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Covid-19: Experts advocate collective approach to public affairs function

Communications and Public Affairs experts have advocated for collective and strategic engagement efforts to mitigate the negative effects of COVID-19 on businesses and governance.
They also emphasised that Public Affairs function as a management function has become the new deal breaker for organizations that want to thrive during this COVID-19 crisis period.
These were some of the resolutions advanced at a webinar held on June 10, 2010 and hosted by Re-Ignite Public Affairs Limited with the theme: Managing the Public Affairs Function Post COVID-19.
The carefully selected panelists who are authorities in the field of communications, government relations, stakeholders’ engagement, financial communication, policy research and analysis representing various sectors shared their experiences with hundreds of participants from across the continent.
They include:
Sade Morgan, Corporate Affairs Director, Nigerian Breweries Plc; Ade Adefeko, Vice President, Corporate & Government Relations, Olam Nigeria; Emeka Oparah, Vice President, Communications & Corporate Social Responsibility, Airtel Nigeria; and Olufemi Awoyemi, Founder/ Chairman Proshare Nigeria.
The session was anchored by the President of African Public Relations Association APRA and Group Managing Director of CMC Connect Limited (Perception Managers), Yomi Badejo-Okusanya.
The panelists emphasized how core programmes under the Public Affairs function have become handy in moving businesses forward, engaging various stakeholders, creating corporate relevance and reinforcing brand equity in the face of the lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Speaking on the effect of the lockdown on her organisation, Sade Morgan, Corporate Affairs Director, Nigerian Breweries Plc described their experience in terms of “the good, the bad and the ugly”.
“This period has challenged the organizations to work differently with stakeholders. We have seen a lot of changes in the way we work; going digital as a country and this has brought about a lot of efficiency. This crisis has particularly put corporate affairs at the heart of the business, because we came in strategically to being at our optimal best for the growth of the business. By engaging our external stakeholders, we are securing business continuity in different ways; we are delivering communications on various internal engagement platforms to keep our human capital motivated” she said
With regards to Government Relations “we need to understand that government cannot do it all. To drive business continuity and keep economic activity going, Public Affairs role is to ensure that government has full visibility of what is going on with us in the private sector” Morgan pointed.
In his own submission, Olufemi Awoyemi, Founder/Chairman of Proshare Nigeria posited that the Public Affairs function, during this pandemic, has been at the heart of some of the most important issues of the day. With lives at stake, the private sector has worked closely with government, which has been in a full listening mode, to address the challenge of lives at stake and livelihood palliatives to be delivered through such private sector led coalitions like the CaCOVID. Those who did nothing will be called out at a later date, he said.
 “This is a teachable moment for anyone involved in the craft to understand that the rules of the game has been rewritten already and that public communications is back as No. 1, and that enhanced state involvement is here to stay. Putting a dedicated person in charge of governmental affairs reflects or engaging a dedicated Public Affairs professional is the best understanding that to get anything done now, and in the future, will require government engagement. For the professionals, this is a two-way street that is less travelled. For the Public Affairs function, it is now, more than ever before, about reputation management (not brand management) and being a deal broker; a minder for the firm”, Awoyemi stated.
For Ade Adefeko, Vice President, Corporate & Government Relations, Olam Nigeria, lobbying and engagement are key to business survival. ”There is nothing that you need to get done in the future that will not require government engagement”. He said.
Adefeko debunked the wrong notion equating lobbying as bribery. “Lobbying is an accepted engagement tool that must be done professionally without pecuniary consideration. I have been doing this successfully for years. To do it effectively, you must bear in mind the end game from the beginning. Your objective must be defined, and your communication specific. Your set goals to what needs to be achieved must be highlighted. However there is need for public affairs professionals to understand the mandate of government agencies for them to be able to design appropriate strategies in engaging the government”, Adefeko advised.
While Emeka Oparah, Vice President, Communications & Corporate Social Responsibility, Airtel Nigeria, charged public affairs managers to collaborate and coordinate at this trying time. “This period has taught us to engage more, we can exchange contacts and resources. As a public Affairs person you should know what you want and where to go and get it. You should have a network of people of influence within your network. There is need for you to understand your organization and its people in order to be able to articulate issues for seamless business operations” he said.
The moderator Badejo-Okusanya cued in some participants for their views and they included, Abdul Waheed Patel, Chief Executive Officer of Ethicore Political Lobbying, South Africa; Temitope Oguntokun, Director, Corporate Affairs + Legal at ABinbev; Tony Ojobo, immediate past Public Affairs Director of Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC); and Anthony Chiejina. Group Head, Corporate Communications for Dangote Group.
All panelists also agree that relationship management is key for a successful Public Affairs function and network of influence are part of critical success factors for Public Affairs practitioner. Participants thoroughly enjoyed and indicated interest in participating in future public affairs webinars by Reignite Public Affairs.

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