How To Deliver Effective Public Affairs In A Small Team

Posted by: on Apr 19, 2023 | No Comments

There is a common belief that public affairs requires large, well-resourced teams. However, many organisations operate with smaller budgets and teams, which presents a challenge for achieving success. How can we make them effective?

Size Isn’t Everything

Team size does not necessarily determine the effectiveness of public affairs, as the quality and skills of team members are critical. It can be that larger teams simply end up having to deal with more internal admin or meetings!

The first aspect of political engagement to recognise is that it is a highly competitive space so making any argument resonate with your audience has to be a top priority. How you make yourselves stand out helps with the challenge of being listened to. Developing close relationships with stakeholders and gaining a deep understanding of their perspectives can help organisations stand out in a competitive political environment. But it is also important for organisations to have a really clear idea of what makes them stand out from the crowd.

The power of first-move advantage

One effective strategy is to secure ‘first mover advantage’, which means taking action on an issue before competitors do. This is an issue discussed in an episode of the Persuaders podcast focusing a research paper by Wiebke Junk. Amongst the conclusions of the work, which focused on activity during Covid, is:

“organizations lobbying earlier have significantly higher perceived influence on these policies than late movers.”

Small teams can move just as quickly, if not more quickly, than larger teams.

Five steps to success

But to be in a position to move quickly, and secure the engagement benefits, the following steps need to be in place:

  • Monitoring / information gathering – the processes need to be in place so that the team can see an issue developing and move on it. The monitoring needs to be paying attention to what competitors are doing as well as issues that are being discussed in politics or the media / social media. Informal feedback can play an invaluable role as well.
  • Internal triggers – as well as paying attention to the external environment, the internal environment can provide triggers as well. But that means open channels of internal communications with teams that talk to each other.
  • Speed of movement – once you have been made aware of an issue that needs to be moved on, it becomes how you gather your evidence, data and the real-life experiences that policy-makers want to hear about. Those processes need to be in place. Creating them takes time and you may not have that.
  • Reporting lines – how quickly positions, policy papers, briefings, social media posts and the like can be drafted and, critically, agreed could make all the difference. Shorter reporting lines could be a real advantage.
  • Feedback loops – need to be established so that as engagement takes places and questions are asked, responses and replies can be rapidly returned.

The reality is that effective public affairs is the same whatever size of team you work in. But smaller teams should not feel that they are disadvantaged. Smaller teams have potential advantages, such as the ability to move quickly and make decisions more efficiently, but they need to leverage these strengths to achieve success in public affairs.