The evolution of corporate affairs

Corporate affairs, as a practice, currently stands smack-dab in the middle of a technological and paradigm shift. While the way it has been defined and practised has taken shape to evolve and adapt to new technologies, corporate affairs departments work differently across various sectors to reach a similar end goal: communicating a message effectively to the right audience.

In today’s open-source and always-on world, communications is a skill that has taken centre stage. The practice of corporate affairs holds the main responsibility for everything related to internal and external communications, government relations, PR and public policy; now corporate affairs includes an added challenge of relaying those messages in various channels to accommodate the business' inevitable leap
into digital.

The evolution of corporate affairs Christopher Samuel, director of corporate engagement for Monsanto, Asia Pacific, explains the three significant changes taking place in the realm of corporate affairs:

1. The traditional model of stakeholder engagement is dead.

Historically, commercial and corporate affairs leadership put their organisations (self) at the centre of the ecosystem, and mapped and engaged stakeholders with themselves at the centre. The reality is the citizen/customer/consumer is at centre of a large ecosystem consisting of several organisations and stakeholders. Commercial and corporate affairs leadership need to humbly acknowledge their organisation’s position within this larger ecosystem and engage in relation to it.

2. Realigned thinking based on five core areas.

Corporate affairs leaders need to think and act critically on fi ve core areas: Purpose (of the organisation on the planet), policy, products/services, partnerships, people leadership and development. According to Samuel, the most successful corporate affairs professionals seem to be the ones able to think and act critically on these five core areas.

3. Organisational rejig.

The execs leading talent and human resources should be tasked to ensure each member of their teams are the right culture fit for the organisation. Hires should be highly engaged and demonstrate agility
and high performance in a rapidly evolving cultural, commercial and communications context.

Are all corporate affairs roles created equal?

As the role of corporate affairs changes, so too the expectation of it. The tasks of a corporate affairs team differ depending on the organisational needs of the company, as well as the extent of its interaction with the government.

At agrochemical company Monsanto, it is organised into corporate engagement (CE) and government affairs (GA) teams. Its team in Asia Pacifi c leads the combined responsibilities while focusing on “engaging and energising a diverse set of stakeholders on the needs, challenges and broad range of
solutions farmers need to nourish our growing planet sustainably”.

The Asia Pacific team facilitates a diverse cross-functional role focused on engaging employees, external stakeholders and society on the “needs, challenges and broad range of solutions farmers need to nourish our growing planet sustainably; and opportunities in the areas of policy, regulation, sustainability,
communications and community partnership”

As for consumer packaged goods company Kimberly-Clark, its corporate affairs team in its APAC headquarters in Singapore is a two-member team, including Shweta Shukla, director of communications and government affairs – Asia Pacific.

However, in smaller markets where the company does not have a dedicated corporate affairs team member, any corporate affairs-related matter will be assisted from the headquarters through a “partnership approach”.

“We also ensure we have the right PR agencies such as Edelman, Ogilvy PR, MSL and local partners supporting our teams across key markets,” Shukla says. The corporate affairs team works closely with other departments within the company.

There is rarely an aspect of business that CA does not impact – from building brands to corporate reputation to enabling entry/expansion into markets to preventing business disruption.

Hence, her team works in close collaboration with functions such as legal and finance (for government affairs), marketing and sales (for brand, customer and digital PR), supply chain (for market expansion and sustainability initiatives), human resource (for internal communication) as well as directly with the CEO to build external reputation and a strong employer brand.

Meanwhile, for public transport operator SMRT Corporation, its corporate affairs team sits as part of the corporate marketing and communications department. This department is the larger group under which there are five teams including corporate affairs. The other four teams include digital media, internal
communications, media and marketing communications and community engagement and CSR.

At SMRT Corporation, the corporate affairs team comprises a leader along with three members; the team works closely with two members from the finance department who help with investor relations.
While corporate marketing and communications mainly deal with corporate communications, the company has a separate set-up that deals exclusively with the government.

Colin Lim, vice-president for strategic relations, leads the entity that is tasked with government relations. Principally, SMRT’s corporate affairs team handles investor relations and communications: the team has always been tasked with putting together the company’s annual report.

However, with SGX’s new requirement for companies to produce sustainability reports by 2018, the corporate affairs team will now also manage this report, and prepare the company to take on the larger responsibility of producing integrated reports in the near future, said Patrick Nathan, vice-president for corporate information and communications at SMRT Corporation.

Government relations

Monsanto works with the government via its industry association (CropLife Asia), and industry chambers (for example, US-ASEAN Business Council) to ensure farmers across Asia Pacific have access to cutting-edge technology solutions to meet their country’s food and nutrition security and sustainability goals.

For example, CropLife Asia and several food and agriculture stakeholders have dialogue,
exchanged learnings and experiences from across Asia Pacific and other agriculture focused
nations worldwide on agriculture investment policy and technology regulation.

According to Samuel, this was set up as a platform for nations in Asia Pacific to evolve into
“globally comparable farmer-focused sciencebased agriculture regulatory systems”. Meanwhile, Kimberly Clark has partnered with governments in several ways to help build its business and brands.

It has launched corporate social responsibility programmes to help a nation’s agenda. For example, in keeping with Korea’s reforestation and environment priorities, Kimberly Clark has been leading a three decade programme called “Keep Korea Green” in which employees and consumers have
together planted 50 million trees.

The company also recently expanded its global sanitation programme, “Toilets Change Lives”, in India to support and leverage the government’s “Clean India Campaign”. Kimberly-Clark is partnering with
non-governmental organisations to build and repair school toilets as well as with social entrepreneurs to create sustainable sanitation solutions.

In Singapore, given the government’s impetus on digital innovation, Kimberly-Clark is collaborating with the Economic Development Board by sharing and showcasing its own global digital capabilities. This is to explore the potential of local startups to take the company’s digital capabilities to the next level.

In addition, the company’s “Touch of White Angels Programme”, in partnership with the China Women’s Development Foundation, trains nurses and health workers across hospitals in urban and rural China on infant and child care. Kimberly-Clark also works with governments to establish standards for the
country’s practices.

For example, the Vietnam Institute of Standards approached Kimberly-Clark to help set standards for manufacturing quality diapers and sanitary napkins, driven by the market leadership and consumer trust Huggies and Kotex have earned in the market.

To find out more on the future of corporate affairs, read the full story in our Jan-Feb 2016 edition of the magazine here.