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The Rise of Corporate Campaigning

Next up at CMPM2014 is Wayne Burns from ACIL Allen Consulting, who presents the corporate perspective on campaigning. Corporate public advocacy campaigning is back in Australia, he says – previously, the marketplace of voices in public policy making had been quite small, but especially through the incorporation of social media into political discourse this has changed considerably.

Australians have very low trust in corporations, while NGOs are seen very positively; this has led to corporations becoming increasingly active in public campaigning as well. Corporate public affairs efforts are essentially on methamphetamine these days, Wayne says, and shows The Guardian's "Three Little Pigs" ads as an example of how social media are now affecting public discussion about political issues.

Public advocacy from NGOs now also builds especially on emotional appeals, and is designed to tap into slacktivism and small-scale donations. Corporate advocacy must increasingly emulate such approaches in order to be able to cut through – as happened, for example, with DuPont's corporate repositioning campaign in 2013, or UniLever's "Dove Self-Esteem Foundation" campaign. This is an appeal to heuristic thinking, and it helps such companies to new positions of influence: the Dove Foundation is now active in UN committees and has partnerships with various universities.

The Australian mining industry's concerted campaign against the mining resources tax is another major example of a successful corporate campaign, of course. Individual companies can't do this, but industry associations can – and they are often staffed by ex-politicians and advertisers, who have a strong perspective on what will be politically effective.

Like NGOs, industry associations don't have the level of legal restrictions that other campaigners are subject to; however, companies themselves are also likely to become increasingly involved in running their own campaigns. We are likely to see more of this in coming years, and these campaigns – coming from corporations – are likely to be exceptionally well resourced. The more effective such campaigns turn out to be, the more of them we are likely to see. Especially as NGO campaigns are becoming more effective, many corporate boards are prepared for their own campaigns to become more edgy and aggressive, too.