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Why Public Affairs and Corporate Communications Can No Longer be Siloed

By Erika Bradbury for PRNEWS

Elizabeth Northrup recently joined Washington, D.C.-based public affairs firm ROKK Solutions as its first chief client officer. Most recently, Northrup served as Executive Vice President of Corporate Affairs at BCW Global.

We spoke with Northrup about the extension of public affairs throughout communications and the importance of understanding bipartisan audiences in both internal and external responses to societal issues.

PRNEWS: What is the biggest challenge for a PR professional, when it comes to balancing responses to societal issues?

Elizabeth Northrup: It is important to be transparent, and not to feel like that you’re behind the news cycle. We want to be prepared, as soon as something happens, to get the client side of the story [out to the public].

One of the things that we’re seeing is, for so long, public affairs and corporate communications [were siloed]. And that has changed…you can’t just think about it from a Washington standpoint of what’s happening with regulation and legislation. You’ve got to think about it from a consumer-corporate standpoint…what that means is that you can’t just think, “I’m going to go and talk about this in D.C.” [These issues are] something that [corporations need to be] thinking about more broadly.

PRNEWS: It seems like everyone does public affairs these days.

Northrup: They do. But I also think that the public affairs firms in D.C. can’t just be public affairs-focused…they’re not just working with the government affairs offices in D.C. They’re talking to the C-suite…you’ve got to be able to go beyond the Beltway and think about [these issues] in broader terms than just a policy arena.

PRNEWS: And it’s just as important, if not more so, to get internal and employee communications right. If you don’t make a statement, then your employees will, as we saw last year with Disney.

Northrup: They’re part of the audience…your employees are often consumers. And so you can’t ignore that, because they’re talking to friends, family, and others, as well as caring very much who they’re working for.

PRNEWS: What if you are an organization who is trying to expand your reach, to reach Gen Z, but you don’t want to turn your backs on other demographics who might not have the same political and societal preferences and opinions?

Northrup: …There’s so much data that exists on where different generations are getting their information from. And so I think that if you’re working with a client, and this is one of those things clients should be asking too, is, who do you want to reach? And what’s the best way to reach them? And it doesn’t mean your message is changing, necessarily, but how you’re getting to those audiences does matter.

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