Public Affairs’ Sleeping Giant
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Holmes Report
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Public Affairs’ Sleeping Giant

The importance of internal communication has long been recognized in reputation management but remains the “sleeping giant” of public affairs.

Holmes Report

The importance of internal communication has long been recognized in reputation management
but remains the “sleeping giant” of public affairs (PA). Today, the power of motivating employees
to serve as PA ambassadors is under developed in most organizations. Frequently the people
best positioned to deliver PA goals are not those in remote, central PA departments but
individuals on the ground, interfacing day to day with consumers, customers, activists and
officials.

This situation is perhaps not surprising when you consider that most PA heads frequently have
little by way of formal communications training, let alone internal communications experience. Yet
in our connected, interactive and increasingly localized world, the risk of neglecting the
communication of PA internally can at best mean a missed opportunity and at worst result in your
own people being skeptical about your actions, with a resulting impact on morale, productivity
and profit.

It is clear that not all situations call for extended internal PA mobilization. Indeed, many
necessitate careful and close control. However, scenarios abound where employees across the
wider organization can be an important gateway to engaging key PA audiences. Just think of the
marketing director pushing a new “chemical” free range; the pharmacist stocking your new
miracle drug but not understanding how it really works; or the disgruntled business traveler
launching an online campaign after being confronted with “hidden fees” at the airport check-in.
Frequently, the stakeholders driving an issue are far removed from distant PA departments.

Much in the same way that CEOs recognize that good employee communication is needed to
build and maintain great reputation the vital importance of including internal communications in
PA should be better understood; not least because PA is an increasingly important part of
reputation management. All too often PA is a one way process designed to reflect the views and
needs of the messenger. However, in today’s world simply “delivering messages” is not enough.
PA audiences are not passive and more time needs to be given to listening and building dialog.
Harnessing the potential of your wider organization as a local and interactive interface is
increasingly critical in filling both of these needs.

Of course not all organizations are the same and structure and culture need to be reflected.
However, in this interconnected world organizations can no longer afford to operate in PA silos. PA
departments should give more focus to communicating their role internally and being more fully
integrated into day to day business. By putting in place a carefully thought through process to
engage your wider team, clearly setting out why they are being involved, and establishing clear
and simple objectives and actions, people in your organization can (and in some cases need to)
become effective and influential PA ambassadors.

Tom Parker is managing partner of Brussels-based consultancy Cambre Associates

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