What kind of Animal is Public Affairs?

PRINDONESIA.CO | Wednesday, January 22, 2020
Public affairs adalah suatu spesialisasi dalam komunikasi korporat yang terhitung baru
Dok. Istimewa

Public affairs is a relatively new specialization in corporate communication. Over the past several decades, there has been a change of meaning as well as many notions which are not part of or derived from exact science.


By: Noke Kiroyan, Chairman & Chief Consultant of KIROYAN PARTNERS

JAKARTA, PRINDONESIA.CO – In the first article in the Public Affairs column in PR INDONESIA Magazine published in January 2018, I explained about the background of the birth of Public Affairs. The main reference was “The Father of Modern Public Relations,” James E. Grunig. His theoretical framework after conducting a dozen years of study is “Excellent Public Relations”. Until today, it has become a guideline for best practices even though nearly four decades have passed.

Grunig also has divided the variety of Public Relations (PR) activities into four categories, namely: press agentry/publicity, public information, two-way asymmetry, and two-way symmetry. The latter is the ideal according to Grunig. There is a symmetrical relationship and there’s no party that dominates, both the corporation and public.

I will review press agentry and public information. These two forms according to Grunig, caused CEO in the United States to look for something “serious” so that public affairs was born in the 1970s. In a form of press agentry, public relations has a function as the company’s ”agent” for the press. Sharing news to propagate by creating a good publications about the company. Sometimes the reporting is not comprehensive. It is polished or only partially true. In this press agentry model, the positive news is the most important thing.

The second model is public information. This model aims to convey information about the company appropriately to the public. Public relation officer in this model essentially carries out the function of a journalist within the company. Reporting news as-is, with no intention of propaganda or influencing opinion. Inhouse media is an example of the public information function.


In this article, I need to repeat the ideas of Gruning above because there are still many who ask about what is public affairs? What’s the difference between public relations? Is public affairs a part of public relations? Is public affairs is typical to lobbying? Isn’t public affairs another term for government relations?

Those questions are common. Given that public affairs is a relatively new specialization in corporate communication. Over the past several decades, there has been a change of meaning as well as many notions that are not part of or derived from an exact science. Moreover, all of the questions above are not wrong because, in its development, public affairs has covered the things that are asked. Even now the understanding has shifted to the direction that I reviewed in the first article mentioned above.

Everyone has their own opinion about various things that have no standard or definite formula like public affairs. However, to give an objective and appropriate answer to the questions above, we surely need a reliable reference. My main reference, as said above, is James E. Grunig. Specifically, I refer to the book called Managing Public Relations which he co-wrote with Todd Hunt and published in 1984.

Back to the similarities and differences between public relations and public affairs, I can conclude from the experience at Kiroyan Partners that around 50 percent of the activities are the same. However, there are several things that are typically done in public affairs companies, namely regarding public policy and the legal framework related to certain economic sectors. So, an understanding of the system and political dynamics in macro is needed to make the analysis.

My two previous writings, namely “Mobilizing Public Support for Infrastructure Development” (October 2019 Edition), and “Public Debate About Energy in the German Public Affairs” (November 2019 Edition) are activities that are commonly carried out by public affairs companies. In its implementation, it could include activities that are normally done by Public Relations companies, such as media relations and event organizing.

The activities that often carry out by Kiroyan Partners are creating stakeholder mapping and then the strategy for stakeholder management to determine company policies and also to help foreign companies understand the ins and outs of running a business in Indonesia. Including the legal framework for implementing activities in the related industrial sector. So, in this case, what is done are activities that include investment advisory.

The following is an excerpt from the article made in Reputation Today magazine on April 23, 2019, by an Indian woman who leads the Public Affairs, Communications & Engagements functions in a multinational company, Mahathi Parashuram. This position oversees the functions of Policy Advocacy, Internal and External Communication, Relationships with the Media and Social Media and Corporate Social Responsibility.

Closely Related

She said, to carry out the Public Affairs, Communications & Engagement position, besides good communication skills, a good understanding of politics, issues relating to public policy and current affairs, organizational skill, and crisis management are also needed. Mahathi stated that public affairs is a communication between one organization with all its stakeholders. The focus is on the contact between politics, business, and the public. The function is to build long-term trust between the organizations represented and the stakeholders.

Related to the matters above, it is interesting that there is a writing in the book Political Public Relations (Routledge 2011) that said in public affairs, the term stakeholder is used more often than public.

Furthermore, is public affairs a part of public relations? Some argue that public affairs and public relations is a part of a greater understanding, namely Corporate Communications. James Grunig in 1984 even made it clear that public affairs was a special branch of public relations.

For me, at the moment, it does not matter what is a part of who. But as I said before, around 50 percent of public affairs activities are typical to public relations. So, there is a close relationship between the two, even though these two notions are not the same and congruent. Therefore, I will discuss this more in-depth in a book that is planned to be published with PR INDONESIA in 2020.