Public relations (PR) helps companies connect with people. This sounds simple enough - especially for new business owners, who might want to save costs and do it themselves. However, juggling PR tasks, from creating fresh content to managing your brand image, is a challenge for business owners who need to focus on their operations and business development.
Having a reliable PR team with effective strategies can help you develop a credible market image and stay relevant in an evolving business landscape. If you’re breaking into a new market, you want to work with a skilled professional who can help you stay compliant on your maiden voyage.
This is where public affairs comes into play - a lesser-known but essential facet of PR. Public affairs professionals help companies manage their government relations, and negotiate for improvements to local policies ranging from sustainability to public health. In other words, they’re essential to helping organisations navigate local regulatory environments.
Read on to find out the differences between public relations and public affairs, and why investing in public affairs spokespeople is crucial for your business strategy.
public relations vs public affairs
What’s the difference between public relations (PR) and public affairs? Though both roles interact with the public and company partners, they fulfil very different responsibilities within an organisation.
1. roles of public relations professionals
For starters, PR officers help companies to create and uphold a positive public image, driving powerful brand awareness both internally and externally.
PR professionals’ responsibilities:
- Develop compelling corporate narrative and strategies to ensure brand consistency
- Pitch and facilitate media interviews and speaking opportunities for spokespeople
- Issue and crisis management to inform all impacted parties about the situation, potential risks, and planned actions
- Conduct consumer and user research to create new content with the goal of highlighting the company’s products and service offerings
2. roles of public affairs professionals
Public affairs professionals deal specifically with influencing public policy and managing relationships with legislators and key external stakeholders.
Key job responsibilities of a public affairs professional:
- Establish and maintain relationships with key decision-makers in the government sector for various purposes such as funding or updating policies
- Work with embassies and consulates to create a regional network to support the business
- Monitor and act quickly on regulatory and compliance changes that could affect the company
- Create issues and crisis management solutions that involve dealing with government and regulatory bodies to ensure business continuity, such as driving a committee hearing or negotiating for emergency funding
why your company needs a dedicated public affairs resource
1. building brand reputation
The reputation of a startup is critical for its success. Startups operate in a highly competitive and fast-paced environment, and any negative news or bad publicity can harm the company's brand image and market value.
A dedicated public affairs resource can help the company manage its reputation by developing strategic communications that helps to build positive relationships with the public and the media, as well as mitigate negative publicity and protect the company's reputation.
2. establishing an identity
Startups need to build relationships with their local community, which is beneficial for marketing and networking purposes.
Public engagement is essential for effective public affairs. Through grassroots initiatives, public affairs spokespeople help you to maintain an open line of communication with key stakeholders and partners who share similar interests and concerns as your organisation.
Public affairs practitioners engage proactively with the public by hosting roundtable discussions and meetings with nonprofits and government bodies, as well as conducting research. Through understanding their feedback and concerns, public affairs practitioners can build trust with local communities and inform their company’s business affairs.
3. navigating the local regulatory landscape
While policy and regulation changes can create new commercial opportunities, they can be challenging for new companies that are unfamiliar with the local territory or lack the necessary licenses to operate.
A seasoned public affairs professional who already has an established local network will be able to help you develop effective governance and compliance strategies to ensure that the organisation is operating in a legal and ethical manner.
In addition to staying up to date on regulations, public affairs professionals also work with other companies in the same industry to strengthen policies and processes centred around governance. This may involve developing a code of ethics, establishing whistleblower protections, or implementing compliance training programmes for employees.
4. driving effective campaigns for change
Beyond helping your organisation maintain good governance and strong relationships with the public, public affairs professionals activate organisation leaders and guide them on their public affairs campaigns.
An example would be food delivery and ride-hailing companies like Grab and Deliveroo, which work with the government to implement legislation to protect their workforces’ labour rights.
After a series of focus groups and closed-door discussions between these companies, the government and gig worker associations, new policies have been introduced to ensure financial and healthcare benefits for self-employed individuals. This includes mandatory provident contributions to help gig workers cover workplace injuries and save up retirement funds.
Even though this will result in greater employee expense costs, it helps build corporate brand reputation for both companies. Having a strong employer brand will make it easier for them to hire fresh talent and negotiate new deals.
what to consider when working with public affairs spokespeople
If you’re thinking about hiring a public affairs spokesperson, consider if their personality and technical skills align with your business goals and company culture.
A good public affairs spokesperson will:
- Proactively keep you informed of any new changes to policies or regulations that may impact your business
- Help you to engage with, understand and navigate local policies and regulations
- Supports meaningful engagement with key publics and regulators so you can effectively champion causes that positively impact the company
- Have a wide network of policy-makers and strong investor relations to facilitate and drive conversations
Hiring your own in-house public affairs spokesperson is a good move if you have any short or long-term policy objectives and need a trusted advisor to guide you in gathering information and resources about the local regulatory landscape.
However, if you’re just starting to engage with politics, policy and regulation then you may not be ready to recruit a permanent employee into your business.
Working with a recruitment agency can help you to find an interim public affairs advisor to provide you with the right guidance and support so you can work on other priorities without running afoul of local legislation.
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