Public affairs and public relations are not synonymous or mutually exclusive terms, but the line is getting blurred as the art and science of influence evolves.
I see public affairs as an organization’s efforts to manage relationships with stakeholders in the public policy arena at any level. These are individuals or groups with an interest in the organization’s affairs, such as politicians, regulatory agencies, communities, clients, prospects, shareholders, trade associations, think tanks, business groups, charities, unions and the media.
I see public relations as a subset of marketing. Beyond that, both arenas rely on similar strategies and tactics to influence target audiences. Public affairs strategists have wisely borrowed some pages from the world of marketing. Likewise, the world of marketing is no longer isolated from advocacy and public policy. Boycotts, trade wars, demonstrations and online protests have marketers tuned in to corporate and government policies around the globe.
Public affairs practitioners engage stakeholders in order to explain organizational policies and views on public policy issues, assisting policy makers and legislators in amending or laying down better policy and legislation. They provide statistical and factual information and lobby on issues, which could impact the organization’s ability to operate successfully. Both disciplines rely on strategy, messaging, positioning and branding. Both disciplines essentially boil down to “who needs to hear what?” That part of the equation hasn’t changed since day one.
Public affairs work combines government relations, media communications, issue management, corporate and social responsibility, information dissemination and strategic communications advice. Practitioners aim to influence public policy, build and maintain a strong reputation and find common ground with stakeholders.