Lobbying: beyond the jaded media cliche

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Tim Connolly
Tim Connolly

Public affairs jobs have absolutely nothing to do with smoke-filled rooms and suitcases full of cash.

Having worked in politics and public affairs in a variety of different settings for a number of years, I can’t say I have ever come across a professional lobbyist living up to the jaded media cliché that seems, well, rather jaded these days.

So what’s the real story?

The public affairs industry is fast-moving, requiring genuine intellectual rigour and offering the opportunity to show off both your fantastic relationship building skills and your ability to craft and deliver the right message to the right audience.

With any luck, you will have just noticed that those are skills that are utterly vital in PR too.

Personally, I don’t see that there is much to gain in wondering for too long whether what one is doing on behalf of one’s organisation is best described as PR, public affairs, corporate communications, crisis communications, stakeholder relations, etc.

What similarities are there between PR and public affairs?

Well, let’s be clear – both can be powerful forces for good in the world.

In their different ways, both can raise awareness of important issues, for example, about violence against women, or helping hard-pressed families to manage their finances better, or encouraging people to visit their GPs to talk about a preventable health issue.

It’s been my experience that it’s important to step back from time to time and reflect on all the good real-world outcomes that have come about as a result of campaigns you have been personally involved in.

It’s critical to do this because there are plenty of people who don’t care to look beyond the media cliché of what someone working as a lobbyist or in PR actually does.

That’s why the outreach work of trade associations like the Public Relations Consultants Association and the Chartered Institute of Public Relations are so vital. The PRCA’s intern campaign is a great example of positive action from a trade association to try and increase the diversity of the industry.

I was part of the group that produced the PRCA’s report last year on ‘The Future of Public Affairs’, and one of the most challenging themes engaged with was the public perception of the lobbying industry.

You may or may not have been following the passage of the Government’s ‘lobbying bill’ – suffice to say that it is a very poorly conceived and delivered piece of legislation, that has done nothing to actually move forward debate about the role of lobbying in public life.

I for one think that people working in public affairs and PR, or indeed any other sub-discipline of communications work, should be proud of the work that they do.

That’s why I’m launching Public Affairs Jobs HQ, the no-spin online magazine for public affairs and policy professionals.

If you would like to understand more about working in public affairs and policy jobs, then do browse over and read some of our ‘how-to’ guides contributed by frontline practitioners, and subscribe to our Weekly Jobs Bulletin for all the latest industry news and gossip.

And the next time you hear someone glibly dismissing the role of lobbying, PR or any sort of communications work as just being ‘spin’, remember those good real-world outcomes you have been part of.

It will do you the world of good.

Tim Connolly (MPRCA, MCIPR) publishes Public Affairs Jobs HQ, the no-spin online magazine for public affairs and policy professionals. He has written about the public affairs industry for publications including Public Affairs News, sits on the PRCA’s Public Affairs Group and has spent time working in-house, in agencies and in Parliament.