#IMPACTinsights series features a panel discussion on how public affairs managers deliver the company line within a hostile environment.

Corporate affairs managers who can identify an overlap of interest with third parties can develop strategies to share the load of a controversial issues management campaign, reveals IMPACT.

The comments come from the fourth #IMPACTinsights breakfast, hosted in Sydney today, which brought together a panel of four experts from government, industry and not-for-profit, to discuss the challenges and opportunities for corporate affairs in 2015.

The panel included Cathy Jamieson, group manager, public information at NBN Co Ltd; Tricia Wunsch, who has headed corporate public affairs for listed companies in mining, gaming, infrastructure, renewable energy and most recently, WestConnex; Yolanda Beattie, public affairs executive manager at Workplace Gender Equality Agency; and Martin Lynch, former head of reverse mortgages at ABN AMRO.

The panellists agreed on the importance of solid stakeholder relationships. During her time at international infrastructure and renewable energy company Acciona, Tricia Wunsch focussed on building strong advocacy amongst like-minded third parties.

“A for-profit company’s arguments, regardless of their robustness and merits, are often treated with suspicion purely because of the source,” said Wunsch. “Identifying a third party stakeholder, building a partnership, then providing data or information to facilitate and allow them to substantiate their view, makes an enormous difference to the narrative.”

All panellists emphasised the need to keep enemies close. Identifying antagonists, whether they are vocal or not, is important.
“Apathy is the greatest threat,” says Yolanda Beattie. “However, it’s better to understand what your critics say and allow supporters to rise to your side. It also allows for greater perspective in moments of attack,” she says.

Martin Lynch also faces aversion to his industry’s purpose. Having worked in leading reverse mortgage roles at ABN AMRO/RBS, and Australian Seniors Finance, the argument is always the same: reverse mortgages result in retirees to spend their kids’ inheritance. However, research reveals very small loans are carefully considered and used for practical projects such as home adjustments for comfortable retirement living.

“The emotional reaction versus the rational reaction is only to be expected,” he says. “Combining data with human interest provides context. It creates a platform to dispel myths, and cut through accurate messages to market.

“IMPACT’s public relations campaign to launch an industry body for the reverse mortgage industry, SEQUAL, and its association with Deloitte was the perfect third party package for RBS to offer a positive story narrative,” said Lynch.

For Cathy Jamieson, as former head of corporate communications of Microsoft Australia, prioritising issues within a multinational organisation comes down to making quick decisions pinpointing what needs your attention for the day.

“Translating a multinational company line successfully in Australia requires hyper-local understanding for on the ground PR,” said Jamieson. “Perspective must be relevant in the local market context.”

WGEA’s Yolanda Beattie says her campaign success stems from bringing opinions to the surface.

“Going out there telling CEOs they are probably paying female employees less because of unconscious gender bias? Challenging and tricky,” she says. “We recently opted for an approach which used humour, intrigue, and sharable content, to spark conversations and fuel social media virality.”

Strong personal traits are also important. “Have a really clear sense of personal values and a strong commitment to maintain them,” said Beattie. “Created a mantra with the team; bold and brave – be respectful. It can be easy to get ‘hysterical’. Bring business on board; not just criticise. Bring the CEOs on board; grow and build support.”

Tricia Wunsch agrees, “Remind your colleagues and the team about the good things ensures perspective of the bigger picture.”
Nicole Webb, Managing Director at IMPACT, agrees perspective is crucial to in an issues management campaign. “Public relations agencies can monitor and develop strong story narratives with clients; maintaining relevance and newsworthiness. We’ve been instrumental forging relationships with like-minded third parties for clients’ issues management campaigns.”