Public affairs industry
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Public affairs generally refers to the building and development of relations between an organization and politicians, governments and other decision-makers.
The industry has developed over recent years and is normally considered a branch or sub-discipline of public relations (PR). Given the broad nature of public affairs, what exactly the industry encapsulates remains a point of discussion. While often equated with lobbying, this is usually only a small part of what a public affairs practitioner might do. Other typical functions include research, strategy planning and providing advice.
It is difficult to determine the size of the public affairs industry in the United Kingdom. Studies suggest the industry is becoming more professionalized, and that it is more widespread than often assumed. The Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR), which is the UK's professional body for public relations including public affairs, estimates there are around 48,000 people involved in PR, of which 30% are involved in public affairs. This research is limited as it only measures specific job titles and those who declare themselves to be working in PR. There are large numbers of professionals providing public affairs services while working under different job titles across a wide variety of sectors. The job titles of public affairs practitioners may vary, depending on the focus of their role, but may include, "public affairs", "external affairs/relations", "corporate communications", "government/parliamentary affairs" and "policy".
Organizations who make use of public affairs are typically large companies, charities, trade unions, membership organizations and interest groups. They will either have staff working directly for them or employ a firm of public affairs consultants. Very often public affairs staff will work with their non-PR colleagues who are experts in a given field.
Issues of contention in the industry
It has been argued that professional lobbying goes against democracy as it allows big business to buy power and influence with well funded campaigns giving them an unfair advantage. Steps are being taken in several countries to attempt to increase levels of regulation and transparency in the public affairs industry. Several countries have introduced a mandatory registers for lobbyists. The European Union has been working with a voluntary register since July 2008. Many other governments including the United Kingdom are debating a register of some kind.
In the United States, President Barack Obama has introduced several measures intended to increase transparency in public affairs. In an attempt to close the "revolving door" of executive-branch officials becoming lobbyists immediately following the expiration of their federal appointments, he issued Executive Order 13490 on January 21, 2009, dictating, among other things, a two-year ban on lobbying for former top executive branch officials related to any issue that they worked on during their final year in government employment. He also introduced a ban on verbal communication between lobbyists and the federal agencies tasked with awarding economic recovery funds. These measures have proved controversial and while some argue they are a positive and necessary step, others have deemed the policies as failures due to various loopholes.
Role of a public affairs practitioner
Public affairs practitioners are engaged in a variety of roles. These can include lobbying, monitoring and predicting political, legal, economic and social developments, and providing political intelligence and strategic advice. In addition, public affairs practitioners may undertake media relations work, understanding and relating with the many streams of business, trade and electronic media in seeking publicity for an organisation or in responding to media inquiries and issues.
Central to all of these areas is the concept of stakeholder relations. Building relationships and partnerships is key when engaging with policy makers. Consideration should be given to potential partnership with a variety of groups and individuals, usually encompassed in the ubiquitous public affairs term "key stakeholders" which includes community groups, pressure groups, nongovernmental organizations, technical experts and policy and influences from think tanks and academics.
- Lobbying in the United States
- Lobbying in the United Kingdom
- Fossil fuels lobby
- Advocacy group
- Pharmaceutical lobby
- "Executive Order 13490 - Ethics Commitments". www.whitehouse.gov. Office of the President of the United States. January 21, 2009.