understand these from both proactive and defensive mindsets. What are the biggest opportunities for the business? What are the biggest threats? What are the clear outcomes CA is driving for (versus getting lost in the activity)? Identify the capacity of your day to day work behind these big priorities.
When I moved to the US to lead the P&G hair care PR team in 2003, P&G had the largest hair care portfolio in retail in North America… almost 10 hair care brands. During an initial assessment of the CA work, I was dismayed to find that most of the resources were engaged in the smaller brands, while a huge opportunity to build the business and reputation of Pantene and Head & Shoulders, the top two brands, was being wasted.
In 2004 we re-focused 90 per cent of the CA capacity on the big four brands, reflecting the company’s overall strategic shift in hair care. Within 18 months our Editorial Share of Voice jumped by close to 15 percentage points and by 2006 Pantene commanded one in three positive editorials across the entire hair care category, rising to its highest-ever business share in the US. CA played a huge role in achieving this.
4. Understand the resources needed and lobby relentlessly for them:
Understanding business finance is sometimes neglected by CA practitioners…and with fatal consequences. Understand the numbers. Headcount, programming costs or training costs necessary to keep a top notch CA machine going. Be sure to get your CA budget proposal in as part of the annual business budgeting cycle. In 2003, I was asked by the Pantene brand management team to cut the Pantene PR budget by 20 per cent for 2004-5. Instead, we created the Pantene “Beauty Icon” strategy and subsequently the Pantene Beautiful Lengths programme, requiring a 300 per cent increase in CA budgeting. Not only did we get the budget but Pantene went on to build a stronger emotional bond with consumers than ever before. Easy as it looked in retrospect, funding the Beautiful Lengths program took some serious due diligence and negotiation with management.
5. Secure management support:
Identify key advocates, antagonists, or “fence-sitters” amongst senior management. Build advocates in management who can themselves lobby and influence externally… make them feel part of the process. Leverage the CEO as the primary corporate spokesperson. Collaborate and win with multi-functional partners by supporting areas which, together with CA, deliver company priorities. One of the most productive partnerships in any company is formed when CA collaborates with HR to build an image of the company as a Best Employer.
6. Execute with excellence:
Put points on the board and deliver results. Then publicise the results. I see company brand PR teams doing this well but government relations teams still lag behind. CA is no longer just an art; it is also a science with clear metrics and success measures expected from management. The most important aspect of this principle is to make sure that you don’t get lost in just planning but actually start executing.
7. Build capability and capacity:
Know and connect with your people. Define and share explicitly with your teams the different skill areas and roles and responsibilities in your CA organisation. Invest in training. One of the things that I particularly watch out for is getting “the right people on the bus, the wrong people off”. Our profession can become a victim of its “we can’t find good people” mindset. Actually, we could if we could just stay open to the possibilities. Some of the best CA people I have worked with have come from outside the function – sales, marketing. They’ve excelled once they have the right mentors and guidance within CA.
8. Measure and report progress:
Work in consultation with your business teams, identify a clear set of measures or Key Progress Indicators (KPIs) that serve to keep the team on the right track and the broader organisation updated of progress. Monetise the value of the CA contribution where appropriate, for example US$ XX million of tax savings/free editorial. Ensure consistent visibility of these KPIs at appropriate business forums, such as leadership meetings, quarterly business updates. Adapt the KPIs as needed over the long term in order to stay in step with the directional changes of the overall business. Report on outcomes, not activity.
9. Celebrate success:
Strong CA leaders make celebration a key aspect of their CA planning. To celebrate is to appreciate and recognise our very own CA heroes. The people who create the spotlight for others often never have the spotlight themselves. Nothing succeeds like motivation. Once a year at least, take time to say a formal “thank you” to the people you serve. See how it creates a virtuous cycle of performance.
10. Lead by example:
People don’t follow titles, they follow leaders. Lead by example. Let your actions speak louder than your words. It is the job of the leader to lead.