by Gavriel Cohn
All things public relations and achieving press coverage for our clients is a major part of our job. After all, we are called “The PR Office”. However, we are also deeply involved in another, perhaps more mysterious area of work, that of public affairs. Public affairs involve building and maintaining stakeholder relationships in government and the wider political sphere.
For many, these two areas, public relations and public affairs, seem like two distant worlds that seldom meet.
Generally, public relations (at least active PR work) involves enticing journalists with stories of our client’s work and sharing client statements with the press, enabling our clients to be quoted in the papers. Speaking with journalists can be done informally, through WhatsApp or over a quick coffee in a t-shirt and jeans. Sending off pitch emails and broadcasting our clients’ activities to news outlets is a quick-paced and tenacious game.
Public affairs, on the other hand, is a more formal line of work. Letters, often detailed and carefully adhering to time-honoured protocol, are drafted, proofed, stamped, and sent to Westminster. Relationships are built over years. Meetings and presentations with MPs, civil servants, and Lords are often quite posh affairs, with all dressed in suits and ties and seated in wood-panelled conference rooms at the heart of government. Whereas media relations often require you to be fast, public affairs is more long-term endeavour, especially as bills and policies can take a long time to progress through government.
Whilst some of our clients certainly want us to focus on either public relations or public affairs, others ask us to take up both PR and public affairs, and it is here that the two worlds can meet very successfully.
In our work for these clients, working on both PR and public affairs, we have seen just how intertwined these two sectors of work are, far closer than one might think.
The public and politics are certainly interlinked. Concerns brought to the attention of the people become higher on the political agenda and the common views of society are often shared and upheld by their politicians as well. So, public affairs and PR should often be done together.
Across our advocacy work, for minority communities and businesses, for example, we have seen time and again how crucial it is to place positive news stories alongside speaking to decision makers, being active in both public relations and public affairs.
Here’s an example from our work at The PR Office. We represent the Conference of European Rabbis (CER) and Shechita UK. These two organisations advocate for Jewish religious rights in Europe. In our public affairs work for the organisations, we are constantly monitoring and engaging with all levels of government and diplomacy in the UK and across the continent, from national governmental departments to the EU (public affairs demands a detailed knowledge, so we can instantly spot new developments, analysis them, and then react quickly). We have built relationships with monarchs and ministers, politicians and activists. It is deep and detailed lobbying work. A real and successful text-book example of public affairs.
Yet we also combined this with Public Relations. In order to advocate for Jewish religious rights, to protect public worship, religious dress, and the production of Kosher meat, we are also involved in publicising these to wider society. The more the general public understands minority faith groups, the less political debate will ensure around them, and the better our Public Affairs work will be. Sometimes even, governments are not even aware that a certain law, if passed, would harm Jewish religious life. With a two-pronged approach of PR and public affairs, this can be avoided.
Paragraf, another client of ours, developed a graphene microchip, which it wants to manufacture in the UK at scale. However, it has faced a number of barriers, as semi-conductors have been classed by the government as an industry of national security importance. Paragraf want to raise awareness of these barriers to inform the government whilst it drafts its semi-conductor strategy. Again, we are helping with this both through public affairs and public relations. We have placed Paragraf’s story in the BBC, Sky News, the Times, and the Telegraph, and alongside this are engaging with Downing Street, the relevant ministers, key advisors, and building a coalition of supportive MPs. It is this combined approach of both public relations and public affairs that proves most effective.
The fast-paced public relations work, whatsapping journalists and placing news stories, seems a world away from the letters, meetings, and protocols of public affairs. Done together, public affairs and public relations can enable a client’s story to be told truthfully and positively to all sections of society, from those in power to those reading the papers, complementing each other to achieve a successful outcome. We should all have both a t-shirt and a suit hanging in our wardrobes.
Gavriel is an account executive at The PR Office.