The corporate affairs function in a time of global change – insights shared by the President of the Asia-Pacific Association of Communication Directors

By Anna Whitlam

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Pierre kindly interrupted his holiday to speak to us about world events, the challenges of running a global business in increasingly uncertain times, as well as his view of how our profession is changing. As you all know, AWP events are conducted under the Chatham House Rule, and without breaking the rules I wanted to share a few of Pierre’s invaluable insights and some highlights from the rich discussion that emerged.

Pierre introduced the attendees to the APACD. The APACD is modelled after the European equivalent, and is quickly building a cohesive peer network to support the Asia-Pacific’s community of mid to senior level public affairs and communications professionals. I can personally recommend the APACD’s magazine (Communications Director) and the very strong Australian Network which has 80 members.

Given HSBC has its global headquarters in London, the discussion naturally turned to the uncertainty and unrest caused by Brexit. Although it is a concern, HSBC and other multinational banks already have major dealing rooms in other EU cities, whereas smaller banks rely on the ‘passporting’ rights from the UK which allows them to sell banking services freely in the rest of the EU. The consensus was that, given the complex legal disentangling required for Britain to exit the EU, it will be some years before we fully understand the implications of Brexit.

A discussion around global uncertainty and change wouldn’t be complete without a dissection of the new era of President Trump. The rules of the game have changed for communications professionals and there is an increased need for companies to provide reassurance and certainty to their shareholder base. The way government relations practitioners engage with political leaders, and the approach adopted by all communications professionals has been profoundly disrupted as a result of the new political landscape.

Pierre noted that the biggest challenge by far for financial services, which is of course deeply linked to international politics, is the persistently low interest rates globally. On the one hand, customers and the public expect more of banks since the global financial crisis and on the other, customers are getting very little return, in some cases, with customers paying banks to keep their money.

We spoke about recent polls indicating that the public trusts business more than the media, and how many companies were running their communications functions like newsrooms to support self-publishing. We agreed that companies must now be prepared to lift the non-partisan veil and comment on politics, as we are seeing with increased regularity in the USA.

These changes all mean that our profession has to be even more agile. Pierre sees a genuine opportunity for communicators to lead and develop authentic content to support their organisations’ objectives. He believes that employees are the strongest advocates for their companies, so providing employees with a platform humanises the company and better connects with customers and stakeholders.  

I’d like to sincerely thank Pierre for meeting with us all, sharing his wonderful insights and providing such a rich and thought provoking platform for discussion. I’ve no doubt that the talented people who work in corporate affairs have the skills to adapt to this new and challenging political and commercial landscape. 

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