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Establishing a social licence to operate

by Matthew Hart

Establishing and maintaining a “social licence” to operate can be a fundamental requirement for businesses across a range of industries, from primary industries and infrastructure through to mining and resources.

For the past two years, BBS has worked with PNG’s SP Brewery, owned by Dutch giant Heineken, forging a communication strategy focused on maintaining this “social licence”.Governments and communities often see products like alcohol as easy targets for taxation revenue and restrictions, without realising the domino effect some of these might have.

SP Brewery is proud of its PNG heritage and understands it has a role to play in not only promoting responsible drinking, but also providing valuable input into the PNG economy, employment and communities.  It funds a range of initiatives, from sporting and community programs through to responsible service of alcohol training and drink driving campaigns.

But for the company to continue to operate effectively, it needs a “social licence” to operate.  That is, it is important that its stakeholders, particularly government and the community, recognise the positive impact SP Brewery makes, and the lengths it takes to mitigate the negative impacts from excessive alcohol consumption.

Importantly for companies, this “social licencing” process is not about creating an illusion, but illuminating the genuine values, approaches and activities that are being undertaken so that stakeholders have a more balanced perception.   This is particularly vital if there are vocal opponents at play with their own agendas.

The challenge is to plan and structure proactive communication activities that better position an organisation and its operations in their dynamic operating environment. These activities should encompass five key areas: Employee Engagement, Media Relations, Brand PR, Public Affairs, Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability.

Organisations seeking to create or keep a “social licence” also need to acknowledge that strategic planning is just one part of the equation, with resourcing and staff professional development also crucial to success.