Public affairs is a profession that deals with the deliberate communication of relevant information between interested parties and their political representatives. People who work in public affairs are also sometimes known as lobbyists.
On this page, you can find the most recently collected data on lobbyists, an overview of what a lobbyist does on a day to day basis and an introduction to some of the basics of running a public affairs campaign.
What is lobbying? What does a public affairs practitioner do all day?
A public affairs practitioner uses a range of different tactics and strategies for making the most effective use of the available information to influence political decisions on behalf of their own organisation or a client.
On a day to day basis, someone working in a public affairs job could spend time following a particular debate in a legislature, doing some desk research on the opinions of a relevant politician on a particular issue, briefing a client or colleague for a meeting with a politician or indeed meeting and briefing a politician themselves.
The majority of public affairs practitioners work ‘in-house’ – that is to say they are employed directly by the organisation they are representing, rather than working on a third-party basis through a public affairs consultancy.
Success in a public affairs job requires strong performance in a range of different areas. The 2012/13 VMA survey of lobbyists found that respondents believe the three most important attributes for effective lobbying are:
- The ability to effectively communicate a message
- Problem solving abilities
- Networking ability
Most industry experts, if asked ‘what is lobbying?’ would likely argue that public affairs should be understood as one of the specialist branches of communications work, placing it alongside, for example, crisis communications.
Public affairs activity can be performed by an individual or an organisation, which could be a public-sector body or a privately owned company.
What is lobbying regulated by?
There are three separate groups involved in providing self-regulatory oversight to the public affairs industry in the United Kingdom. The groups are:
- The Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR)
- The Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA)
- The Association of Professional Political Consultants (APPC)
Following a report into the lobbying industry by the Public Accounts Select Committee, in 2010 these three groups formed the UK Public Affairs Council (UKPAC).
You can read more about the efforts of various Governments to regulate lobbying and create a lobbying definition on our page examining that issue in particular.
Public affairs in practise – who are you speaking to?
There are a wide range of different approaches to delivering a successful public affairs campaign. This is perhaps in part because of the complexity of the public policy process. At any one time, for example, a campaign might be targeting one or more of:
- the legislature
- the civil service
- the media
- local government
- executive agencies and quangos
The approaches for informing and influencing those groups will of course vary dramatically, as it will vary for approaching individual members of those groups.
A member of the political opposition who is particularly interested in a piece of Government legislation because of something which happened in her constituency, for example, will naturally have a very different set of needs from a briefing than a local journalist who is interested in writing on that same piece of Government legislation.
Both will be rightly pleased to receive relevant, timely information which they may not be able to easily find elsewhere.
Both will understand that an individual contacting them on behalf of an organisation with an interest in legislation does not do so necessarily as a public service, though one may be performed, but to put the case on behalf of that organisation.
It isn’t only individuals who have tried to answer the question of what lobbying or public affairs is exactly… it is a sufficiently complex and important topic to have merited government attention too.
Want to find out more about lobbying? Click through to find more information and useful links on various Government’s efforts to create a lobbying definition.
Want to find out more about what you need to be a successful lobbyist, and where the public affairs industry is heading? Take a look at VMA’s 2012/13 survey of lobbyists.