Corporate executives running business operations in foreign countries often face huge political challenges but have little or no training in public affairs, according to findings in the 2010-2011 International Public Affairs Benchmarking Report, published by the Public Affairs Council.

The report also finds the ability of global public affairs professionals to affect public policy varies tremendously around the world. Some policy issues, such as trade and taxation, are rated highly important, yet companies feel they have little influence on governmental decisions on those issues in most countries.

Among the toughest markets for public affairs professionals are South Korea, Argentina and India, while respondents report higher effectiveness on five key issues in the European Union and Canada.
These same practitioners indicate their chief challenges when working abroad include winning support from foreign governments; gaining access to foreign government officials; managing foreign regulatory practices; finding local talent; and working with lean budgets that force them to focus on a limited number of countries and manage a small staff.

The study also finds that the use of different public affairs strategies—including lobbying, media outreach, corporate responsibility and social networking—varies widely. Corporate responsibility programs are implemented most often in Mexico, China and India, for example, but are less common in Japan. Coalitions are common in the European Union, but are rare in Russia.

“One of the survey’s most important findings is that while country managers often are responsible for international public affairs, they frequently have no training in company-specific issues or even in how the government where they are located works,” says Adam Korengold, the Council’s director of research and consulting services. “These data show the need for executives to understand political trends and how to manage external relationships with stakeholders. They’d benefit from working closely with corporate public affairs staff and taking coursework or training in public affairs management.”