Corporate affairs is a much more critical function
than it used to be – and the qualities required more
demanding and diverse
The tumultuous events of the last 18 months have battered the reputations of totemic institutions, eroding confidence and upsetting the equilibrium of their less visible counterparts. Few sectors have been spared and the damage has certainly not been limited to financial services. Companies across the economic spectrum now realize that they are not just vulnerable to attack from the media and a disgruntled public, but from governments and regulators too.
Corporate Affairs Directors have been at the heart of the action, providing advice to boards and executive teams on reputation management, bringing the perspectives of stakeholders to bear on difficult and unprecedented decisions, and orchestrating a well co-ordinated response to sustained external pressure.
But while some companies have made a good fist of providing assurances to stakeholders and articulating strategic shifts, not everyone has been able to call upon the right skill sets at this critical time. In some cases, corporate affairs has been denied a seat at the top table, and in others the right person has simply not been in place when it really mattered.
While those companies must surely put a higher value on the role of corporate affairs in future, the question remains as to what qualities are needed to do the job well. In this article, based on our experience of helping companies find the best people for the role, I will attempt to provide an answer.
For some time before the recession took hold, the profile of the corporate affairs function had been changing. As the role broadened in scope well beyond media relations, encompassing government and public affairs, corporate social responsibility (CSR), internal affairs, investor relations and sponsorship, so the level of professionalism required increased. Today, for example, it would be unusual for the head of corporate affairs not to be consulted on risk management issues.
The role continues to evolve in line with shifting priorities, new pressures and growing expectations. This is reflected in the terminology “corporate affairs” or “corporate relations” which, while by no means universally applied, reflects the high status and broad remit of the function. For simplicity, we refer to corporate affairs in this article.
The best corporate affairs professionals will shape thinking and articulate it. The very best head of corporate affairs is far more likely to be consulted on the merits of a decision, rather than merely how it is presented internally or to the outside world. As a general rule, we see Corporate Affairs Directors getting involved at an earlier stage in decision-making and playing a broader role in the business.