At which time do you wake up in the morning?
I wake up around 7. At high-energy times, I don’t need an alarm. When I do, that would be an indication that I need to refill my tank.
What is the first thing you do?
Sometimes I start working immediately because there’s nothing like that fresh, lucid mind you have before the world gets into motion. I often think of new ideas before sleeping, and use the morning to put them in action – for example a new article for my Public Affairs blog, The Connector. Otherwise, I shower and have breakfast, usually a fruit, a high-protein Icelandic yoghurt, and a good espresso or two.
Which news sites do you read (if any) in the morning?
If I have time, I try to watch the news on the BBC or CNN and Sky Europe (the latter to get a more European take on things) around midday. I’m also registered on various newsfeed services like Politico and the New York Times which come in throughout the day. For commentaries and analyses I check the Economist, and I follow various experts on Twitter.
At which time do you go into the office (or start working remotely)?
I can start very early or, instead, work in the evening. Evenings are great to read, study and prepare my University classes. Since I started work independently there isn’t one day like another one, which is something I enjoy and have been looking forward to.
How many times a day do you check emails?
I check e-mails all the time. One reason is that I have different projects which are linked to different e-mail addresses. I need to find a way to set up a more efficient system! But mostly I think is because I enjoy it.
When is your first meeting?
I try not to plug meetings too early in the morning, so it would be around 10-10h30. Some meetings happen quite late, around 7 or 8pm, especially in relation to the work I do with Global Women in PR, in order to meet the needs of my board peers.
How do you plan your meetings across the week?
Monday afternoons are usually dedicated to meeting my partners at Public Affairs & Careers to coordinate the project’s advancement. When it comes to meeting clients, I obviously need to stay flexible but I generally try to avoid Fridays whenever possible. The last week of the month is where I concentrate 1-2-1 sessions related to my Mentoring practice.
How do you organize your calendar?
As a rule of thumb, I allocate one day to each priority project over a 4-day week. I try not to have more than 4 priorities at a time. Currently I have two University projects and two consulting projects. Leaving one day out serves to complete what I didn’t manage to do in the previous days, otherwise, depending on the week, it’ll be for non-priority projects, such as administration and of course personal stuff. Sometimes I need to dive in a new subject in a relatively short time span. In that case I would block 1 or 2 days entirely and not take any additional meeting.
How do you take notes?
I always carry a small notebook and a pen in my bag so I’m ready for meetings or if I’m having lunch with someone, I can easily take some notes. I also make heavy use of the Notes app on my iPhone, but only when I’m alone. It’s practical, and by sending those notes to myself, I can keep on working when I am at my computer.
What is your relationship to Excel?
I use Excel to organize things like the editorial plans of my businesses, or the detailed schedules for my University classes. I’m not a pro but I’m not scared of it either.
What is your favorite app & why?
SLACK is the communication platform used by KINDNESSforBusiness so I discovered it in that context. In the beginning, I used to hate it but now I came to appreciate it. I use all kinds of apps for professional and personal stuff, from e-commerce, e-banking and train/airlines apps to mobile scanning. Beside social media, e-mail and WhatsApp/Telegram the apps I use the most are probably Kindle and Canva. Canva has turned out to be a great tool for me to design my own communications and marketing materials.
How many external lunches do you have a week?
That varies a lot but I would say 1 or 2 per week on average. I don’t like to rush when I have lunch with someone so I tend to always allocate enough time, especially if they are business-related.
Which time do you go to bed?
Not early. Midnight would be average but I have to force myself a little. Sometimes I make an extra effort and go to bed at 23h, and I definitely feel the benefit the next day!
Where do you keep up to date on Public Affairs?
As a consultant, I have the opportunity to work with different sectors that need to manage very different issues. When I start a new project, I look for the best sources of news/updates and I sign up or I follow industry leaders on LinkedIn. More and more I find that working on Public Affairs stuff requires an eye for organizational issues so I have a subscription to Harvard Business Review which allows me to search articles and case-studies.
What is your best tip for managing work/life balance?
I don’t consider myself a champion of work/life balance, but the one thing that helps me the most is exercising on a regular basis. Whether it’s a run in the park, a 20-minutes’ walk or 10-minutes’ HIIT session, it helps me unloading stress and re-focusing on my priorities. Fasting for a few days is another practice I discovered to “re-center” myself when I need but that can only be done every now and then.
What do you do to unwind?
I practice yoga and meditation regularly. I’m based in Switzerland which is the heaven for outdoor sport so I also train with a group of people outside whenever I can. Talking to my close friends – who all live far away – is another great way to relax and to boost each other’s energy by discussing our challenges and future plans.
How does your desk look?
My desk is full of papers, more or less divided by topic/project. It looks quite tidy to me because I guess it reflects how I am, always juggling multiple things.
Do you answer emails on your phone?
I do. I do have a thing for grammar and accuracy though so if I need to send an articulate response I would draft it on the phone, save it and review it later.
Name a PA pro in the industry you respect and why
I really admire and respect Mariella Palazzolo, CEO and founder of public affairs firm Telos A&S. She is one of the few female Public Affairs entrepreneurs in my home country (Italy) and, beside her PA practice, she does a lot of work to disseminate knowledge about the lobbying activity. I also admire John Scruggs, former Head of Government Affairs at Philip Morris International. I owe him most of what I know about Government Affairs, including his P-hierarchy mantra: “Politics, Procedure, Policy”.
When you go on vacation, do you still answer emails?
As an entrepreneur, the concept of vacation has changed a lot for me. Not being bound to office hours allows me to take free time in-between mandates. I would still look at e-mails then, but without that heavy feeling of “working while on holidays” that I had in my previous career.
Which book did you read recently or are you currently reading?
Right now, I’m reading “Negotiating Peace” by Sven M.G. Koopmans, a Dutch diplomat who mediated conflicts in Cyprus, Darfur, Syria and Sudan, among others. In parallel I’m reading Elif Shafak’s latest novel “The Island of Missing Trees”. Her books always cover migration, language and cultural divides in a deep and inspiring way.
Which skills will PA pros need the most in 5-10 year?
I think expertise on responsible leadership and ESG will become a must for Public Affairs professionals. The other area is the use of data and AI to design effective lobbying and advocacy campaigns. Ultimately, I believe that Public Affairs will soon assume a critical role within every organization, particularly in matters like business strategy and leadership advisory.
Do you prefer LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter or TikTok, and why/why not?
LinkedIn is definitely my number one social media for professional purposes. I like Twitter as a source of insights across current societal and political changes. I use Facebook mostly for private stuff. I’m also planning to produce more video content so I will surely avail Instagram and TikTok in the near future.
How big is your PA department (PA employees)?
When I was working in a corporate global HQ, the Global External Affairs Department counted approximately 50 people. My team, Regulatory Affairs, was about 10 people. External Affairs teams in the affiliates ranged from 2-3 to over 20 people in large markets like Japan.
Where is the PA departments placed in your organization?
Again, thinking about when I used to work in-house, External Affairs was reporting directly to the CEO. The department included Regulatory Affairs/Policy, Government Affairs, Global Engagement, Fiscal & Economic Affairs, and Sustainability – the latter subsequently became a stand-alone department.
Where should the PA function ideally be based in an organization & why?
Public Affairs should naturally report to the CEO, and ideally include Communications and PR under a single leadership. But irrespective of where the PA function sits in the organization, to me the critical aspect is the inclusion of PA in the key strategy processes of the business such as new products/markets as well as operational and organizational changes. PA acts as the bridge between the company and the external world and, by being in the room where critical business decisions are being made. PA can help anticipate and prevent risks, seize opportunities and ultimately contribute to successful business performance.
About Germana Barba
Co-founder Public Affairs & Careers.
I’m a political scientist, a public and international affairs expert, a women’s advocate and an entrepreneur. I have led the Regulatory Affairs department at Philip Morris International until 2020. Today I’m a Public Affairs and Leadership strategic advisor. I co-founded Public Affairs & Careers, an organization that provides training and orientation on how to pursue a Public Affairs profession.