Industry article

Managing public affairs in a tough economy

Photo of Lauren Maddocks
Lauren Maddocks
Posted on 16 Mar 2023 · 4 mins read

Managing public affairs in a tough economy is no easy task, but with the right person at the helm, businesses can navigate any national event or crisis.

Recent strike action by nurses, a first in the 106-year history of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), teachers and ambulance workers has added to government pressures. Following the political upheaval of the past 12 months, confidence in the current administration is at an all-time low, with the public backlash growing. Public sector organisations are facing unprecedented staffing shortages, depleted resources due to systemic cost cutting and increased workloads.

In this environment, the role of public affairs professionals has never been so crucial. In fact, a 2022 public affairs survey by Bloomberg Government found that engaging with the right audience and building relationships were the two biggest challenges for organisations in 2023.

So, what are the key requirements of the role in the current climate?

Connecting with people

Unsurprisingly, the same report found that the ability to maintain and develop relationships was the most important skill according to 99% of respondents. Although industry-specific experience is a desirable pre-requisite, public affairs specialists must be passionate about parliament, policies and legislative affairs. The role requires a high level of detail, precision and understanding of all the latest policy issues across the public sector, which will help to produce detailed briefings, letters or submissions both for internal and external audiences. This requires a flair for summarising often complex information and carrying out research as required.

It’s a multi-faceted role that requires exceptional technical and soft skills. Clear communication is so important in getting information and positioning statements across. And given the current political landscape, public affairs specialists will increasingly be called on to react and respond to the latest developments in a fast-moving deadline-driven environment. Keeping cool under pressure is essential, as is being adept at managing workloads and having to juggle many competing work priorities.

Communication skills

Quite apart from the variety and nature of the role, public affairs experts working within the public sector have a key role to play in supporting, promoting and improving their organisations. Managing those external stakeholder relationships has never been more important. Specialists in the field need to be excellent influencers, not just with policy makers and legislators but also other organisations involved in thought leadership-such as think tanks – to help steer the public policy agenda.

The media management or PR aspect incorporates many different activities, albeit with a political focus. These would typically include writing press releases and articles as well as conducting research, managing databases of media contacts and producing annual reports. To keep up to date, public affairs specialists must also regularly monitor all relevant statements from government and other relevant bodies. Giving media interviews can also often be a requirement. Attending (and organising) events such as party conferences, parliamentary committee meetings or seminars is also to be expected to help further build those all-important stakeholder relationships.

Strategic mindset

Employers, though, for their part must support their staff through the cost of living crisis if they want to retain top talent. The latest 2022 annual Women in Public Affairs (WiPA) survey found that an emphatic 96% of females were worried about their financial situation, with more than one in four (27%) looking to move jobs as a result. Furthermore, the majority (51%) were also concerned about their mental health. Transparency around pay was also cited as a concern, with almost one in three (32%) believing that there is still a gender pay gap. This sends out a clear message to organisations as to the key areas they need to focus in their talent attraction and retention strategy.

But there’s never been a more exciting time to work in public affairs. Combining stakeholder management and government relations, the dissemination of information and media communication, practitioners can help to build and maintain the reputation of their organisations. And even more crucially in 2023 and the environment of today in which investment in public services has been cut over the years, they can promote the issues faced locally in their communities.

The route to success, especially for public sector organisations such as local councils and other public services providers, inevitably lies in having a defined strategy with clear objectives. Achieving those desired outcomes can only happen through regular networking and external relationship building over time, which will heighten an organisation’s influence. This is where public affairs specialists can make such a difference and add value, with the support and involvement of their leadership teams.

Looking for your next public affairs superstar? Contact our team of specialists today!

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