Public affairs is a term used to describe an organisation’s relationship with stakeholders. These are individuals or groups with an interest in the organisation’s affairs, such as politicians (MPs, MSPs, AMs, MLAs, MEPs), civil servants, customers and local communities, clients, shareholders, trade associations, think tanks, business groups, charities, unions and the media.
Public affairs practitioners engage stakeholders in order to explain organisational policies and views on public policy issues, assisting policy makers and legislators in amending or laying down better policy and legislation. They provide statistical and factual information and lobby on issues which could impact upon the organisation’s ability to operate successfully.
“Lobbying serves an important function in politics – by putting forward the views of stakeholders to policy makers, it helps in the development of better legislation” – Introducing a Statutory Register of Lobbyists, Consultation Paper, January 2012.
Public affairs work combines government relations, media communications, issue management, corporate and social responsibility, information dissemination and strategic communications advice. Practitioners aim to influence public policy, build and maintain a strong reputation and find common ground with stakeholders.
There may often also be some aspects of public affairs and policy work associated with working in public relations, press and media relations and crisis communications.
Public Affairs Job Titles
The public affairs industry has no set form for job titles, and practitioners can be described in varying forms including: public affairs, policy, government affairs, government relations, parliamentary affairs, parliamentary relations, European affairs, regulatory affairs, political advisor, political researcher, external affairs, external relations, International affairs, campaigns, advocacy, corporate communications, corporate affairs, research and information management, stakeholder relations, community relations and stakeholder management.
Who could I work for?
Public affairs practitioners often work: ‘in house’ for a company, trade association or charity; as an advisor for a political consultancy working with a number of clients or as a freelancer; for a trade union, a political or issue based organisation; or for a government agency or in local government.
What can I expect to be doing?
Public affairs practitioners can be tasked with a wide range of activities. Some may specialise in media relations, campaign management, local government or ‘Parliamentary Bills’, whilst others will work across the spectrum. Some of the activities and skills a practitioner would be expected to learn include:
Lobbying: Practitioners may need to influence stakeholders on specific policy or legislation proposals, including at a local, national or International level. They will devise strategies on who to lobby and engage with, on what issues and advise at what stage in the legislative process to get involved.
Monitoring: It is essential that any public affairs work is based on the most up to date information and so political monitoring is essential. Practitioners at all levels will have their own daily media diet. Usually regular monitoring is conducted by more junior practitioners including checking statements and releases from Parliament, Whitehall, International, European & Devolved Institutions, political parties, local government, public bodies, think tanks, pressure groups, debates, committee inquiries, the media, legislation and regulation will all be monitored regularly.
Media management: Public affairs practitioners often carry out what are seen as traditional PR activities but with a political focus because, in many cases, the media can be a significant stakeholder to the organisation. These activities include writing press releases and articles, researching, copy writing, producing annual reports and managing databases of, and building up relationships with, media contacts. Depending on the organisation, public affairs practitioners will also take part in media interviews.
Organising and attending events: Practitioners may organise events in order to provide opportunities to meet with stakeholders. Initially the relevant stakeholders will need to be identified, as will the issues that the organisation needs to bring to the attendees’ attention. You will also invariably attend parliamentary committee meetings, party conferences, related seminars, conferences, Government Departmental stakeholder meetings, All-Party Parliamentary Groups and other events related to the local, national or International dimension of the subject matter.
Providing information to stakeholders: It is essential in public affairs that practitioners are able to convey information to stakeholders in a concise, efficient and honest manner. This can be done through submissions to government consultations, answering letters from MPs/MSPs/MLAs/AMs/MEPs, writing internal and external briefing papers, and producing leaflets and newsletters or by holding one-to-one meetings.
Political marketing: The government is a huge procurer and many corporate companies are keen to sell their products to the public sector. Public affairs practitioners may be used to raise the profile of a company or service provider in order to increase the chances of the government becoming a client.
Networking and Contacts: Public affairs practitioners need to be confident at networking and able to ‘work a room’. There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to networking. It is very much down to the skills of the individual, but these skills can be learned by anyone. Largely, it is about having the confidence to approach people and strike up conversation. One of the things that you take from one job to another is your personal and professional contacts, and in many cases these might be intermingled. It is important to build up a network of contacts within and across different sectors.