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.
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.
Storytelling is an ancient and effective way to convey your message. But to keep up with shrinking attention spans, 24-hour news cycles and 140-character replies, you need to employ the next phase of storytelling — and that means getting visual. It’s the best way to stand out in a cluttered advocacy environment, and it all boils down to condensing your story into the smallest, visual representation, whether that’s a short video, a photo or an infographic.
Organizations who want to increase their effectiveness are focusing their efforts on digital public affairs and digital advocacy, an arena where online tools and digital communications are used to build grassroots support or influence policy.
Blogs may be most famous as a tool for political discussion, but they are also becoming an important communication tool for public relations. Blogs may be most famous as a tool for political discussion and used as a personal journal for individuals, but these are also becoming powerful communication tools for public relations. They also build upon your content management strategy.
Many companies in high-tech fields, such as eBay, Google, and Microsoft, and traditionally low-tech fields, such as General Motors, McDonalds, and Wells Fargo Bank, now produce in-house blogs that report on happenings at the company. These blogs enable company employees, including CEOs and marketers, to post messages updating company developments, which serve as a useful PR tool.
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