What is Public Affairs?

The name ‘Public Affairs’ is misleading. Public Affairs refers to building relationships between powerful decision-makers, and unlike public relations, is usually quite private. Lobbying is the clearest example of Public Affairs work, but the term also refers to communication between companies, charity partnerships, and high-level networking.

How Public Affairs Works

  1. It's about who you know

    The Public Affairs industry is still viewed with suspicion. When deals happen between powerful people behind closed doors, the public assumes nepotism. Whether this assumption is fair or not, much of the Public Affairs space runs on personal relationships between key decision-makers.

  2. It has soft boundaries

    Nobody knows exactly how many people work in public affairs, let alone the aggregate impact of their work. That’s largely down to the competing definitions of role titles. The same Public Affairs job may fall under ‘Corporate Communications’ department in one company and ‘Research Management’ in another. Public Affairs professionals may also serve across functions and departments within the same company, often overlapping with PR, HR, and strategic management.

  3. Communication is still key

    In Public Relations you may have to convince a million people, whereas in Public Affairs you’ll only have to convince ten. Still, both industries revolve around consistent messaging and clear communication. A confused investor will give you far more grief than a confused customer.

Public Affairs Best Practices

  1. Prioritize reputation above revenue

    Public Affairs professionals answer to their company’s investors — and investors think in terms of return. When Public Affairs professionals prioritize revenue above reputation to please investors, however, they can damage the future of those they claim to represent.

  2. Make employees advocates

    Public Affairs needs to convince stakeholders and potential partners that things are humming in the workplace. One way to do this is amplify the voices of enthusiastic and dedicated employees, whether through internal reviews or on social media.

  3. Do your cultural homework

    Public Affairs departments often span continents, working with point-people from radically different backgrounds — that means every Public Affairs department is also an embassy. Successful representatives read up on cultural norms before international calls, not after.