4 October 2012

The changing face of public affairs in an increasingly digitalised world

60 Minutes with Brendan Hodgson, senior Digital Strategy Director at Hill+Knowlton Strategies Brussels

The world we know is changing, and fast. Whilst it continues to lag behind its North American counterparts, European policy making, as demonstrated by recent events, is no longer immune to the invasive influence of digital technology. Those stakeholders ready to embrace this change are most prepared to succeed in this new age of political communication. These were the main conclusions drawn by Brendan Hodgson, senior Digital Strategy Director at Hill+Knowlton Strategies, during a breakfast discussion on ‘Public Affairs & Advocacy in the Digital Age’.

With more than thirty public affairs representatives participating, Hodgson led a fruitful discussion which explored how digital communication is changing the way European policymakers are taking decisions, and how stakeholders are able to benefit from this change. Hodgson explained that digital technology is turning public affairs on its head. A pertinent example of this is the recent rejection of the ACTA agreement by the European Parliament –which seems to suggest that policymakers are, at least to some extent, sensitive to the public debate that unfolds on Twitter, Facebook and other online forums.

Admittedly, not every policy issue will be as prone to digital influence as the ACTA discussion. Nonetheless, assessing how digital communication can be leveraged to support a wider overarching public affairs strategy is in the interest of every organisation, submits Hodgson, and adds that the price of ‘in-action’ and missed communication opportunities can be high.  

Boiled down, digital provides public affairs practitioners with new and innovative vehicles for delivering their messages to different audiences. In the public affairs context, the use of digital may help to convey the human impact of a legislative proposal. For politically appointed policymakers reliant on public support, this aspect may be particularly influential in helping them form a decision regarding a legislative dossier.

What is more, in contrast to traditional tools (position papers, corporate backgrounders, press-releases, etc.) digital provides an opportunity for unprecedented audience engagement, as well the mobilisation of disconnected communities. If channelled correctly, these elements combined with the right messaging can prove to be powerful motives for policymakers to take action.

An interesting point which arose during the discussion was the perception that digital can only effectively promote simple messages; these are not always appropriate for influencing complex political discussions. Whilst not denying this trend, Hodgson commented that the role of digital should not necessarily be to ‘dumb-down’ complex issues, but rather to help audiences better understand these issues via a more dynamic education process, which may involve interactive games, easy-to-grasp visuals, etc.    

If your organisation would like to know more about how Hill+Knowlton Strategies can reap the digital dividend benefit from its communication efforts, please contact Brendan Hodgson on bhodgson@hkstrategies.com or +32 (0) 2 737 95 74.

Related contacts :

Brendan Hodgson
Executive Strategy Director and Head of Digital Practice

email: brendan.hodgson@hkstrategies.com