Understanding Public Affairs

Public Affairs, most obviously would relate to matters that concern the public directly. So, this could include areas such as legislation, policing, public administration, and so on…

According to the PR Council, Public Affairs can be defined as – “issues arising from the relationship of the public to an organisation such as a government body or a financial institution.” If you replace the word “client” for “public,” then you could arrive at the essence of a public affairs practice.

Almost every day, elected and regulatory officials make decisions that impact private businesses; it may also be the decisions local and state lawmakers make. In addition to working with lawmakers, public affairs professionals often take an issue directly to the public whose opinion is essential to policy development.

The public affairs discipline seeks to shape public opinion, and in the process, tries and influences government actions or decisions in such ways that it supports client interests. Public affairs practitioners follow pending legislation and regulations and, through communication campaigns, provide facts and information to get policy makers to consider their clients’ interests. So, you could say that Public Affairs goes beyond advocating for products or helping clients gain market share. It’s about protecting the corporate brand in what may be far more challenging situations.

The goal is to build alliances with the community—through campaigning, for example. The work by public affairs firms should encourage community involvement. Organisations aim at creating a positive image to spread through the active community or to a particular target audience. This can lead to – letters of support and news items in newspapers.

In the world of public affairs, messaging tends to be less commercial and short-term. This is because organisations are homing in on local issues, including matters between the public and a legislative body. This is of great importance in building strong and trusting relations between the organisation and the community. What it seeks is support against its detractors.

Businesses, nonprofits, trade associations, educational institutions and governments – all have audiences they must please to survive. Those audiences are as varied as shareholders, legislators and customers, communities, investors and voters. Organisations use the communication expertise of public affairs and public relations professionals to inform their various audiences about activities, services and products that affect and interest them.

Over the past two decades, corporations, trade associations and advocacy organisations have increased engagement in public affairs campaigns. This reflects, in part, media’s increasing interest to cover public policy conversations. As attention shifts to the impact of policies on the world, clients are acknowledging that they need to be part of the conversation. Additionally, clients of all backgrounds are recognising that multiple audiences influence how they are perceived. The broader topics that dominate many of the headlines are the ones that present the greatest opportunities in public affairs: healthcare, education, energy, environment and the economy.

Public Affairs & Public Relations

Ultimately, Public Affairs is a branch of Public Relations. Practitioners of both functions build and maintain relationships with their respected audiences. They apply the same skills in their work, which includes planning special-events, preparing press releases, assembling media kits etc. Both deal with the media and the press.

However, there are distinct differences. The governmental aspect of public affairs activities keeps its communication budget lower than a public relations budget for a project of similar magnitude to avoid creating an impression of wastage expenditure! Public Affairs and PR have different goals. Public Affairs has the good of the public in mind, while Public Relations ultimately seeks to develop a good reputation, so that the company’s products sell. Public Affairs works more directly with lawmakers and politicians, while Public Relations speaks to its audiences more through different media platforms and events.

Public Relations, you can say, focuses more on the company’s connection with the public. PR firms could enhance and strengthen that relationship by implementing marketing and campaigning policies, through storytelling – via press releases and a host of content creation options.

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Shree Lahiri
Shree is the Senior Editor at Reputation Today and hopes to move from one focus area to another in the editions that will be released this year. Having worked in Corporate Communications teams, she has experience of advertising, public relations, investor and employee communications, after which she moved to the other side – journalism. She enjoys writing and believes the power of the pen is indeed mighty. Covering the entertainment beat and the media business, she has been involved in a wide range of activities that have thrown open storytelling opportunities.

She can be reached at: @shree_la on twitter

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