The world of PR can be a confusing one to navigate. When borders are blurry, precise terminology is our saviour. No need to look further: this article is here to give you an overview of this unclear territory between public relations and public affairs, and to give you a grip on the subtle, and not-so-subtle, ways in which these two fields differ.
💡 Defining ‘public relations’
Public relations, Cambridge dictionary states, is “the activity of keeping good relationships between an organization and the general public”. If you want to know a bit more about how you can use PR, check out this article on GuidedPR, where I talk more about how you can incorporate social media into your PR work. Building relationships with your clients, and the public, is the main target. Using social media as a building block is a key part in the new digital age, especially considering it is also being accelerated further by the global pandemic. My colleague Lola has also written about the benefits of such an inclusion of social media in your PR work here.
Does all of this still sound vague to you?
Here are some examples of what PR work usually involves:
💬 Liaising with clients and the public.
💬 Working on campaigns to build a positive image of the organisation.
💬 “Reading the room” (i.e. analysing target audiences and media relations).
💬 Communicating with journalists and the press to have clients featured.
To increase the chances of achieving such features, our CEO Rafael has developed a system for clients to write successful bios for pitches. Find out more about the BANEC© system in this article on GuidedPR.
If you want to dig a bit deeper into current issues in the PR world, Muckrack provides a brilliant overview of blogs on PR to subscribe to today. ✅
💡Defining ‘public affairs’
In contrast to PR’s work to: increase your outreach, build trust among clients and the public, and build a successful brand image, public affairs employs similar methods to achieve different ends. The focus of PR is on the organisation and its relation to the public. Public affairs entails work at the intersection of legal bodies, politics and policies, and the organisation.
I have given you the official Cambridge Dictionary definition of PR before. Interestingly, if you enter ‘public affairs’ as a search term into the same dictionary, it does not show you a fixed definition. The efforts of the definition seems even vaguer here.
Although the borders are blurry, there are some key differences that we can differentiate between PR and public affairs. In contrast to the list before, some examples of work often seen in public affairs are:
💬 Developing strategies on policy and political activity (rather than marketing and brand image, as in PR).
💬 Collecting information and communicating with stakeholders*.
💬 Lobbying* (i.e. on legislation, with other organisations, for a change in policy).
Hold on; let’s be clear about some of the terms.
Stakeholders refer to anyone with “an interest in the organisation's affairs, such as politicians, civil servants, customers and local communities, clients, shareholders, trade associations, think tanks, business groups, charities, unions, and the media”, as an article by Ashford University makes clear.
Lobbying, in this sense, entails collecting data and statistics on issues to lobby for specific interests of groups; this could be a particular issue that your organisation is supporting, or raising awareness for, or a general interest of a minority group your organisation is involved with. It’s about raising voices and working towards a better policy and legislative framework. 📢📢📢
The top issues that public affairs tackle are “Healthcare, education, energy, environment, and the economy”, as PR Council states in a quick overview on what public affairs include. The goals of such campaigns are multifold, but a prime concern is pushing for more recognition and equality.
In such bizarre times as these, many mechanisms and fields need restructuring and reconfiguration, as many people are left with uncertainties and new challenges of remote work.
In this article by the Public Affairs Company, some of these challenges and new ways of lobbying in a virtual world are discussed. This situation, however, does not affect lobbying alone; for an overview of some of the changes that public affairs are generally facing due to COVID-19, you can consult this article by the head of public affairs for the law firm BDP Pitmans.
Such are the similarities and differences between public relations and public affairs. All clear now? Good. 👏👏👏
Then the only thing left to clarify is . . .
What does this mean to you and your business? 🤷♀️
Essentially, this means that to live up to the different demands your business is facing, different expert teams are needed to provide the solution. While public relations and public affairs strike some similar chords in the manner in which they operate, they serve to fulfill different goals. This article up on PSI not only lists the differences of PR and public affairs work, but also gives you an overview of when each team comes in handy. While PR can help you with “brand recognition”, they highlight how public affairs can help you with an “agenda that could be affected by legislation or public policy”, or if you want to make a change in policy. ✨✨✨
About the Author
Sarah is a PR assistant at GuidedPR. She holds a BA hons in English and Comparative Literature and is currently in the wake of moving to London to start her MA in Modern Literature and Culture at King's College London. She's usually busy writing and consuming caffeine. ☕☕☕