Nouryon is a specialty chemicals company operating in 80 countries, with 10,000 employees and an annual turnover of $5 billion. Its key focuses are on the U.S., European and Chinese markets and its headquarters is in Amsterdam.
Nouryon’s products can be found in almost everything, from the touch button on an iPhone to household cleaning sprays. They’re a global leader in sustainable chemistry and renewable resources.
Due to their high number of worldwide businesses with headquarters around the world, finding a communications and issues management solution where multiple teams could stay up to date and on the same message had been a challenge.
That was a dilemma that sat squarely on the shoulders of Marcel Halma, the company’s Director of Integrated Communications & Global Public Affairs.
Building a next-level communications and government relations department
Halma, a former Dutch diplomat, is responsible for leading the teams working on internal and external communications, media relations, public affairs, and government relations.
“My main role, apart from being the team lead for global public affairs and the chief advisor to the leadership team on all things government relations and stakeholder management-related, is making sure we’re aligned on the issues in our external and internal communications,” he says. “We try to connect the lines.”
Small teams, closely aligned to the business on one platform, allow for quick and nimble action
“What I’m building is a public affairs community, as close as possible to the business functions,” says Halma.
“Because you are at the table with the business, they respect you as a partner and not just someone from government relations who should be updated because he’s talking to government people. They start seeing you as a member of their team, which gives you a completely different place at the table.”
To achieve that, Halma and Nouryon have built a center of excellence in the Amsterdam head office, with smaller teams that are more strategic working with teams in the field in all their key markets.
They’ve also built public affairs country coordination teams, as well as priority issues teams around the key concerns.
When an issue needs to be worked on, everyone who plays a crucial role in resolving it, including media relations, can quickly come together.
“That means we’re aligned on the issue and we know what the different angles are,” says Halma. “And because we are so closely tied to the business, there’s lots more information on the table than we would have if we had a government relations department of 50 or 100 people.”
By staying small, but bringing in the people who play an external role on issues, whether that’s a country manager or regulatory affairs person, they can stay united and as close as possible to the knowledge and information.
But keeping all those internal and external teams and pieces of information in the same place and streamlining the messaging, while tracking the issues and mitigating risk, is no easy task.
To truly excel, Halma knew he needed a comprehensive and forward-thinking platform.
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Keeping everyone connected for influence and risk mitigation
“Trying to make sure everyone is on the same page is a challenge in global public affairs,” says Halma.
“Once you have action plans, or position papers, how do you track and make sure that people, in different places all over the world, can do the same thing or follow what’s going on?”
Enter FiscalNote’s issues management platform, which allows for a unified workspace where various teams can get an overview of what’s happening and add their own pieces to the puzzle.
So, for example, the government relations team can alert everyone when new bills are proposed affecting the organization's issues; public or media relations can post the various talking points for the media; legal can assess the risk and everyone can add contacts, meetings, and notes in one place on one platform.
For Halma and his team, the transition to one global platform was a strategic effort to make his integrated communications vision a reality.
“Now, almost on the hour, I can send out new instructions and everyone in the world working for me can look at their phone and see immediately what the new key messages are, or if we need to take new actions,” he says.
In the true spirit of integrated communications, Halma also purposely uses the tool for media relations.
“Clearly the issues are driven by our public affairs agenda, [but] media can be an instrument we use in driving our policy agenda. I have my media relations team in there [in the platform] because we try to connect the dots between our issues and our media approach. Journalists are interested in all these issues, and we use media to further shape the context of a certain issue we want to have out there. You can plot all these stakeholder maps in terms of NGOs, government relations, and so on, to see who do we know in the media in that area ... and where we should build contacts.”
Using the approach to mitigate risk and turn it into opportunity
Naturally, Halma and his team do not want every issue highlighted in the media, but even those they’d rather not see garner public interest are opportunities to shape the debate.
“There are also quite a number of issues we try to keep out of the media. And successfully do so – particularly if it’s in the shaping area, or if it’s an opportunity. But if [the] media is reporting on you, positive or not, it can lead to talking to decision makers [and an opportunity] to try and explain or influence a debate, or give some background on certain issues which are a concern, in a positive or negative way.
Sometimes media follows government affairs and sometimes government affairs follow media. It works both ways. So integrating the front and back end [in the platform] is good.”
That risk mitigation mantra ties well to Halma’s concept of keeping public affairs close to the business center.
“I compare us to the ground clearers who come in before the construction company can start building the house they want. We’re preparing the ground for the business side to do their work, and we should be ahead of the business to make sure that they don’t have any regulatory or legislative obstacles in their way.”
Time saving and efficiency
Bringing everyone into the philosophy of cohesive communications was a big strategic step that Halma has consciously and consistently championed.
“What has helped me the most internally to sell this idea is the big advantage that we now have everything in one place. It’s optimized our ways of working. It’s reduced email traffic and papers floating around everywhere. It brought together a lot of channels. All the input from legislation and regulations, is fed into the system by FiscalNote, and then [we add] documents and position papers and statements we make ourselves.
“We now have in a central place … in terms of what are the objectives, what are the actions we [need to] take. The tool makes it easier for us to partner with our businesses because we can have all that information in one simple overview.
My team is starting to see and realize if they get a request from a business leader, or are in a meeting, they can quickly check, ‘OK, what have we done there?’"
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Halma and Nouryon also see the platform as a tool that helps measure whether things are moving in the right direction, and if they could change the outcome.
“Global issues like the trade conflict, or certain EU dossiers, we do from our center [in Amsterdam]. Specific country items get done in the countries,” says Halma.
“Everybody tracks their own dossiers [locally]. They’re close to the business, so they develop the objectives, set out the actions, and then link others in who need to act on it. So if it's a business unit issue in Chicago or Shanghai, they monitor and track the issue, and decide ‘OK, it’s a critical issue for our business, so we should do something about it’. They then develop an action plan and work with people in the countries. Then it could be in Europe or the U.S. that something needs to happen, and these actions become global.”
Having overview on that scale of business makes having a tool like FiscalNote all the more essential to large organizations.
“It’s helped me most in the sense that with one click I have an overview of what people are doing at every hour of the day,” says Halma.
“While I was sleeping in Europe I can see what was happening in China, for instance.
I’m always up to date and therefore ready if senior management wants an update. I’m now in a much better position than I was before to advise the teams on the ground in actions they can take. Or to think along with them on how to tackle certain issues or obstacles they meet along the way.”
Due to the scale and scope of Nouryon’s businesses, and given Halma’s all-encompassing role in the organization, staying on top of his multiple communications was always a point of contention.
“Before the tool my biggest pain point was my inbox. I had all kinds of information floating around everywhere. We are usually not the lowest paid people in the company. It’s a waste of time if I, or other people, have to spend most of their time monitoring and finding information. Thinking about which folder I stacked something in, and whether it was two or three months ago … before you know it you’re spending 15 minutes looking for a document and growing endless Excel sheets.
Analyzing and translating things into feasible action is what we should be doing. Working with the business to get rid of issues, and not spending most of our time collecting the information and bringing it together.”
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