The term “elevator pitch” is well-known among business executives, which literally translates to promotion in an elevator. Certainly, this is a metaphor, which means transmitting an idea or introducing oneself or one’s business in a snap. This is where it relates to the lift, or elevator as the Americans call this contraption. Generally, we spend about 0.5–2 minutes in an elevator, and within this precious little time we must be able to pique people’s interest such that they are moved to follow up or find out more.

When it comes to products or tangible objects, it is a piece of cake highlighting new or intriguing features of the object we are promoting. The real challenge is conveying abstract or intangible ideas, concepts, or services, such as public affairs. How do we describe public affairs briefly to be easily understood and hit the nail right on the head? A highly specialized message must be focused and not scattered around to every Tom, Dick, and Harry. This holds true, also in the elevator pitch. We convey it to relevant people in terms of expertise, practice, or potential business.

I try to formulate an elevator pitch if someone asks about what the business of public affairs is all about, as follows: “Consultancy in exploring markets and assisting companies in positioning themselves. The main approach is through involving stakeholders in a well thought through and structured manner, taking into account social, cultural, and political contexts.”

For clarity, let’s break down the above statement starting from the last part, namely social, cultural, and political factors. This is what characterizes public affairs, because the object is companies within the scope of extensive activities and interactions. Large companies have an interest in understanding the environment (in the sense of social sciences) that influences their activities because running a large company is not just about selling products or services and satisfying customers who use them.

The first part, consulting services, is also generally utilized by large companies or medium-sized companies that are on their way to becoming large-scale enterprises. The concept of stakeholder engagement is already familiar to the readers as it has been discussed many times before.

With the increasing complexity of modern society, the need for tools to interact with their environment also expands in line with the footprint of large corporations. “The Father of Modern Public Relations,” James Grunig, described how public affairs began to take hold in the United States in the 1970s. Major enterprises were increasingly disenchanted with public relations companies that at the time were predominantly running their business on the press agentry model and as such were unable to meet their needs to interact meaningfully with the outside world.

Press agentries pursue publicity in every possible way. This is considered ineffective and is in fact counter-productive in dealing with government agencies, NGOs, and labor unions, as well as other societal institutions that are prevalent in modern and modernizing nations. In addition, advocacy activities and issues management are needs of large corporations that cannot be fulfilled by public relations companies operating under press-agentry and journalist-in-residence models.

In the 17 years of experience of Kiroyan Partners, I have observed that the corporate world in Indonesia currently has reached a stage similar to that described by James Grunig in the 1970s in the United States. Many companies are beginning to realize that to be effective, corporate communication activities must go beyond unilaterally delivering messages or attracting attention at any cost. Stakeholder engagement and issues management must receive due attention, and there are occasions where advocacy is needed to gain support of stakeholders for an issue or a cause. A comprehension of the increasingly complex and dynamic social, cultural, and political contexts of a corporation’s operations is indispensable for these purposes.

In the early days of Kiroyan Partners’ operations in 2007, Indonesia’s economy was just getting back on its feet after the prolonged monetary crisis that ended the New Order, as the three-decades rule under President Soeharto is known. For the first three years, practically all our clients were companies and international organizations operating in Indonesia or planning to enter the Indonesian market. These days, increasingly state-owned enterprises (known in Indonesia as BUMN) began to make use of tools provided by public affairs.

In recent years, more and more clients from the state-run corporate sector have emerged, and the trend shows consistent growth. This signifies that the concept of public affairs is gaining an increasing foothold outside of international companies operating in the country. With further economic development and complexity, the business of public affairs will also increase in significance and be in higher demand to support business management in the coming years.

Unlike the situation 17 years ago, in the next five years I estimate that the proportion of clients from the BUMN sector and international companies will be in balance. The Indonesian private sector that puts stock in conducting business strategically is also expected to gradually resort to public affairs as a risk management and business expansion instrument, both domestically and internationally.

Noke Kiroyan
Chairman & Chief Consultant, Kiroyan Partners

This article has been published in PR Indonesia magazine 102nd edition issued on September 2023, page 64-65.

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