Jul 24, 2023
Manuel Kerber

Communication Is Political

Public affairs behind closed doors, public relations in the public eye? This division no longer holds. In 2023, we need to consider both together.

When Tesla boss Elon Musk announced the location of the Gigafactory as Grünheide in Berlin in November 2019, many were astonished. With one sentence, Musk catapulted Germany into the elite of electro mobility. Could there be better news in this sector? Hardly. And yet the news about the location caused a great deal of unrest, as environmental associations, political actors and media representatives alike did not take kindly to the company's plans and conduct. The announcement seemed hasty, unprepared and, above all, uncoordinated. This example shows how quickly a positive message can turn into a negative one if its impact on political decision-makers, interest groups or local residents is not taken into account or not taken into account enough. 


Ensuring Integrated Communication Is Key

One strategy to avoid this trap is an integrative communication of public affairs and public relations: through public affairs, relationships can be built with decision-makers and interest groups. In this way, a company can not only present its arguments in personal talks, but also find out which social and political representatives have which positions. 

In this way, a strategy for transparent and sustainable press relations can be developed to dispel concerns and social resistance as far as possible and to create facts. This helps to reach opinion leaders, to inform them transparently and to steer the media storm, at least to a certain extent. 


Gaining Trust, Achieving Goals

Public affairs involves monitoring political developments, shaping laws and regulations, influencing policy-makers and promoting an organisation's interests to policy-makers and the public. Combined with public relations, it provides significant leverage in a company's communications mix.

Companies that successfully combine public affairs and public relations can achieve their goals more effectively and at the same time gain the trust of the public. Political influence and the appropriate communication strategy are two key factors that can significantly influence success. This is especially true in light of the fact that digitalisation is increasingly penetrating highly regulated areas (examples: health, energy and financial sectors), where a small change in the law or a new regulation can call an entire business model into question. In times when political decisions and public opinions can change quickly and radically, this enables an organisation to react to changes quickly and effectively and adapt its actions accordingly.


5 Reasons Why Combining Public Relations and Public Affairs Is the Way to Go

1. Only a few companies - and almost no start-ups - can use their size and the number of their employees as a power factor. What they do have is their image as an asset. The more positive the public perception of a company is, the less distrust political decision-makers have of it - and the more successful it can be in asserting its interests politically. The reverse is also true: for a company with an excellent image but without a public affairs strategy, it can be very difficult to influence political decisions. It is simply too rarely on the radar of political decision-makers. It is an interplay that is inevitably mutually dependent. 

2. With a well-coordinated communication strategy, published positions can be aligned with the arguments put forward in confidential discussions. This increases the company's credibility and clout.

3. PR can help communicate corporate positions to a wider audience and thereby secure additional supporters. 

4. PR is an essential element in establishing company representatives as relevant contacts. Political decision-makers are also guided in their appointments by whether they have heard or read about a person before and how much influence they attribute to them in the industry. 

5. If companies are well informed about political and regulatory changes in their field, they can react quickly with an appropriate communication strategy. Ideally, they occupy a relevant topic before their competitors and thus influence the shaping of opinion. Conversely, those who react too late to the media situation and political decision proposals won't find themselves in the relevant current news coverage.


Dovetailing PA and PR using a concrete example

Last autumn, the "still secret" draft bill from the Federal Ministry of Health, which dealt with the legalisation of cannabis for the recreational market, circulated in the political arena of Berlin. Since the permeability between politics and media is very high, the topic was quickly relevant for journalists. A perfect moment for newsjacking and positioning a company. Thanks to a quick agreement between the company, the public affairs agency and PIABO, we were able to position the company with an expert statement at t3n and other media on the same afternoon and therefore generate added value for the media coverage.


How to Public Affairs

Even without a large apparatus in political Berlin, a lot can be achieved. A first step, for example, is to start in the company's constituency. The Federal Republic is divided into 299 constituencies, from which 736 members of the German Bundestag currently come. Organising an appointment with the MPs from the company's region is often a good way to draw political attention to oneself and to present one's own company and vision. Concrete results are quite possible: Are there appropriate subsidies for projects that the company can apply for? Can the MP develop contacts to important networks? Will there be a regulatory change in the future that will have an impact on the company's work and goals? All these questions can be addressed during a company visit. Tip: Very suitable are the summer tours of politicians who want to use the weeks without meetings to get to know the region, people and companies better on the one hand and to stay in conversation on the other.


Hosting a politician -- How to?

Once the appointment with a politician has been organised, the next questions for the decision-makers in the company are: Which setting is suitable? What do we present? Which media will be invited? Who else will be invited? What does the representative of the people think about the company's concerns?
These and many other questions show how important it is to prepare meticulously for such an appointment. The decision-makers should know what is to be achieved in this meeting and what the most important messages on this day are from the company's point of view. After all, politicians have many appointments in one day and actually never have time! Tip: Prepare fact sheets that you can give to the MPs and/or their accompanying persons (speakers). This way, the messages will not only stay in their heads, but also in their folders for follow-up.
The golden rule is: If the event is to have a high public profile from the company's point of view, this must be coordinated and approved in advance with the MP's office. It is better to ask more than too little and thus avoid unpleasant situations on the day of the visit.


Why public affairs now in particular?

The paths between companies and the Bundestag can therefore be short - if you know them Those who see regulatory threats to their business model should not wait too long and leave opportunities behind. Because in 2023, a great political dynamic is emerging: this year, four state parliaments (Bremen, Schleswig-Holstein, Bavaria and Hesse) will be newly elected. Next year, local elections will be held in eight federal states, as well as the major election for the European Parliament. The year 2023 is therefore a very good and decisive year for thinking closely about public affairs and public relations and developing an effective and sustainable communication strategy.

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