While everyone understands the term public relations, there is less awareness of the discipline of public affairs. Yet public affairs can be a crucial component of any PR strategy which seeks to change perceptions or behaviour.
Simply put, public affairs involves working to influence and inform the work of government.
Why public affairs?
For some clients, this can be about raising awareness of an issue amongst government audiences to obtain more funding for an important cause. For others, it can be about highlighting that a particular piece of legislation or regulation doesn’t work, and lobbying for it to be changed. Others see it as about using an understanding of the policy environment and political landscape to identify commercial opportunities amongst government audiences and the wider public sector.
While the term lobbying often invites unfavourable images of politicians in smoke filled rooms trading access and favours to promote vested interests, the reality is that the public affairs industry in the UK is professional, transparent and has been a force for good.
Successful policy campaigns
Some of the best known and most successful campaigns in recent years – from reducing the stakes on addictive gambling machines, to the Millennium Development Goals and ending third world debt – have been the result of effective, sustained and carefully targeted public affairs engagement.
One example of how public affairs has been particularly effective in raising awareness and understanding, and prompting government action, is in the health and safety sphere.
Public affairs combined with public relations
Working with our public affairs partners Interel, McOnie has supported clients on campaigns that have brought health and safety to the forefront of decision makers in Parliament.
These campaigns have focused attention on policy challenges ranging from non-compliant PPE equipment being sold on the marketplace, through to communicating lessons that can be learned for a more effective international response to the Ebola crisis in West Africa, and sharing best practice about how local government can eradicate slavery from its supply chains. Our work has seen us build coalitions spanning MPs and Lords, industry partners and trade associations to demonstrate a firm consensus against any undermining of health and safety regulations after the UK leaves the EU.
In building these campaigns we have incorporated the full range of public affairs and government relations tools and tactics into an integrated communications strategy. These have included the hosting of a roundtable policy discussion with the shadow consumer protection minister, through to briefing members of parliamentary select committees, providing written evidence to All Party Parliamentary Group inquiries, and partnering with established industry bodies to publish policy papers and reports.
The impact of collective engagement with policy stakeholders is clear. The Government has committed to no watering down of health and safety legislation after Brexit. A new body has been created to manage consumer recalls and oversee product safety. Health and safety, often derided in the tabloids as bureaucratic and burdensome, is increasingly recognised as an added value in the UK economy.