3 questions to ask when hiring a public affairs agency
by David Abrahams on 05 Sep 2018
Policy and regulation can have a significant impact on businesses, especially those operating in the technology sector where innovation is a constant. As a result, many organisations are investing in strategies to help them keep pace with changes to policy and regulation, so they can spot potential threats or opportunities early on.
However, developing a strategy for engaging with policy and regulation can be daunting without the know-how or the capability of a dedicated in-house function. How do you monitor policy and regulation? How do you analyse what it means for your business? How do you even begin to start a dialogue with the decision makers?
For all these reasons, many organisations choose to leverage the skills and expertise of a public affairs agency to help them navigate the political and regulatory landscape. A public affairs agency will keep you up-to-date on key political and regulatory trends, analyse how these could impact your business, and use their network in the policy community to help you engage with decision makers.
A public affairs agency tends to work with a business on an ongoing basis, meaning you can focus fully on other priorities with the knowledge that they will be there as a trusted and consistent adviser.
If you are considering partnering with a public affairs agency, here are three things to consider when choosing the right one for your business.
1. Do they have the right knowledge?
A public affairs agency will have a deep knowledge and experience of their craft. But how well do they know your industry? Have they worked with other businesses that are similar to yours? Do they have an interest in your products or services?
Most public affairs agencies are generalists, but will have specialists in different fields working within the firm. It's important that the people you partner with have a solid understanding of your industry, and can offer you a fully tailored approach aligned to your business goals, rather than a generic public affairs programme.
When contacting potential agencies to work with, ask them to provide a list of past clients with similar challenges to yours that you can contact for a testimonial.
2. Do they have the right skills?
Beyond the obvious, there are a number of skills you want your public affairs agency to possess.
Outstanding problem solvers - Experts at analysing, distilling and turning complex information into digestible, actionable information.
Fast acting - Ability to provide fast, up to the minute research and analysis.
Professional - They will, at times, be representing your business, so need to be consummate professionals.
Exceptional communicators - Providing you with clear written reports and presenting facts and arguments to decision makers are a big part of the service they provide.
Good listeners - No matter how much experience they have in your sector, a public affairs agency needs to fully understand the specific challenges you face and your goals.
Honest - A good public affairs agency will always tell you what you need to hear, even though you may not want to hear it.
Ethical - It is important to assure yourself that your chosen public affairs agency will act ethically at all times.
3. Are they the right fit for your company?
As well as taking the time to investigate the capabilities of your shortlist of public affairs agencies, it is also important to establish their overall “fit” with your organisation. Ultimately, the success of your partnership will depend on this compatibility. Some people think this means that big companies need to hire big agencies and vice versa, but this is rarely the case and questions of culture are far more important than size.
Do they have the same values as you in terms of work ethic and commitment to quality? Does their culture of management and strategic thinking match yours? If you are a forward-thinking, innovative and dynamic company, you want to partner with an agency that exemplifies these characteristics.
A genuine interest in the products or services you provide is also valuable. It's much more heartening to work with an organisation that will have a genuine interest in helping to drive your business forward.
There's no question that trying to deliver an engagement programme without professional assistance is a significant undertaking. If you are busy running a business, then you are unlikely to have much spare time to devote to this task.
If you are just starting the process of engaging with policy and regulation, then you may not be ready to recruit a permanent employee into your business. Using an agency can help you identify the strategies that will deliver your business objectives whilst providing a flexible and adaptable level of support. Finding an agency with the right culture is critical if you are going to get the most out of your investment.
Written by David Abrahams
David’s is an experienced public affairs practitioner with a background in competition regulation and a particular focus on technology, mobility, telecoms and internet infrastructure. He leads Inline's mobility practice.