Public affairs and the art of collaboration

Public affairs is not an area immediately familiar to all. Pamela Mulcahy spends a lot of time explaining what it means and why it matters.

Public affairs and the art of collaboration

Perhaps I should first explain why I chose to work at Marston.

Having previously worked as a political consultant, and prior to that in the liberal democrats’ policy research unit, it’s fair to say that my decision to join an enforcement company raised a few eyebrows amongst friends and former colleagues.

Happily I’d had the benefit of working with Marston before I joined, so I already knew that the public perception of enforcement – not always helped by reality TV – was far removed from the realities of my colleagues and our customers.

I was also attracted by the challenges that the policy landscape presented. The difficult policy areas always offered the most interest for me; the ones where the decisions weren’t binary. Therefore, debt enforcement really captured my interest: the importance of balancing the rights and responsibilities of customers (ranging from those who need support to those who abuse this to the detriment of others) with the rights and responsibilities of creditors (whose ability to lend is dependent on the effective recovery of money owed). Add to this the public sector challenge of needing to fund public services with recovered monies, and this was a role I couldn’t turn down.

Another ‘why’ then presented itself. I joined shortly after enforcement reforms of 2014 were introduced, and at the advent of Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) regulation. With these positive changes to the industry why is there a need for a dedicated public affairs resource?

But public affairs is about so much more that regulatory reform. It is often summarised as the relationship an organisation has with its stakeholders – although I’m never confident that this does justice to the full gamut of issues and areas encompassed. In trying to explain it in more detail, public affairs can become an increasingly nebulous concept. But the very aspect that makes public affairs difficult to define is also what makes it so appealing to me.

Quite simply, public affairs provides a reach into every aspect of our business, because everything we do relates to our stakeholders in one way or another: perfect for a busybody like me who is fascinated by the who, what, how and why. My role also means I get to spend a great deal of time outside the business, listening to and learning from others, and then feeding this information back in to the business to improve the way we work.

This is hugely satisfying. Everyone from customers and enforcement agents to civil servants and trade associations have a vital role to play in informing how we work. In turn, I can share what we are doing, and identify ways to collaborate and deliver really meaningful changes where they are needed. And perhaps that’s my favourite way of summarising public affairs: working with others to understand what needs to change – and changing it!

With another general election looming, who knows what other changes could come in 2017. But I look forward to continuing to work with our stakeholders, including colleagues across the credit industry, as ultimately it’s through collaboration that the most effective changes are made.