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The Real Scandal: Differences Between Public Affairs & PR


February 8, 2017 – Suzanne Singleterry, Director | Public Affairs

Public relations has many specialties. One of these distinctive concentrations is known as public affairs and is a niche where Jones Public Relations excels. While the ominous term sometimes leaves the most seasoned PR person running for the hills… or rather away from Capitol Hill, the defining difference between the two doesn’t stray too far beyond similar techniques and skills necessary for an effective PR campaign. The biggest contrasts lie in the target audience, strategic messaging and short-term deadlines.

While PR seeks to communicate with the public at large to gain media attention, public affairs seeks to influence policymaking and is tied heavily to the world of politics. In addition to building media relationships and pitching stories, public affairs practitioners work to develop relations between an organization and politicians, governments and other decision-makers. We also must have an appreciation for lawmaking, voting procedures and the core functions of municipal, county, state and federal government.

In recent years, public affairs has been glamorized thanks to popular TV shows such as Scandal and House of Cards. While our work isn’t as dark or as Machiavellian as showbiz would have you believe, we do spend ample time strategizing, solving problems and articulating perspective through our message. Knowing a lawmaker’s support or opposition on a client issue can influence our campaign’s strategy and who we recruit to deliver the message. In public affairs, we aren’t lobbyists… but rather we have the ability to arm lobbyists and stakeholders with a campaign strategy and messaging for maximum impact. Our audience and messaging can be hyper-targeted and must be nimble enough to turn on a dime. At times, our definition of success can be stopping something from happening such as a certain bill being passed or misinformation from being published.

Finite deadlines are also a major driver in public affairs. Often, our public affairs campaigns will have a shorter duration than general public relation campaigns. Bill deadlines, committee hearing schedules and elections are dates highlighted on our calendars marking the end of our marathon. These result-defining moments can also impact the duration or course of next steps for our client.

So what else is it that we do in public affairs? In the words of Scandal’s Olivia Pope, we also manage crisis and save reputations. Public affairs has the power to change the public's view of a company or nonprofit's cause through communication. This is how public affairs ties back to PR– a world in which we are all gladiators in suits.

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