Shakilla Shahjihan, Regional Director of Government Affairs Asia Pacific at Abbott Laboratories, discusses the complexities of implementing public affairs and government relations strategies in highly-regulated and diverse markets
What are the difficulties in developing a coherent public affairs strategy across diverse markets?
We have an overall business strategy across Asia and what makes government affairs interesting is matching business priorities with government priorities. Our approach has to reflect the differences in policies between countries.
For example, how do we identify an opportunity to go to government with either a solution to a problem.
In healthcare priorities obviously differ from country to country. Different governments are focused on different financial models of healthcare provision, some governments on specific diseases and others specific medical conditions and many are focused on achieving Millennium Development goals. The level of development will also affect a government’s healthcare priorities.
When looking at a government affairs strategy across diverse markets, we as a business have to be agile and fully understand the governemnts’ goals.
The stakeholder environment has become increasingly busy and complex – how should PA practitioners respond to this?
The stakeholder environment is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. Finding out who the decision-makers are and who the influencers are and who the best spokespeople are to put a particular message.
Governments no longer make decisions in isolation but involve other stakeholders. This is what makes stakeholder engagement increasingly busy and complex. And this means that stakeholder maps needs be kept continuously updated.
In many markets, professional associations offering advice to governments are an important group of stakeholders. Patient groups and consumer groups are of growing importance. As an example, groups representing cancer patients have become very well organised. Consumer associations and patient groups are important and their voice is being heard.
So these groups will have an increasingly important role in stakeholder engagement.
Policy-making almost always involves the principal ministry and other government agencies and departments as well as representative groups or trade associations. We need to constantly then link goals and priorities and ensure that they are in sync.
Is the trend towards greater regulation impacting corporations and how do they manage this process in highly regulated markets?
Obviously in healthcare, governments want to be responsive before products are brought to market in a safe way, while meeting consumer needs. And in this, markets refer to other markets. Countries like Australia or Japan for example have an established history of good regulations and high standards. The review time for assessing products will be shortened if they have successfully been introduced in other markets.
In many of the referenced markets there is a strong relationship with regulators. Working closely with these referenced markets would enable companies to bring products into other markets more quickly. We recognize that regulation is very important and we want to partner with government to make sure the public are confident with the products which become available.
How proactive should a PA strategy be in helping to shape the regulatory environment? How open and transparent are regulators to this process?
Generally speaking regulators are interested in what other countries are doing and the value of us as an MNC is that we can communicate with colleagues in Australia, Japan and Europe to find out what is happening there. We can share this information with other relevant markets as well.
Appealing to a country’s goal helps. If a country wants sets itself up as a smart, high-tech nation or a competitive exporter then linking other countries’ success here helps. It is always helpful to be able to identify what appeals to government agencies.
How important are coalitions and trade associations in advancing a PA strategy?
Governments often prefer to hear from industry groups rather than individual companies. Trade associations can develop a consistent voice on behalf of the industry. For example, we are members of the US-ASEAN Business Council which emphasises messages around innovation, technology and transparent processes across a range of sectors. Governments reference back to industry groups and coalitions for comment.
How easily can social media be integrated into a public affairs strategy?
Social media could be a tool which could be used to leverage public policy. The social media space in many countries has become very busy. I see that it is growing in significance in the government affairs arena.
How can the value of PA be quantified? Is the ROI easy to identify?
The ultimate goal has to be clear and quantifiable. If success or value means achieving a policy objective or a regulatory goal, or even stopping a negative effect taking place in the market, then it can and should be quantified.
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