A general election will almost certainly see fresh national policies on housing, health, education, planning, transport and more, all of which have an impact on local public services and decisions. Add to that potential devo deals, elected mayors, structural change and mergers at a local and regional levels and it’s no wonder the regular, comprehensive ‘state of the sector’ survey from industry stalwart Mandy Pearse, put public affairs in the top set of training needs amongst public sector comms professionals for 2024.
If you work in comms in the public sector, this is set to be a growing part of your professional world in 2024 – change that your organisation may or may not have instigated, that could be outside its control and could emerge without warning, but is not outside its sphere of influence. As the professionals with the skills best placed to set out your organisation’s position, build empathy, trust and advocacy amongst key stakeholders, and curate that into a comprehensive and compelling case that impacts wider policy decisions, it’s an organisation’s comms team who should be right at the centre of its public affairs agenda.
It’s likely you’re already doing some public affairs – all under the huge banner that is ‘comms’
When I led the “comms and engagement” for the case for structural change to local government in Dorset – which saw the replacement of nine councils with two large unitaries – I was effectively crafting our public affairs too – albeit not labelled as such at the time. I was mustering support from a wide range of sectors – other public sector partners, big business across key sectors including finance and manufacturing, community and voluntary organisations, faith leaders and education partners.
Public affairs is essentially structured stakeholder management with the aim of influencing public policy and building support for your organisation’s position – whether that’s wanting more housing in the area or less; funding for sustainable transport or the route of a major new road; to merge with neighbouring organisations or actively oppose it.
It’s a discipline within comms, for sure, but it’s not the same as information provision or behaviour change campaigns aimed primarily at local residents. This is about influencing across to influence up; stimulating and co-ordinating vocal, credible support for your position, amongst stakeholder organisations that MPs, civil servants, ministers, and yes, residents, will listen to. If you’re in local government it will definitely receive a higher profile amongst your elected members in 2024, whether you have local elections or not. If you’re in other parts of the public sector it will still be politicised and public affairs will be a key weapon in delivering your targets this year.
So, can we help you?
If you want to position yourself as your organisation’s go-to for public affairs advice and strategy, now is the time to up your skills. I’ve teamed up with comms-ledge Darren Caveney to produce a brand new ‘Public affairs for the public sector’ training day, with the first session running in spring.
The session will act like an A-Z of public affairs, so why not register your interest now: https://forms.gle/oCvNx4WtB95FC9Qr6