Public Affairs in Practice – Reviews

Posted by: on Jun 16, 2014 | No Comments

“A guide to public affairs for people seeking to enter the industry and practicing professionals”

 Evening Express, Aberdeen

“Explains how to devise an effective lobbying strategy, engage and communicate with politicians and other policymakers, and identify, motivate and engage stakeholders.”
– PR Week

“Thomson and John take readers through why public affairs is important for an organization, what it involves and the benefits it can deliver.”
 BrandRepublic website

“Includes top tips on how to get involved in public affairs and make yourself heard by politicians and policy-makers in parliament and the civil service.”
– The Edgeware and Mill Hill Press

“Will demystify the techniques and background to lobbying.”
– Kentish Express

“A practical guide to modern public affairs.”
 Public Affairs News

“Thomson and John show how to develop the required expertise.”
 Australian Financial Review, AFR Boss

“Does exactly what it says on the cover.”
– CorpComms

“A practical ‘how-to’, hands-on book.”


“demonstrates that public affairs nowadays is much more about targeted, professional and strategic communications”


“ The authors comprehensively sketch out the relevant structures, techniques and recent developments in public affairs”.


“Thomson and John explain what the public affairs industry does and why, what its impact is, and why people make use of it.”

 Book News Inc, May 2007

“This book really gets to the heart ofpublic affairs and will doubtless prove useful for those new to the industry as well as one or two of its more experienced members.”

– Jonathan Bracken, Partner, Bircham DysonBell, and former Chair of the CIPR Government Affairs Group

“The link between the media, politics and campaigning has never been stronger. Those involved in public affairs need to know what the media expects of them otherwise the campaign will suffer. Thomson and John’s book can help you get to the heart of the media and its influence on political audiences.”

– Alastair Stewart, ITN Journalist

“Public affairs is a valuable part of thedemocratic process and informed, ethical lobbying can make for better decision-making. Government, Parliament, civil servants and the media all recognise the role public affairs plays and the benefits it can bring. Having been on the receiving end of campaigns when in Government, I can say that this book will really help you deliver effective programmes.”

– Stephen Twigg, Director of the ForeignPolicy Centre, former Government Minister and Labour MP

“Politicians expect to receive briefings that are well argued and accurate – a half told story or one that leaves questions unanswered will only lead to failure. The relationships you build will politicians are of vital importance so make sure you get off on the right foot. This book helps you do that – its a must for anyone really wanting to understand public affairs.”

– Ed Vaizey MP, Conservative Party Member of Parliament for Wantage

While it probably won’t have hordes of people storming their bookshops like they might for the next Harry Potter installment or Dan Brown thriller, for anyone working in public affairs, policy, media or campaigns, ‘Public affairs in practice’ might well prove to be a useful addition to their bookshelf.

This is because this book sets out an approach to answering and acting on the questions that organisations seeking to influence government should be thinking about: such as what should we say, when should we say it, and who should we say it to?

While the authors are from a business background, much of what they propose applies equally well to the charitable or public sector environment for public affairs.

The words ‘spin doctor’ and ‘lobbyist’ conjure up images associated with the political machinations of TV’s ‘The thick of if and ‘Yes, minister’ but this book demonstrates that public affairs nowadays is much more about targeted, professional and strategic communications.

Part of a series by the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, it demonstrates how, whether you have the resources of the CBI or the local ‘save our hospital’ group, every organisation can benefit from a more strategic approach to communications.

The authors comprehensively sketch out the relevant structures, techniques and recent developments in public affairs and make a strong case for the need for practitioners to add media management, stakeholder engagement, crisis management and corporate social responsibility skills into their repertoire.

What will probably prove to be the most useful thing, about this book, for people, in the job, however, is the regular do’s and don’ts lists and practical tips that provide a useful resource for dipping into for advice and ideas.

– First, Local Government Association, Reviewby Kevin Hoctor (Senior Public Affairs Officer)

The word “lobbyist” has been usedsince the early 19th century to describe influence-seekers who gather outside places frequented by the politically powerful. However, influencing governments in large, modern democracies takes a lot more than the “word in the shell-like” of myth and mistaken client expectations.

My research and experience in Australia supports the approach to modern public affairs advocated by Stuart Thomson and Steve John in this guide “for and by” practitioners. First, as they point out, “organisations can no longer simply rely on ‘who they know’: the quality of their argument is fundamental”.

The reasons include the rise of interest groups, more accountability in public administration, the move to evidence-based policy approaches, and the continuing scrutiny of global capital markets.

Politicians want solutions, not problems, and public affairs practitioners must help their clients put together a compelling, workable proposal that is clearly substantiated and responsive to all the demands on the decision-makers.

Developing these solutions requires a deep knowledge of the way government operates and a detailed understanding of the issue in question. Thomson and John show how to develop the required expertise, and while the book focuses on the UK, most of the tips are translatable to Australia.

Second, public affairs today is much more likely to include the citizenry through the non-government sector and the expanding role of the internet, including new advocacy vehicles such as blogs, podcasts and sites such as YouTube.

This takes us into the areas of issues management and stakeholder relations, which are also covered. Unfortunately, practitioners and their clients often seek short cuts, frequently with adverse consequences that could have been avoided.

The authors have done well to include a chapter on corporate social responsibility (CSR). CSR is about ethics, and that goes to the heart of every relationship. It is not an add-on, and ethics is a major challenge for the public affairs profession.

– Boss, Australian Financial Review, Reviewby Trevor Cook

Back to Basics

Rod Cartwright assesses the latest volume in the ‘Public Affairs in Practice’series

Public Affairs in Practice – a Practical Guide to Lobbying by Stuart Thomson andSteven A. John (Kogan Page Ltd) pp 192

Before diving into the latest addition tothe CIPR’s PR in Practice series, I wanted to test an assumption – that this new book by Doctors Thomson and John would automatically be a weighty, academic tome, peer-reviewing and contextualising other weighty, academic tomes The best way to do this, it seemed, was to go straight to source, so the phone was duly picked up to get the lowdown from Dr Thomson.

My assumption. Stuart gently pointed out with his characteristic good humour, could not be further from the truth Public Affairs in Practice, he stressed, was designed to do exactly what it says on the tin – to provide a guide to lobbying that is first and foremost practical.  The authors’ hope is that they have purposefully avoided an academic, theoretical approach to modern public affairs, while at the same time endeavouring not to repeat the many how Parliament works’-style publications that already exist.

Instead, their aim has been to produce an accessible, readable book pitched mainly at students (of politics or otherwise) and at those who have recently joined the industry’ Certainly, their hope is that there will be enough in what they have produced for the more seasoned practitioner to dip into as a refresher or catalyst for new thought. But at its heart. Public Affairs in Practice is meant to be a ‘soup to nuts’ practical guide to modern public affairs, not focusing exclusively on what has traditionally been called lobbying, but with parliamentary affairs andgovernment relations at its core.

So have the esteemed Doctors met the objectives they set themselves, and how useful an addition is Public Affairs in Practice to current thinking and writing on public affairs at the start of 2007.

The book starts well by providing some important context, namely that public affairs has changed radically over the years and will continue to do so: that lobbying as an industry (and indeed the word itself) is still not without us reputational challenges; that the down turn just after the start of the millennium had a major impact on the health of the sector – as it did across the whole of the marketing services industry, and that public affairs, as opposed to pure lobbying, is about far more than simply traditional parliamentary affairs or even government relations.

Pleasingly, the section  on ‘What difference does public affairs make?’ has a very specific focus on corporate, business and reputational outcomes – rather than falling into the all-too-easy trap of emphasising the value of contacts, profile and influence in their own right. As someone who has been in the industry rather longer than is probably healthy, I did find myself hoping for a little more meat in this introductory section, but that’s the point of the book – a practical introduction to public affairs, rather than amore discursive look at industry issues, such as ECPA’s very good recent set of essays.

This highly practical tone continues across very comprehensive sections on how to get into public affairs and what to expect when you get there, and then through into the main body of the book.

The long ‘Art of Lobbying’ chapter, to which Dr Thomson directed me as being the book’s backbone, provides a decent blow-by-blow account of the parliamentary process, how policy is made, the main elements of the public affairs toolkit and how to apply it across all of the UK’s institutions, as well as the EU and the global institutions. Again, I found the section on ‘What do you want to do?’ (in essence objective-setting) a tad cursory and throwaway, but then had to remind myself again that this was a work pitched at those starting out in their PA career. The use of case studies certainly added some welcome applied colour, while the various bon mots from the alleged great and the good of the industry broke up the text nicely.

Moving on, the chapter on media relations and crisis management provided a clear, practical walk-through of two disciplines that are an increasingly important part of any modem public affairs programme that is actually interested in corporate reputation. As before, these sections did not do full justice to areas that in themselves have merited entire books in their own right as part of the CIPR series. But in this context,they were more than fit-for purpose.

The chapter on ‘Managing Issues’ provided a useful canter through the range of organisations that can be used to build a body of credible evidence around an issue (including a slightly arbitrarily located chapter on party conferences), while the following chapter on ‘Stakeholder Relations’ looked at systematic means of identifying, understanding and engaging with key stakeholders.

Without being critical, I did feel rather that these two chapters might have been merged or better linked in some way, such were the natural overlaps between the two. After all, stakeholder relationsis invariably a key plank in effective issues management. However, from the newcomer’s perspective, they were again more than adequate.

Finally, a particularly strong and pleasingly detailed chapter on CSR looked at the very real reputational benefits and campaign value that this discipline can provide in the public affairs context. Given the vertiginous speed with which the social media is growing, it was a shame that this ever more important area was relegated to a virtual footnote in the conclusions. However, the clear emphasis on the need for increasing professionalism and adherence to the range of industry codes nowin operation provided a welcome close.

Ultimately, if John and Stuart’s book aims to do what it says on the tin — to provide a practical guide to modem publicaffairs for those new to the industry – it succeeds admirably. It may not add a huge amount to some of the more fundamental debates that the entire industry undoubtedly needs to have about its future development and reputation – but that isn’t its aim. All in all Public Affairs in Practice is certainly a welcome addition that all aspiring public affairs professionals and newcomers would lie well advised to read.

– Public Affairs News, January 2007, Review by Rod Cartwright, Director, Public Affairs, Hill and Knowlton and Chair, PRCA Public Affairs Committee