Branded by public policy: how to respond when policy affects your brand?

5 May 2016, Blog

The public policy and regulatory world has changed beyond recognition in the last 20 years. The growth in interest groups, campaign organisations, NGOs, and other stakeholders means that it is not simply politicians who are interested or concerned about changes to public policy.  The fact that the public policy debate is now played out online, often in the full glare of the public, simply adds to the challenge. Another complicating factor is that regulators are increasingly “sharing best practice” across national borders – so a change in one country often means that other countries follow suit. The tobacco industry could testify to this latter trend in particular.

Put simply this means that one, relatively innocuous, policy change announced by Government could result in an organisation finding themselves facing a “tidal wave” of campaigners at very short notice. The risks associated with public policy changes are therefore often board level discussions.

What to do about this? Well, as any good boy Scout would say, be prepared. This means trying to identify policy changes before they happen – not simply employing excellent political consultants (although of course that helps!)  – but also adopting a more holistic approach to communications. This means ending the “silo approach” whereby public affairs might sit outside the wider communications team; faced with a barrage of campaigners angered by a recent policy shift is a considerable communications challenge for any organisation. It is increasingly essential to ensure that your business has a broader understanding of the broader trends in your industry sector – by doing this you are much more likely to spot where policy changes are likely to emerge from.

Of course there are some policy shifts that cannot be predicted; in these situations it is vital to understand the implications of the shift in policy as quickly as possible, build alliances and demonstrate the negative impact that the shift in policy will create. A slightly regretful tone, suggesting that this is undoubtedly an “unintended consequence” of a worthwhile attempt to change something will make the message more palatable and less self-serving. And  of course, as the age of austerity seems to have no sign of abating, always talk in economic terms. How could this policy change result in a loss of jobs or revenue to the Treasury coffers.

 

By James Turgoose, Director of London

JBP Staff Member

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