The four ‘must haves’ in any Public Affairs plan: #1 The target audience analysis

As many Public Affairs professionals will know, the PA department can have many different tasks to handle, some which may not even be core for a PA function. This depends of course on the organization, the raison d’être for the PA function and how many people will be wor- king to execute the tasks. However, every good PA department starts with a plan - and in this extract from his book “The Public Affairs Engine” Ulobby CEO Anders Kopp Jensen gives his 2 cents on the four essential parts of such a PA-plan, starting with step number 1:

Target audience analysis

The target audience analysis includes two well-known steps for most PA professionals: stakeholder mapping and stakeholder analysis.These terms are perhaps the most known, but also the most arbitrary. They can be conducted in various ways and manners. For starters, at this point, if you have followed the steps in this guide so far, it should be fairly easy to get the stakeholder mapping underway. But it is also fair to say that this step is often neglected as it might seem simple or obvious – and perhaps even a waste of time – to spend time on this. This is unfortunately also why it is too often delegated to interns or junior consultants. But many develop blind spots working for long periods in a particular area. You risk losing the movers and new influencers if you always or only go to the most obvious or the usual suspects.

But firstly, you need to map the stakeholders of the organization on an overall level. If your organization is global, this can seem like a very large task to perform. But besides providing the organization with an overall oversight of all relevant stakeholders, as a side effect, it will also make the rest of the organization think about the relevance of who is important and why. Then, you can go into the specific issues and do the same exercise. You will probably experience that some of the stakeholders are the same, which is normal, but it is still very important to have both the overall overview as well as the specific stakeholder overview on an issue.

Often the most common practice is to collect all stakeholders into a software system or Excel spreadsheet and then arrange them in order of importance (tier 1, tier 2, tier 3, etc.). However, this can be quite overwhelming, which is why it is becoming more common to use software for this, both for gathering and for maintenance (more about this in chapter 4). And remember the information you gather needs to be GDPR compliant, which basically means you can only use information collected from public sources. The importance of this exercise is to identify all the stakeholders and, once you have them in place, they should be prioritized according to influence.

At the same time, it is critical to gain an understanding of how the stakeholders are situated on your issues. Technology will automate much of this work (more about this later in the chapter), but also ensure a more thorough process than you could expect from a quick Google search.

The next step is to gain an understanding of the position of your stakeholders. For this exercise we could use the classical subdivision and placement in accordance with influence and attitude.Once this is performed, usually a pattern appears and reveals how these stakeholders should be addressed. The matrix can then be used to label groups with different stakeholder management strategies. This is of course a simple form of labelling, but it often helps to break the stakeholder landscape into actionable and more approachable bites.

This exercise should be performed on all issues that the PA team is responsible for. This can seem like a lot of work, but again remember that the PA organization should not chase all issues with the same intensity, as mentioned in chapter 2, at the same time. But performing this exercise also has the side effect of showing the PA team the overall stakeholder attitudes and can, on an aggregated level, also be used to obtain an overview of the waters the entire organization is navigating and how the environment understands these issues. It provides members of the PA team and often also other departments with a clear view of how the outside world perceives the issues of the organization.

But the mapping is only one part of the target audience analysis. So, before you begin planning your outreach to the stakeholders you want to move in the matrix, you need – as the second step – to understand more about what these stakeholders are moved by and identify the common denominator with your issues as well as what I usually describe as the “zeitgeist” in society as a whole. In short, you need to identify the drivers which you can utilize to boost your own agenda.

The zeitgeist drivers can be defined as issues dominating the public agenda and the political environment. These are usually subjects of importance to society, such as e.g. climate change, the education system, transport mobility or perhaps health in specific areas. The common denominator for these issues is that they circle around a societal problem, which – resolved or unresolved – will affect future generations. Good stakeholder management is about reading your stakeholders’ interests and making your own issues relevant by reflecting the zeitgeist. For example, an interviewee in the 500PAC portrayed it as, “We know many MEPs are very concerned by climate change, and even though we as a company are in a different space, we try to take a progressive stand on the issue of climate, of course because we mean it, but also because it makes us relevant and it signals responsibility which is good not only externally but also internally”. From a business perspective, this extra level of responsibility towards society or the local community is thus used as a competitive tool to improve the reputation of the organization and gain legitimacy.

Moving in accordance with the zeitgeist can be linked to institutional theory and how actors seek to increase their legitimacy as it helps them survive during periods of uncertainty. As Michael Hadani highlights, companies in more politically turbulent environments might “perceive a legitimizing need to do so themselves as a way to manage their image vis-à-vis the government”.

Ideally, you should conduct this analysis on each of the stakeholders. This can become a very comprehensive task if you have many issues or if your PA team consists of you alone. But it can turn out to be the difference between success and failure, and even if it doesn’t you will still be much better pre- pared to notice if something changes in this triangle which may then turn into a possible gamechanger. As a minimum you should perform this exercise on the most highly prioritized issues.

After this it is important to include the entire organization in the stakeholder management. More on this later.

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