Getting a Seat at the Table: The UN General Assembly

When world leaders gather for the United Nations General Assembly meetings in New York every fall – known to insiders simply as “UNGA” or “UN Week,” private sector executives, non-profit leaders and foreign governments alike converge on the city to vie for a spot in the conferences, media frenzy, parties and meetings that go on in the sidelines of the debate. Though public relations professionals can’t mitigate the Manhattan traffic jams that put parts of the island into periods of gridlock, industry professionals can help their clients seize the moment for issues that matter most. Few understand the mechanics of this high-level convergence of private, public and sovereign leaders, and with U.S. President Donald Trump making his UNGA debut today, analysts are more on their toes this year than ever.

The seventy-second session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) confronts a crowded agenda. It will be dominated by questions on traditional hard power issues including the U.S.’s role in the world under a Trump administration, the North Korean nuclear issue and the fate of the Iran deal. Climate change will also top the agenda in the aftermath of monsoons in India, Nepal and Bangladesh that killed more than 1,200 people this summer, as Hurricane Jose makes its way up the U.S. east coast and Hurricane Maria crashes the Caribbean, and amid uncertainty over the U.S.’s commitment to the Paris climate accord. As the world increasingly looks toward the private sector for answers to some of the world’s most vexing problems, UNGA gives business leaders the opportunity to insert their perspectives into these debates and to restate their commitments to global initiatives, including the UN’s ambitious 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda. It also gives non-profit leaders the chance to highlight their agendas and liaise with donors and partners. And it gives foreign leaders a podium to address the issues most pressing to their citizens on the global stage, speak to a diverse range of audiences and engage with new partners and stakeholders.

With so much going on, what does it take to get your seat at the table?

Speaking Your Mind

Every year, a host of events are held on the sidelines of UNGA. In territory previously held by the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI), multiple conferences have proliferated. For 2017, the Concordia Summit, the Social Good Summit, the Global Citizen Festival, Climate Week and this year’s first-ever Bloomberg Global Business Forum are just some of the places where leaders from across sectors will convene to engage on pressing international issues. Speaking slots at these conferences are ripe opportunities to take advantage of the groundswell of activity and exposure. Public relations professionals can help clients identify marquee venues and secure the right commitments to address target audiences. Especially as platforms fracture to more issue-based and sponsor-specific events this year in lieu of CGI, public relations professionals can work with clients to navigate this new landscape – or help host salon dinners and targeted meetings to connect more directly.

Knowing the Landscape

If you are a group focused on nuclear issues for instance, you not only need to know the right venues for your voice to be heard but must also understand the larger ecosystem around the UN—its partner foundations, think tanks and other conveners of thought leadership platforms around your issue. And you must recognize not only those influencing the conversation surrounding nuclear issues but also be able to anticipate the trajectory of where that policy conversation may head during the meetings. Public relations professionals have the tools to map and target these trends.

This year, Burson-Marsteller worked to produce dozens of briefing memos for leaders of a prominent international organization, including an in-depth analysis of a critical geopolitical issue at play. With foresight on where the policy conversation around this issue could head, the Burson-Marsteller team was also able to identify the most important players in shaping this dialogue and target outreach to them.

For another key client, Burson-Marsteller outlined a plan for a high-visibility media event as well as a specialized social media outreach program targeted to key geographies and outlets to ensure that messages reached the right audiences.

Dispatching Your Message

The press corps covering the UN General Assembly is a unique cast of players, including New York reporters, Washington-based journalists, international press and UN correspondents. Public relations professionals have eyes on this constantly evolving media space and can tap into their networks to secure high-level interviews, broadcast hits and op-ed real estate in the right outlets.

Going Around the Globe

It’s not all happening in New York. Audiences worldwide give special watch to events surrounding the UN General Assembly. Burson-Marsteller has engaged its global network to make sure that onlookers across the world are tuned in to your message—from hosting events, engaging media, developing social media programs or building coalitions.

Finding Your Seat

As thousands meet in Manhattan to examine some of the world’s shared challenges and opportunities at the UN General Assembly, public relations professionals are well-placed to help clients develop a strategic plan for engagement, provide foresight on major players and policy trajectories, navigate on the ground and sustain momentum around key issues. Make sure you find your seat at the table, and as UN Week comes to a close, know that some of us are already gearing up to support clients similarly for the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland this January 24 to 27, 2018.

This post was contributed by Mike Fernandez, U.S. CEO, Burson-Marsteller.

Published on SEPTEMBER 19, 2017 | By Mike Fernandez @


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