Rather than being seen as ‘special’ or ‘different’ from other parts of communications, organisations can get the most from public affairs when it sits at the heart of their communications hub.
As public affairs is, at its core, concerned with politicians and political stakeholder, it can often be consigned to a special place within organisations or not taken as seriously as PR or marketing. But public affairs needs to work with these disciplines if they are all to be at their most effective.
An effective communications hub should take an approach which builds on three key principles:
- TALK – it still remains the case in many organisations that all the communications teams do not talk to each other. Even starting with a simple get-together once a week can reveal opportunities that can be better utilised or, critically, help to avoid potential mistakes. MP visits are a classic case. The visit can be arranged by the marketing department without the public affairs team being made aware. But there could be issues to convey, a past history to reflect upon or matters to avoid!
- LISTEN – the needs of other parts of the organisation should be listened to in any communications and other campaigns. Everyone can play a constructive role in ensuring more effective communications (for largely the same spend!). For instance, a PR campaign may be aimed at consumers but could be even more effective if they carry some messages that work well with politicians, or consider timings that work for political engagement as well. There could be specific audiences that can be accessed if these opportunities are fully explored across the communications disciplines. It is also important to listen to what senior management want as well. This can be more effectively delivered if the organisations’ communications are all working together. Reporting back becomes easier and, all being well, the overall results are improved as well.
- LEARN – it is the ability to learn from others that really sets teams apart. Nowhere is that clearer currently than in the realm of social media. It is a growing influence in public affairs and, particularly, campaigning but it may not be a strength of the public affairs team itself. Instead, social media will probably sit within another part of the communications team. So rather than try to muddle through, this expertise needs to be brought in. Given the fast-changing nature of social media, specialists can be useful. Although it does need to be considered where politicians are – many still struggle with Twitter let alone moving onto any newer platforms.
Another area where public affairs can doubtless learn from others is in the measurement of results. All ideas will be gratefully received, no doubt!
Public affairs can often try to wrap itself in a shroud of mystery or contend that it is somehow very difficult. It is though really about communications. The challenges come with understanding the political audience and their requirements. So public affairs needs to be just as open and willing to work with others as does anyone else across an organisation.
The public affairs team could have valuable information and insight gained from political contact or Parliamentary proceedings. It needs to share that and appreciate that it plugs into other aspects of communications, and critically, reputations as well.
If the hub works well then all aspects of communications will be more effective – everyone’s a winner!