Corporate Affairs: 5 top trends for 2023

As the Christmas decorations start to make an appearance, and corporates ready themselves for the fast-approaching end of year, Andrews Partnership weighs in on the 5 trends for the corporate affairs function to prepare for in 2023.

  1. Increasing scope of the corporate affairs role: The “polycrisis” pulls CA even deeper into commercial and regulatory leadership roles

As we’ve often said recently, corporate affairs has been transformed since the pandemic. There has been quantitative growth – more responsibilities and increased scope for CA leaders,  particularly around government affairs and regulation, to ensure the policy-makers critical to ensuring business continuity in Asia are being professionally engaged.

But there has been a qualitative expansion too: In talent, for example, as corporate affairs leaders are increasingly asked to help shape the commercial strategy, the #1 client demand today is for CA candidates with not just communications experience but geopolitical expertise, reputation-management skills, and real business acumen. In addition, companies now require them to have total connectivity – to be plugged into all stakeholders internally and externally – as the central hub of corporate impact and influence.

Where will this lead in 2023? We think it means further growth in the professionalism, profile and reach at the very top of the profession. As one head of corporate affairs explained to us recently:

“As we enter the era of ‘polycrisis,’ economic and non-economic events are speeding up, converging and becoming increasingly entangled. This presents a huge opportunity for CA professionals next year, helping to steer and inform organisations through increasingly choppy waters.”

And we have now started seeing heads of corporate affairs – after being recognised for their non-conformist executive insights during the pandemic – moving onto boards in advisory positions. That’s a solid trend we’re seeing across the region, and one we anticipate will continue into 2023 and beyond.

  1. Agility and innovation

As corporates face inflation, recession, post-pandemic rebuilding, an employment market in flux, supply-chain issues, tightening regulations and continuing global price instability (among many other economic landmines), agility and innovation are suddenly make-or-break commercial issues. Fleet-footed organisations, able to spot opportunities and go for them, are the ones that will survive.

A critical differentiator will be the extent to which all stakeholders understand that this cannot just be left to the CEO or extended leadership. We cannot wait and watch to be inspired by agility; we have to live it ourselves. In corporate affairs, that means your entire function has to be able to tackle new realities on a daily basis, adapt, and find new ways of working. The only picture of success we can see for 2023 is one of a function that never sits still.

As one head of communications in Financial Services said to us:

“Communications teams need to decide what they stand for, and how they best position their firms. It’s not what your individual craft or strength is. It’s what you create as an individual and, more importantly, as part of the team, to position your brand in 2023.”

  1. ESG and Sustainability

Whether Environmental, Social & Governance (ESG) is part of the formal corporate affairs remit or not, the two are nevertheless deeply intertwined, as clear communication around ESG goals and milestones are what makes them stick with internal and external audiences. And there is a lot of further ground to cover on the margins of corporate responsibility (already a very broad issue) with concerns as varied as DE&I, mental health and the future of work each potentially demanding their own focused activities, too, over the coming year.

What is clear is that companies in 2023 will need to put Environmental, Social & Governance (ESG) right at the centre of their action planning, as they will need to start evidencing its delivery. At a recent event held by Andrews Partnership, several corporate affairs leaders pointed to recent warnings by national governments in Asia that firms now needed to start making good on their ESG commitments; that suspicions that a company’s sustainability claims were little more than ‘greenwashing’ would see licences and other benefits being revoked.

The general mood of those in attendance at the session, therefore, was: “Proceed with caution before making bold statements of intent.” ESG commitments are a great temptation, opening doors with consumers, investors and regulators alike, but governments are now scrutinising follow through. So, if companies can’t yet point to delivery, it’s clear that they will need to start demonstrating milestones being met at the very least, if they want to retain preferential trading relationships with local and regional administrations.

  1. Talent 

The demand for talent is being felt in all sectors, and companies are now making noticeably strong plays in the market by offering highly competitive salaries, benefits and investments to attract and retain the best talent. We also see companies increasingly adopting a more “employee-centric” approach – to position themselves as an alternative to the old-style, hierarchical, command-and-control-style institution, and to make themselves more attractive to a new generation of workers.

This was perfectly highlighted by a recent Gartner survey of HR leaders worldwide, where 47% cited improvements in the “employee experience” as their main priority for 2023.

What does this mean for the corporate affairs function over the coming year?

  • The new era of hybrid working continues to present challenges and opportunities for organisations – logistically, financially, and in terms of maintaining full workforce engagement. The communications team plays a vital role in supporting its adoption and success by working closely on the issue with HR.
  • Heads of HR tell us that they are aligning across the business to focus on employee development, to upskill the current workforce or provide internal opportunities where possible. This focus is often driven by issues of real importance to reputation management – the employer brand; being a great place to work; building an engaged workforce – and points even more strongly to the need for corporate affairs to be in closer league with HR going forward.
  • Mental health remains a topic close to the hearts of both HR and corporate affairs.  Together, we see the two functions increasingly prioritising training, team-building and other communications programmes to bring employees and employers together to break new ground on the issue.
  1. Increased market regulatory challenges

Geopolitical flux with regards to China will likely continue to alter corporate responses in Asia through 2023 and beyond, with ramifications for both commercial and communications strategy.

As China increasingly looks to rival the US in applying laws with extra-territorial jurisdiction, for example, so corporate affairs practitioners will need to interpret what this will mean, especially for their C-suites, as it could create interesting regulatory challenges next year and beyond.

These issues are also already playing out in regional presence. Three years ago, for example, 5% of corporates’ head of corporate affairs Asia were based in China, a figure many had predicted to grow significantly. We have actually seen it reduce, leading to a greater plurality of regional hubs. In parallel, we have seen subtle alterations in corporate affairs’ scope in the region, especially in the classification of “pan-Asia” remits. Five years ago, a “pan-Asia” head of corporate affairs (whether sitting in Hong Kong or Singapore) would typically cover the whole of Asia excluding Japan; now, as the landscape adapts, we are seeing more that represent Asia minus China.

All told, the dynamic nature of our region means it also forever fluid. The most certain prediction for 2023, then, is that success will continue to hinge – more than anything – on being observant, flexible to emerging opportunities, and pragmatic in seizing them.

Andrews Partnership are the reputation experts, with offices in Hong Kong and Singapore working across Asia, as the leading specialist corporate affairs, communications and investor relations executive search firm. We excel at understanding each organisation's unique challenges and appointing the right talent, who make meaningful business impact.