27 March 2020 8 MIN reading

10 recommendations for Public Affairs departments in the context of the COVID-19 crisis

The context all companies and organizations are currently experiencing is a particularly complex one. The public affairs departments (or institutional relations, government as well as corporate affairs) can bring a lot to the table both in terms of immediate actions as well as of strengthening the immediate future strategic outlook.

01 All activities must focus on channelling the relationship with the authorities and administration in an orderly manner

In a situation of global economic and social crisis the public-private collaboration should be considered an obligation rather than a recommendation. The institutional relations departments should assume the leadership in collecting and selecting all contributions their organization can make to the public administration and society itself, they need to convey them in a clear, simple and concise manner to the appropriate interlocutor of the administration: contributions may consist of information, concrete proposals, specific action items. These should not be mere abstract and general proposals which in the current moment would only be a burden to already overloaded public administration units already running against the clock. If there is no content, contribution, or action plan to bring to the table to help it is better not to do it at all.

02 Let the trade organisations do their job

In line with the previous point the public administration can only appreciate one clear connection point for all the information which is now being circulated to and fro multiple parties. Current times call for an orderly contribution that can lead to a proper and informed decision-making by the administration. In line with the above-mentioned clarity simplicity and conciseness, the department of institutional relations must contribute by supporting trade associations to vehicle their messages.

03 Channelling information within the organization in an orderly manner

Each company operates in a different way, but the department should be one of the main entry points, leading intelligence analysis and distribution processes within the organization. Both managing stress and agility in decision-making require this information which must meet the same requirements of clarity, simplicity and conciseness. This must be done in a structured way: using an appropriate format, establishing delivery timelines and a target group of recipients is of enormous help in these times of understandable concern for all organizations.

04 Constant coordination with the legal departments

More than ever, in this moment political and social uncertainty will be projected into legal uncertainty. Among others, these days see the rise of many interpretive doubts. The institutional relations department must work together with the legal departments to understand the implications of the regulatory changes which are and will be introduced in the coming weeks; it has to offer its cooperation to the legal departments to channel their interpretative doubts. Silos or Chinese walls within the organization are of little help at this moment.

05 Serve as a filter to discard unnecessary demands

The leadership of any organization is responsible for guaranteeing continuity to the business, to its employees’ jobs as well as for minimizing the impact of this crisis. The department of institutional relations should be aware of the current priorities and be responsible for warning about any demand or claim which is not relevant or pertinent to the current situation.  Organizations should refrain from claiming in this context actions or reforms of the public administration which date back to the pre-crisis. The only acceptable cause is if solving certain matters now is of help now to support the organization in this context to fulfil its short- and medium-term goals.

06 Prepare for the continuity of the extraordinary and for investing in technology

In the uncertainty about the duration of this crisis teleworking becomes essential not only within an organization but also in the development and continuity of the relationship with its external stakeholders. It is not usual to engage in online conversations with certain interlocutors, particularly representatives of the political and regulatory spheres, yet we must start getting used to the progressive “normalization of the extraordinary” which is already leading us towards this new communication dynamic. Teams will have to embrace new parameters such as the interpretation of gestural language, the moderation and tailoring of content, the structuring of a conversation, and above all creating a climate of trust.

07 Don’t let the “normalization of the extraordinary” distract you from your work

Once all extraordinary measures will no longer be in place the administration and the authorities will go back to their public decision tasks as well as regulatory projects. Without forgetting the above-mentioned priorities, it is important to pursue the projects which were underway before the crisis: transposition of directives affecting the organization, implementation of institutional plans and an open debate with the political, regulatory and social environment. It may even be the right time to develop tools such as databases to structure all the organizations’ stakeholders and the relationship with them. An adequate distribution of work within the teams and with external collaborators is key to this endeavour. Designated team members should lead the continuity and the coherence of previous activities supporting the organization’s core priorities.

08 Adaptation

Regardless of the duration of the current crisis both the market and non-market environments will radically change. In fact, they already did. And consequently, many of the institutional relationships plans which were already in place will experience significant changes. Yesterday’s beliefs may not apply to what is happening today. Priorities will constantly vary. Flexibility and speed will become indispensable requirements for the institutional relations departments and their activities.

09 Take the opportunity to learn

The concept of institutional relations often undervalues the idea of training.  However, the increasing professionalization of public affairs and its growing weight as a strategic tool within an organization highlights the importance of adequate training for professionals and the strengthening of the department in the medium term. The online sources of training have, if possible, exponentially multiplied in the recent times and broadened their access and coverage; as in everything, the more prepared you are, the more chances of success you will have access to.

10. Learn from experience (write your own Logbook)

We do not know whether what we are living now will happen again, nor what tomorrow holds, yet keeping a record of our daily activities will probably be the best preparation exercise for any future eventuality.

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