Organisations at a crossroads.

26. October 2020

Reshaping the game.

The digital transformation and the new forms of communication it has produced are increasingly forcing organisations – like European associations – to restructure themselves from the ground up. Now, the emphasis is on shifting away from being purely expert organisations and becoming campaign platforms.

In view of the erosion of the basic principles of society-wide communication, the question arises as to the extent to which these fundamental principles of conventional interest group representation will have to be rethought. As public affairs becomes increasingly digitalised, what specific changes will this bring about for interest group representatives?

Traditionally, organisations such as associations have structured their public affairs activities along the lines of policy fields, or in line with the thinking of expert committees. In terms of headcount and their position within associations’ output strategies, communications officers usually only take a back seat. Besides the associations’ aforementioned self-perception as primarily expert organisations, there is another logical reason for this – for a long time, there was almost no pan-European media coverage at EU level, with the exception of correspondents from national media, as well as two or three international examples such as the Financial Times, which can be regarded as flagships.

However, due to the digital transformation, the barriers to entering into a discourse with a wide audience and acting as an intermediary exclusively through the media have come down, and it is also much cheaper to scale up to Europe-wide communications using online and social media-based communications.

“Everything that can be digitized will be digitized”

Organisations and associations that have taken up their positions on the new playing field no longer act primarily on the basis of their subject-related expertise; instead, they see everything they do from the perspective of a communicator, in the knowledge that raising the general public’s awareness of issues is the real catalyst for effective interest group representation. They create content, work to position themselves and enter into new lines of activity based on considerations about how they can put across their focus issues as part of a story designed to extend their reach.

Many associations essentially find it hard to implement state-of-the-art campaigns owing to the existence of what are generally very diverse interests, and because of their limited human resources. In the internet age, where everything happens so quickly, associations face the challenge of how they can adjust to the fundamental acceleration of communicative processes.

The selection and precise use of channels that are relevant to the organisation in question require the build-up of professional know-how and additional resources. In this new world of professional public affairs, the basic rule is that digital campaign strategies and related process management can no longer be seen as a sideline. As the former chair of HP’s board, Carly Fiorina, once put it: “Everything that can be digitized will be digitized.” This apparent exaggeration has turned out to be completely true in recent years, as illustrated by the fact that the quantity of available data at least doubles every three years (Wirtschaftswoche, 2019). Proper management and use of these data will unlock immense potential for organisations that grasp how to use the data profitably. Digital communication is a data-driven and a data-generating task. It allows the effectiveness of activities to be measured, such as the open rate for direct mail, and enables organisations to build up their own community over time, which they can address and interact with using various channels.