PUBLIC POLICY & AFFAIRS – Promising &/Or Pestering Practice

‘PUBLIC POLICY & AFFAIRS’ a highly proliferated word is interchangeably used with terms viz., Government’s Relations, Corporate Affairs, Regulatory Affairs, External Relations & Affairs etc., While each organisation picks up the term as per its own liking, there is subtle difference between some of these terms. For e.g. Corporate Affairs is an all-encompassing terms which covers up Public Affairs, Regulatory Affairs and Corporate Communication, while Regulatory Affairs – a fairly new born baby – is a limited term having direct reference to managing regulatory regime, rigmarole, bumps and, at times, boring compliances for an organisation to stay straight and in the good books of the Government.

Public Affairs role, by any reckoning, is a seamless role as it centres around an organisation’s relationship with sensitive and stiff-necked stakeholders – government, customers, media, trade associations, pressure groups and local communities etc., etc., Public Affairs work go for government relations, media communication, issue management, crisis management, corporate social responsibility, information dissemination and strategic messaging advise.
Old, outdated and opague perception of Public Affairs role is that of Winning,  Dinning & Winning. While there is some truth in the perception /practice, the role goes far beyond just plain relationship management and networking. Public Affairs role requires making and mirroring deeply-researched and well-articulated arguments which are compelling enough to create a favourable policy ecosystem.  All said and done, a successful and sober Public Affairs practitioner must be armed with power of persuasion, backed by thorough knowledge of issue to influence actors and architects of public policy and create win-win proposition for multiple stakeholders, being bundled into policy eco-system.

More importantly, Policy is a single most important instrument that can make or break the future of an organization as well as industry in which it resides or represents.  Therefore, thus, clarity and correct reading of policies with a telescopic-eyes for any organisation – large or lean.  Policy paper and position of the government may be, pretty often, drowned in ambiguity and open to a bewildering variety of interpretations and understanding.  Moreover, some policies are archaic and ways past their expiry good time. In such a sensitive, slippery and sober situation, it is indeed immensely important for organisations to be in tune with policy environment, thereby effectively and pro-actively represent their views to policy makers and drive their core functional alignment to the existing and future policy eco-system. Under the circle of circumstances, role and responsibility of public affairs professional in organisations is of King-size importance.

Arguably, a Public Affairs professional  wears the badge of ambassador of the company s/he represents.  Therefore, character virtues like integrity and ethics are of paramount importance.  Moreover, the weight of persuation diminishes and dies down once integrity of a person is not up to the mark.

In the military parlance, the terms War Time and Peace Time are pretty common.  The War Time reflects a crises situation where the reactions have to be immediate, while Peace Time offers sufficient space to create, cement and consolidate strategic reserves and relations etc. Similarly, in the Public Affairs arena too there are ‘war time’ (crisis management) for e.g. license cancellations, regulatory notices. tax-related raids and brand disrepute, to name a few. While, whereas, during ‘Peace Times’ calls for progress with policy makers and set of important authorities to facilitate innovative policy measures etc., Life of public Affairs professional could be compared with Fire -Fighters. More importantly, Public Affairs outfit is one of the few functions in an organisation which requires an oversight over all the functions-heads in the organisation. Typically, in a large manufacturing organisation, Public Affairs guys need to internally and intimately liaise with the length and breadth of an organisation – right from Research & Development, Production, Sales & Marketing, Finance, Corporate Strategy to HRD including Corporate Communication.  The policy and regulatory impacts all the aforesaid functions, hence, Public Affairs plays the role of Weather Maker with High Antenna to foresee and fathom what comes and when.

All in all, Public Affairs practice is thus very demanding and energy swapping with no dull day. At the same time, it is a thankless job, reason being it is next to impossible to quantify the material impact created by these professionals in clearer terms. Historically, organisation view Public Affairs as a cost centre. Of course, forwarding- looking organisations have started investing more resources in  Public Affairs Division which reports to the TOP-TABLE of the organisation.  In most of the multinationals, the size of public Affairs Outfit has started ballooning- out backed by brilliant professionals, powered by fact-based and study-based approach to drive the organisational agenda, revolving around policy-specific issues. Public Policy. By any yardstick, Public Policy profession has, to my sheer chagrin,  become so powerful and prominent that even professionals, sitting pretty on powerful positions in Communication, Legal, Media, Administration, Research and Sales are jumping into it.

All in all, role/responsibilities of Public Affairs practitioners are galloping in stature, style and strength by any yardstick. At the same, well-starched safari-suit wearing Fixers, Facilitators and Free-floaters, restlessly and generously gasconading their unfettered access to the Who is Who of Sarkari Bhawans, are slowly walking into sun-set, without spring in their feet.

Views expressed here are those of Mohan Shukla, Sr. Advisor – Public Policy & Government Affairs in Decathlon India, PwC India, Pernod Ricard India & Afcons India, Chairman, Public Relations Society of India (Delhi Chapter)

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