Public Affairs Experts on the future of lobbying.

5. March 2021

“You lose the battle on Twitter” – International Public Affairs Experts on the PANTARHEI White Paper – the future of lobbying.

The times they are a-changin…True to the words of Bob Dylan, this applies in times of Corona to almost all areas of life and profession, also and not least to Public Affairs. Incomparable times lead to unique challenges and give “politics” even more weight in the fate of entire sectors and companies.

Two trends have massively intensified in the last 12 months: the political will to drive system restructuring under the heading of “Green Deal”; and on the part of organizations to face a new reality in trying to assert their interests. Being “campaign fit” or “NGO fit” – determines in the modern economy of attention whether one is heard at all, long before it is decided and whether one is also supported.

Against this background, then, what does the “future of lobbying” look like? Gilbert Rukschcio, Mansur Philipp Gharabaghi and Darius Pidun of PANTARHEI Advisors discussed this question with top experts and public affairs professionals at the European level during an interactive, digital workshop: Holger Krahmer (Head of EU Affairs at Daimler AG), Ralf Pastleitner (Head of TUI Group Corporate Office EU) and Paul Pasquali (Executive Director Group European and Public Affairs), each of whom brought sound and substantive observations from the field, with more than 15 years of professional experience in politics and public affairs. And it was clear to all workshop participants that “back to normal” is not an option in public affairs; we are facing fundamental changes.

The following insights emerged based on PANTARHEI’s white paper together with the experts:

1. The strong state is back

It is not only Corona that makes it necessary for “the state” (and in the sense of legislative competence, “the EU” is to be understood here as well) to intervene actively and dirigistely in markets. With regard to the management of Corona, this is obvious in the short term, but also in the long term, the politically induced system change called “Green Deal” provides for state interventionism that goes beyond the classical ordoliberal framework. What is sustainable is not only environmentalism, but also the fact that the markets and their conditions in which and under which companies operate are significantly and centrally dependent on political guidelines. Interestingly, it can be observed that a distribution struggle is taking place as to who will receive regulatory and financial support from politics in the restructuring of systems (cf. Follow the Money).

2. New game – new rules in public affairs

The unanimous observation was that the rules of the political game, and thus public affairs, have changed significantly in the last decade. If already 10 years ago (forward-looking) politicians attested to industry representatives that they were “losing the argument on Twitter”, this is even more true for today. Where once time was made available to exchange arguments in detail at expert level, people are now struggling to communicate complex issues even more briefly and simply. In doing so, it is necessary to manage the balancing act of generating attention on the one hand, but not becoming too actionistic or superficial on the other hand. The ability to think, work and ultimately communicate politically in campaigns was unanimously emphasized as a central building block for future fitness in the field of public affairs. However, this also requires the courage and willingness to conduct political debates in public as a company or its management board. After all, “the back room” has long since ceased to be the stage for public affairs and lobbying.

As a result, the job profile of the public affairs professional is also changing, all the discussion participants agreed. While personal networking skills and expert knowledge (from the functioning of the EU institutions and the sector one represents) were previously required, a deep understanding of digital communication, campaign logic and so-called “digital nativity” is increasingly in demand.

3. Lobbying needs new alliances

Until now, part of the “old logic” has been the monopoly on representation by industry associations. These bundle the interests of a sector and act as a consolidated point of contact for specialized and expert questions for political decision-makers and specialist officials.

However, other forms of organization are increasingly appearing, sometimes temporarily due to short-term issues (such as Brexit), but sometimes also in the long term because, for example, political challenges such as the concept of the circular economy affect entire value chains or sector linkages make this necessary due to market reality. So-called platforms not only serve as an interface in terms of content and organization, but also develop a special credibility and effectiveness vis-à-vis political decision-makers, since in isolated cases, for example, NGOs or other civil society actors can also dock onto such a platform.

The opinion and experience was widely shared that such alliances will become even more relevant in the future, but that public affairs and lobbying need the knowledge and “process competence” to be able to manage such platforms efficiently and effectively.

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We look forward to further exchanges.