From narrative through discourse to regulation

Lukasz Bochenek

November 10, 2018

When the intangible becomes business critical

Global issues – concrete implications

A lot has been said about “glocal” (a portmanteau of global and local) approaches to communications and advocacy. However, in my experience, organisations and companies rarely understand, or seek to understand, how global socio-economic could impact the sectors they operate in.

In some cases this goes as far as completely ignoring changing expectations from stakeholders and customers – a huge mistake that has been the downfall of more than one business. This is not a concerted choice by leaders, but it is all to easy to keep doing what has brought success in the past, without considering the broader landscape.

This is why “big picture” analysis and foresight are not “nice to haves”, but mission critical – especially when seeking to impact regulation and policy through advocacy efforts. However it is not easy, requiring both an ongoing understanding of changes in the external landscape, as well as a connection with stakeholders and customers.

Shaping the global discourse and regulatory framework

The proliferation of the (multi-)media landscape provides companies and organisations with an opportunity to connect directly with their audiences. And those that use this connection to becomes sources of knowledge for stakeholders are generally the most successful in their advocacy efforts. Being a knowledge centre provides a great opportunity to shape opinions and beliefs, and build partnerships – linking the work of advocacy and communications together to shape an overall discourse on an issue. And it is this discourse over the medium to long term that impacts policy decisions.

From this perspective, Geneva and Brussels, and the mutual dynamics between them as hubs of international policy and regulation, are crucial for businesses to keep track of.

Geneva – capital of influence

Geneva – the second seat of United Nations, and home to hundreds of NGOs and IGOs – is an unquestionable hub for shaping global influence. Making connections between people and organisations from different backgrounds and sectors is in the DNA of the city. Global policies on, and approaches to, the most pressing global issues are shaped here, impacting decision-making across the globe.

 Brussels – centre of regulations

Some of the world’s most sophisticated regulatory systems are shaped in Brussels. While Brussels is frequently regarded with a purely European lenses, the impacts of decisions taken in the city are often much more far-reaching. Many European regulations are adopted verbatim beyond the borders of the EU, or treated as a model for regional and domestic regulation across the globe. The EU also shapes the global discourse and action on multiple subjects, ranging from sustainability to development to climate action. This makes the interconnection between the two hubs of influence even stronger.

Interconnection between advocacy and public affairs

Sometimes, the time-lapse between a shift in discourse and the subsequent change to regulatory policy is long; but monitoring and influencing trends is still the crucial starting point. And for companies to shape the discourse requires action across the traditionally separate fields of public affairs, communications and advocacy. The link between shaping the narrative, creating a holistic supportive environment and shaping policy / regulations is viral. Breaking the wall between “soft influence” and lobbying has become fundamental for business success.

Creating a holistic approach to public affairs and advocacy

Building effective influence strategies requires a company or organisation to consider their whole value chain. Four steps can help to do this:

  1. Create a culture of listening across the organisation. Connect what is being discussed externally (and what you are talking about) with the agendas of regulators and legislators.
  2. Consider external engagement as a single function – bringing together advocacy, lobbying, communications and member relationships in one corporate function.
  3. Align external and internal communications – ensuring that what is said externally about an organisation is in line with internal perceptions.
  4. Develop knowledge – companies have the possibility to shape global discourses, but to do so they need to substantiate their positions with knowledge and understanding. Show that your organisation is a leader not just in your sector, but also as a “corporate citizen”.

Influencing the influence

This holistic approach to advocacy will give the most effective results. It encourages an outward-looking attitude, seeing issues from the perspective of stakeholders and not the organisation that wishes to influence them. But to do so, it is critical to create holistic advocacy approaches that link external relations strategies across traditional silos.