INTERVIEW: Morten Rud Pedersen, President and CEO of Rud Pedersen Public Affairs
In general, why do companies hire public affairs (PA) experts?
They do that to upgrade relations with public authorities in the best way. They are very skilled and qualified in their respective business areas, but, when it comes to understanding how decisions are made in the political world, then that’s very different from what they do on a daily basis. Therefore, they need advice from the people that actually understand this world.
What is the difference between PA professionals and PR experts and lawyers?
Lawyers know how things ought to be; they can say whether things are right or wrong. PR people, on the other hand, can act on a relation-based doctrine. However, the big difference, when it comes to PA consultants, is that they need to understand the political scoreboard, whereby you basically conduct ‘horse-trading’. The problem is that even a very-skilled PR consultants will not necessarily understand what I call the “political logic”, which is not always a mathematical logic or legal logic or PR logic for that matter. This logic is the sum of all political deals; the way politicians judge the need to act or not to act does not correspond normally with how the rest of society functions.
You are the Chairman of the Rud Pedersen Public Affairs (RP PA) network. What is the business model under which this network operates, given its international character and challenges that go along with it?
Our headquarters is based in Gothenburg, Sweden. We have four other companies based in each of the four capitals in the Nordic region (i.e. Helsinki, Oslo, Copenhagen and Stockholm). Subsequently, we created two PR companies, in order to highlight that RP PA is not a PR company. We are also the owner of a brand called “King Street PR”, where, if our clients have PR needs, they can speak to these PR professionals. All in all, we have 88 PA advisors in the Nordic region. We are planning to open an office in Brussels, because Brussels politics is, in many regards, considered domestic politics in the Nordic region. On the global level, we collaborate with APCO Worldwide, which is a consultancy of approximately 600 PR and PA consultants around the world. We also cooperate with FTI Consulting, which is a bit bigger. Both APCO and FTI are headquartered in Washington D.C., USA.
It is worth noting that the advantage of having an international network is that the more international consultants you have, the bigger number of clients you can advise. Presently, there are over 500 international companies based in the Nordic region; 70% of them have what they call “Nordic headquarters”, in Stockholm. In such a way, businessmen from the UK, France, Italy or Germany can fly over there and spend three years, together with local personnel, who are their family, so to speak. In this context, RP PA offers to service all the designated countries, instead of just taking care of a single country. It is difficult to sell “the whole region”, if you don’t have that kind of a wide network.
How to conduct a successful advocacy / lobbying campaign?
First of all, you have to find out what is the problem. This might sound obvious at first, but many people react on a kind of a ‘symptom’, which often changes and is no longer necessarily a problem. This is a little bit like going to a doctor when you’re coughing. You ask the doctor to give you some pills, but, instead, the doctor tries to find out what is the real source of your cough. Let’s put this into concrete terms. Let’s say you are a petrol company, and your problem is that gas prices are rising due to an increase in taxes. You cannot just simply go to a politician and say “please don’t raise the tax on petrol”. You have understand why the politicians are raising the taxes, then you have to understand how they will they get the money they want to take from you (through the taxes), and, finally, you have to compose an argument that will convince them that it is illogical to raise the petrol taxes. Therefore, hiring a public affairs consultant is not just obtaining the right to say ‘no’ to someone. It is also means trying to understand the logic behind politicians’ decisions. Very often our work with the client starts by analysing the issue, in order to find out the real problem. Of course, some of the cases can be easier than others, but in many instances the “problem-defining” process leads to a conclusion that the problem is different from the one we were initially trying to solve. Then you decide whether to go for stakeholder-mapping, prepare an action plan, draft messages, etc. These are the tools in our toolbox, which we will use when appropriate. Thus, we don’t sell the tools; we sell the problem-solving process, whereby we take the client from “A” to “B” to “C” to “D”. We never sell a meeting with a politician or a stakeholder. Convincing the stakeholders with rational arguments to change their mind does not simply include preparing a stakeholder map and setting-up a meeting. It is a fine-tuned process, comprised of different stages and tools.
What are the biggest challenges the PA industry is facing?
I would say that over-selling potential results, instead of giving advice is something that can endanger the seriousness of the industry, as well as consultants using questionable methods. In the Nordics, we have zero tolerance for bribery (corruption) and I have never heard of a Nordic lobbying case were money has been involved. In general, I claim that 50% of clients don’t know what they are buying and that is met by roughly 50% of consultants not knowing what they are selling. Therefore, statistically, a lot of people are matched with very little effect.
Morten Rud Pedersen is the President and CEO of Rud Pedersen Public Affairs, a Nordic consultancy specialising in providing Public Affairs solutions. The company was established in 2000. Presently, it has offices in Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden. Morten previously worked for eight years as Managing Director of ETUC (European Labour Movement) in Brussels. Furthermore, he was Special Advisor for the former Party Leader of the Danish Social Democrats and currently the president of the Danish Parliament, Mr Mogens Lykketoft, Morten studied political science at Aarhus University.