ECONOMY

Business and public affairs

In a world where rules and regulations abound and governments’ policies can shift from one day to the next, a public affairs specialist could play a significant role in helping companies navigate their way through the labyrinth while making their best case, says Hershell Ezrin, chairman and chief executive officer of international public affairs consultancy GPC International. Ezrin is in an excellent position to know, having spent time in both the public and private domains. A career diplomat in the early part of his career, he served as Canadian consul in New York and Los Angeles. He entered politics in the 1980s, helping to rebuild the Ontario Liberal Party. When the Liberals won the elections, Ezrin was appointed deputy minister to the premier, David Peterson. He oversaw the Liberal Party’s policy and communications strategy and execution during its successful 1985 and 1987 campaigns. Ezrin then moved to the private sector where he landed a job with a Canadian-based diversified multinational that placed him in charge of its corporate and public affairs division. He was subsequently appointed chief executive of a publicly traded multinational automotive services company. Ezrin, who came to Greece last week as part of a delegation that accompanied Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien on an official visit to Greece, says public affairs consultants have gained increasing relevance as the world becomes more interconnected. With their expertise and experience, public affairs consultants serve as facilitators and at times even act as a bridge between a government or a company and the public, he points out. «Because of our expertise, we understand the content of business and government organizations. And we are able to do much more than just introduce people to each other and hope they will work something out. We can tell a company what the government’s agenda is,» he explains. For companies trying to make head or tail of the rules and regulations coming out of Brussels or attempting to penetrate one of the national markets, a public affairs consultant provides invaluable help. «We can explain to our clients what the national rules are and the context in which government decisions are made. But more importantly, our expertise can sometimes influence the debate and discussion on how the rules are developed,» says Ezrin. He says public affairs consultants can help companies improve their corporate governance, an issue very much in the spotlight now due to the recent spate of corporate and accounting scandals, with Enron and WorldCom the most notorious cases. «GPC discovered some very interesting findings on how the public want to be protected. We took the information to governments and corporations and explained the findings. As a result, some companies have put in place appropriate measures to protect the public interest. We have done audits for other firms, helping them to understand their potential vulnerabilities and to take corrective action,» he says. GPC has played a similar advisory role for the city of Toronto, which has been hit hard by the SARS virus. «We’re advising Toronto on how to deal with the issue and how to communicate the actual situation on the ground through the integrated use of our tools,» says Ezrin. GPC, which teamed up with Greek communications company Civitas earlier this year, plans to strengthen its presence in the Greek market before launching into the Balkans, he says. «Greece is new territory. As it grows and develops, we want to be on the ground to help educate the general market about how public affairs can be an effective tool for them,» he says. The next step is the Balkans, in particular the 10 countries aiming for EU membership in 2004. «These countries will need lots of infrastructure support to help them rise up to the EU standard. We can help companies participate in the process and the countries to put their best case forward for EU funds because we know how the system works,» says Ezrin.