What Is The Role Of Public Affairs In An Organisation?

Posted by: on Jan 31, 2023 | No Comments

Too often public affairs is considered to be about how an organisation engages with politics and politicians. Is it though so much more than that. But how can we ensure that an organisation appreciates the broader role that public affairs can play?

The publication of a report by Deloitte, “Tested, Trusted, Transformed: An exploration of the Corporate Affairs Function and its Leaders” , showed that public affairs / government affairs often comes under the remit of the corporate affairs function and its director. This is not always the case. For some it comes under marketing, others place it in the regulatory team, or under the auspices of the legal counsel.

In the case of the Deloitte report, their findings show that the purpose or mission of the corporate affairs function is categorised in one of three ways – reputationally focused, as a strategic storyteller, or growth focused.

So, the driver behind the public affairs function can be different and, of course, this shifts the impact expected of it and the measurement of its successes and failures as well. That will also be the case if the function is placed in another part of the business altogether, such as marketing or legal.

When the report asked ‘where in the next 12 months will you be most challenged?’ the top answer was around issues of navigating uncertainty and chaos which included political / governmental change. This places public affairs at the heart of corporate affairs’ priorities for 2023 and, I would suggest, beyond.

There is also another quote worth highlighting from the report from a FTSE 100 Chair who suggested that value of his organisation’s Communications and Public Affairs department was “supplying vital confidence to employees and policymakers alike”. 

We can see from all this that public affairs should play a number of roles in an organisation.

To be effective in this and to demonstrate our value we need to focus on:

Building relationships – ensure clear that channels of communications exist within the organisation and invest time and effort in developing relationships with the parts of the organisation that can help us to be effective and that we can help to be effective – they need us and we need them. That could, for example, be the policy research team. There will invariably be a number of teams to build relationships with.

Individuals – having champions is rarely a bad strategy (unless they are poor champions…). They can help to ensure that everyone in the organisation, not least the senior leadership team, appreciate the value of public affairs. It is the type of ‘friends and allies’ tactic we would employ in a public affairs strategy so why not apply it to ourselves? It may also be a way of providing a Board level presence even if the function itself is not on the Board.

The priorities of the organisation – rather than being distracted by the politics or focusing on, for instance, the Government, we keep focused on what the organisation is seeking to achieve.

Talking the language of the organisation – rather than any strategy, objectives or targets feeling that they sit in their own public affairs world, they should use the actual language, format, timescales etc. that they organisation uses. We are part of the team.

Delivering a role in other strategies – rather than just insisting on having our own approach, we are happy to play a, potentially smaller, part in that of others. So, if there is a corporate affairs strategy, how can public affairs help to deliver it? Again, we are part of a team and happy to play our role.

Helping others show their worth – much of the information and intelligence we gather is of more use to others in an organisation so do not hoard. Instead, know who to distribute it to, maybe alongside some advice in how best to respond or react.

Public affairs is sometimes accused of standing alone in an organisation often because colleagues do not know what we do or we are seen as somewhat separate or different. That is not a strategy for success. It is up to us to play a full role in the success of an organisation and to build relationships. We do that with political audiences, so why not colleagues?