What’s the Difference?

by Roger Pynn

We’re often asked why we position our firm as providing “public relations, marketing communications and public affairs” services.  People want to know what the difference is and whether the reference to “public affairs” means we are lobbyists.

So when I saw ‘Public Affairs vs. Public Relations: What is the Difference?’ promoted on Ragan’s PR Daily, I hoped to find helpful insight for that discussion.  Unfortunately, I was left wondering exactly what the author’s point is, but perhaps I can offer food for thought.

First and foremost, we are not lobbyists.  But we work closely with them when an issue needs to become part of a broad public conversation.

Lobbying is an honorable and important function.  Everyone (and every organization) has the right, and perhaps the responsibility to attempt to influence outcomes in the government and political process.  Lobbying requires an enormous investment of time in building trust, relationships and an understanding of government processes.  It is full-time work.

To us, public affairs is the business of giving visibility to those issues that lobbyists and government officials must take up … creating top-of-mind awareness for the need to enact legislation, create or change policy.

It demands the use of almost everything in the communications toolbox if we are to successfully create momentum behind a cause.  Public officials want to know that public opinion supports the decision they are being asked to make, so everything from letter-writing campaigns to petition drives to publicity, editorial board support and appearances before public bodies come into play.

Understanding how that happens requires much the same attention to the process as does lobbying if you are to successfully position an issue with the public and with those who influence decision-making.  But perhaps the most important thing to remember is that after the fact, once you’ve succeeded, there’s one more very important step.

Two public affairs efforts we’ve been involved in this year reminded me that every effective public affairs program ends with giving credit to those in government who make the tough decisions we ask of them.  Just as your parents taught to write “thank you” notes for birthday, Christmas and wedding gifts, don’t forget to express your gratitude when you get your way.

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