What is Public Affairs
It’s what we do for a living. Ok, it is also a way of making a living that our parents and friends back home still do not understand no matter how many times we explain it to them.
The font of all knowledge that is Wikipedia seems wedded to the idea of public affairs being directly equated with “lobbying”. And yes, one of the things that public affairs practitioners do is seek to influence policymaking. At a European level an estimated 15,000 other Brussels based “lobbyists” (corporates, law firms, trade associations, NGOs, regional representations, national governments and consultancies) seek to do this by providing information to our elected representatives. It is of course up to those representatives to decide whether to listen and how much weight to give to any one opinion. In most cases, given the very technical nature of EU legislation, this process makes for better informed legislation that does what it says on the tin.
However, we think that public affairs is a a wider range of activities that encompasses identifying, assessing, prioritising and responding to the opportunities and risks that public policy environment throws up to an organisation and its goals. Of course, an organisation’s response may well be to seek to influence that policy through communications; whether in meetings, through the media or by building coalitions with others. Equally, the organisation may use the advance warning that public affairs activities bring to adapt its activities in good time for legislative requirements. In more enlightened cases, public affairs may even help an organisation reorient the way it conducts its activities as a whole – think oil companies that have now refocused both their communications, and indeed their business, on renewable energy sources.