TL;DR: Powering Up Policy Pros, Anti-Monopoly Passes Go, And Drink With Your Feet?
Here’s what you need to know…
Extreme partisanship. Unrelenting information flows from traditional and digital media. A blending of corporate interests and politics. Today’s policy landscape is more decentralized and complex than ever. Policy professionals tasked by companies, trade associations, and public affairs firms to achieve objectives are constantly navigating this operating environment rife with uncertainty. In the words of one Senior Vice President of Government Affairs: “I’m no longer dealing primarily with policy issues related to my company’s industry. My firm asks for my help with everything from gun rights to labor issues and investor relations. We weigh in on more business decisions than ever before.” How can you ensure you’re prepared to weigh in on more issues than ever when 53% of policy professionals’ biggest challenge is managing information overload?
That’s the question raised by the data in Politico Pro’s recently released “Policy Professional Benchmark Report,” which was compiled from more than 1,400 interviews with policy and public affairs professionals to provide an in-depth look at the challenges they face. Given Delve’s expertise in culling, analyzing, and synthesizing data into actionable insights for our corporate and industry clients, this data was no surprise to us. As the Politico Pro report illuminates, policy professionals are in the midst of adapting to these key challenges:
- From Heightened Social Issue Activism To Expanded Corporate Stakeholder Expectations, Policy Professionals “Weigh In On More Business Decisions Than Ever Before.” Regardless of whether it chooses to engage on political issues and values or not, the C-suite is more interested than ever in matters of public policy. Policy professionals face increased pressures to add value as social issue activism and heightened expectations regarding corporate social responsibility from investors and the public push them outside of their comfort zones. As evidence of this need for counsel, more than half of those policy professionals surveyed are meeting with general counsels and business unit leaders on a weekly basis, including 60% doing so with a CEO. Where decision-making was once based on traditional modeling, competitive market intelligence, and rigorous analysis, competitive intelligence through the lens of public affairs is now in demand.
- Policy Professionals’ “ Biggest Challenge Isn’t A Lack Of Information, But An Overflow Of It.” Policy professionals have an incredible amount of information at their fingertips and 53% of those surveyed by Politico Pro list their top challenge, from “keeping up with it all” to being able to “process and synthesize” it, as managing information overflow. Increased uncertainty and a dispersion of policymaking have only fueled this overload, as professionals are called upon to provide guidance to stakeholders on legislative and executive developments in Washington, new regulatory frameworks implemented in the European Union, policy measures at the state and municipal levels, and more. There is little time to stay on top of developments, let alone process them to discern what they mean for your organization and how to leverage them to your advantage. And with all due respect to Politico, the news these days is more often heat than light, making it difficult for policy professionals to rely on news outlets to separate fact from speculation and opinion.
- “Searching For Information” Is Policy Professionals’ Top Category Of Time Spend. Forty-eight percent of public affairs pros spend most of their time researching and searching for information, and that doesn’t include analyzing – let alone packaging and leveraging – such information and doesn’t leave enough time to do so. Given the quick pace of change across so many jurisdictions, it is “almost impossible” to keep up, let alone find time to translate it into actual advocacy work that moves the needle for your organization.
So how can public affairs and government relations professionals adapt to this new operating environment? Leveraging our expertise here at Delve, we have a few solutions:
- Understand And Get Ahead Of Political Risks. The expertise of policy professionals is invaluable to executives, particularly when companies are only a viral moment or tweet away from a boycott or crisis as professionalized social issue activism continues to rise. Because of the array of issues and risks, understanding first an organization’s overall political risk and its own vulnerabilities can help policy professionals proactively outline policies and processes for engaging (or not) in the public arena. Once known, such insights can also help proactively inform advocacy efforts.
- Focus On Insights Over Noise. Seventy-three percent of policy professionals are increasingly turning to intelligence tools “to find information more quickly,” and advances in technology from social media listening platforms to free tools such as keyword alerts and aggregators offer policy pros many options. However, these do-it-yourself tools can lead to even more information overload, and do not provide meaningful analysis or key trends that point to what happens next, making it difficult to derive actionable insights from their information flows. That is why when evaluating new tools, policy professionals should consider whether they deliver competitive intelligence and analysis that gives their organization an advantage, or simply add to information overload.
- Engage A Force-Multiplier. “Surprise has become standard” does not have to be your organization’s new normal. Engaging a strategic partner to help reduce the time spent on researching, monitoring, and analyzing information can serve as a force-multiplier for an organization’s public affairs team. As the Politico Pro report noted, “All this time spent translating policy internally constrains policy professionals’ availability to influence stakeholders beyond their organizations.” A strategic competitive intelligence partner can ensure policy professionals’ time is invested in leveraging key insights, meeting with internal and external stakeholders, and other high-yield functions.
Challenges are often paired with opportunities. Corporate interests engaging in the public policy environment are continuing to evolve to address the challenges above, and innovative approaches, services, and partnerships are changing the way public policy is done. If you’re interested in discussing how your organization can build a more effective approach to succeeding in today’s uncertain landscape, and hearing more about the work Delve does to put policy professionals at an information advantage rather than an information overload, reach out to us.
News You Can Use
ANTI-MONOPOLY PASSES GO
Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes is spearheading a $10 million “anti-monopoly” fund that is hoping to “shine an effort on competition” and, Hughes says, “move the issue from the margins to the mainstream.” His old company isn’t the only one that should take notice, and we’re not just referring to other members of big tech.
Hughes and his allies view the interest surrounding tech as an opportunity to galvanize into a “broader movement to analyze, regulate or dismantle behemoths in agriculture, healthcare and other industries” in which they believe customers are hurt by a lack of competition. With the funding going to like-minded academics, policy advocacy groups, and grassroots activists that engage on the ground, industries beyond tech such as health care, pharmaceuticals, agriculture, financial services and more will need to prepare for this effort and the networks of influence stemming from it.
DRINK WITH YOUR FEET?
It turns out people may not only vote with their feet or their wallets, but drink with their feet, too. A recent study on the effects of Philadelphia’s soda tax provides new data regarding how consumers respond to taxes on the everyday choices they make. Unlike previous studies that centered on Berkeley’s soda tax, Philadelphia’s large and diverse population provides a more complete picture of the policy implications.
Advocates of soda taxes, whether to increase revenues or improve health or both, may find the results dismaying: soda purchases declined 46% in the city, but sales of soda increased in stores bordering the city, and sales in lower-income neighborhoods remained similar. This data suggests that not only was there no meaningful positive health outcome or increase in tax revenues, but that the tax ultimately targeted those who could least afford it. While the research team proposed a broader taxing area to address these shortcomings, it does not change the reality that people appear to drink with their feet, and that ill-conceived policies often hurt those who can least afford them.
FED UP WITH PHILANTHROPISTS
Successful philanthropists have given much time and money to create and sustain America’s great cultural institutions, yet despite the good they have done in this realm (not to mention the benefits for workers and investors in their successful businesses), professionalized activism is coming for them. Patrons such as Warren Kanders was “run off the board of the Whitney Museum of American art” because his company supplies the U.S. border patrol, and BlackRock CEO and Museum of Modern Art Board Member Larry Fink is being pressured by activists wanting to “ride off the tails of the Whitney action” to change his company’s investments to suit their agenda.
For philanthropists and the organizations who depend on their involvement and generosity, this activism presents new reputational risks that will need to be addressed. In the case of the former, it would appear that shared values, cultural and civic service, and vocal, socially conscious capitalism cannot keep activism at bay. As to the latter, organizations dependent on such benefactors may expect more public scrutiny from activism relating to their boards, creating a new need to better understand the risks and vulnerabilities that can be used against them by determined activists.
At Delve, we’re well-versed in the jungle of the federal rule-making process, and particularly the too often spurious nature of public comments that are repetitive, vulgar, fake, or irrelevant. In the latest development regarding fraudulent comments on the regulatory docket, the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations released a bipartisan report finding that “federal agencies do little or nothing to stop crimes and abuses committed in the systems they use to collect public comments on proposed regulations.”
Whether a person’s identity was stolen, a false name was used, or comments were laced with profanity, the comments can “corrupt the public-comment process, mandated by law, which can influence outcomes of regulations affecting millions.” Often, interests advancing their policy goals create astroturf campaigns which can employ fake comments. Subcommittee Chair Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) has recommended changes to the laws governing rule-making processes, including this one: “clarify that agencies should not accept or post abusive, profane, or threatening comments; irrelevant comments; or comments submitted under a false identity.” If only it were that easy.