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The Public Affairs Practitioner as Risk Leader

This blog was written by Dr Jon White, a consultant in management and organisation development, public affairs, public relations and corporate communications management and a visiting professor at Henley business school.

It is important in the discussion of risk leadership not to overlook the role and experience of public affairs practitioners in this. The broader practice of public relations, and within it public affairs, has long been involved in risk, issues and crisis management and more recently – since the 1990s – in  reputation risk identification and management.<1> Public affairs, with its focus on issues management from the late 1970s, has been involved in scanning and monitoring organisations’ external environments to look for signals of emerging issues and to plan for appropriate action.  Bound up with this work are assessments of threats, vulnerability and risk, and preparations for crises that may ensue from failure to manage issues. The experience has led to an interest in the collection and use of intelligence to be made available to decision-makers at the highest levels in organisations – how is environmental intelligence gathered, reviewed, and interpreted for executive and board decision-making?  In recent years, public relations practice has also come to recognise the importance of similar intelligence on internal relationships and developments. Practical questions relate to the collection and use of intelligence, and its ready availability to decision-makers, but risk leadership depends on answering these questions.  The public affairs community has useful insights to contribute, as well as case study examples that take in the experience of companies such as Shell.  In most companies, the most senior public relations (public affairs, external affairs, corporate communications – the terms may be used interchangeably) practitioner should be a central figure in risk leadership. <1> Regester, M and J Larkin, Risk Issues and Crisis Management in Public Relations:  A Casebook of Best Practice (Fourth Edition), Kogan Page, London, 2008 Griffin, A, Crisis, Issues and Reputation Management:  Public Relations in Practice, Kogan Page, London, 2014

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