Public Affairs and Government Relations
Public affairs includes government relations, media communications, issue management, corporate and social responsibility, information dissemination and strategic communications with the public. Public affairs activities aim to influence public policy, build and maintain a strong reputation and find common ground with stakeholders.
Government relations is one part of public affairs and is the educational process of and advocacy to government officials and the public about a business, an industry, a nonprofit, a nonprofit sector or another government entity. Government relations includes lobbying and a broader set of activities to educate and influence government officials and the public.
 Larger Organizations
Larger organizations, whether they are businesses, nonprofit or governmental entitities, have inhouse staff that specializes in public affairs and government relations. They also contract the services of specialized public relations and government affairs firms. The largest organizations have entire divisions and an array of government affairs contractors to educate and influence government officials at many levels of government and the public.
 Associations and smaller organizations
Associations exist for all groups. Private sector firms have industry and trade groups. Nonprofits have associations by sectors. State, municipal, county governments and quasi-government organizations have associations to promote their interests. All of these associations conduct public affairs and government relations at some level and degree.
For smaller organizations belonging to an association is an affordable cost and practical method to conduct public affairs and governemental relations. While larger organizations typically dominate and have the greatest influence in these associations, smaller organizations can be active and have an impact and gain benefits from their involvement.
 Best practices for small organizations
Do it yourself government relations general rule: Government affairs conducted directly by a constituent is very effective because you and your organization are a constituents and employers in the government official’s district. Their job and especially their staff’s job is to take care of constituent problems and issues.
- Build Relations - You can enhance the response level of government officials by building relationships ahead of time so when you have a crisis and need quick action, they already know you and your organization.
- Meet, know your elected officials and educate them on your organization
- Show up at their local office (You don't have to travel to the national or state capitol to be heard)
- Identify their staff member that will be able to help you in the future
- Ask them to notify you of policy areas that impact your organization
- Go to events where elected officials are speaking and meet them and give them (and their staff) your business card
- Tell your story, why is your organization important in their community or district
- Attend fundraisers – Even a small contribution elevates you to a special status. Only two-tenths of one percent of Americans donate to candidates, parties or PACs. Be non-partisan about your approach and realize that your purpose is to gain access for your organization to educate officials about your organization. Your own political views and how you vote is a separate matter. Showing up moves your organization to the head of the list to tell your story.
- Join an association that represents your type of organization that educates and influences government officials and the public that would benefit your organization:
- Learn about their government affairs functions and programs
- Become involved in their committees to have influence
- Meet and get to know their public affairs and government affairs staff
- Use association staff proactively to:
- Provide advice and education relevant to your issues
- Provide general advice on “how to” educate and influence
- Arrange meetings with government offficials, media or other leaders that you do not know or have relations with
- Contract with a public affairs and government affairs expert for services beyond your capability. Use these services sparingly to supplement your own effort, otherwise this will be very expensive and generally less effective.
 Contracting Examples
Short term contracting of public affairs and government affairs experts is sometimes necessary and highly effective for small organization when the challenges exceed the experience and capacity of a small organization.
- Public relations example: Your organization has a negative event that will become public knowledge and have potential negative impacts on your organization i.e. “a public relations nightmare” – a recall of your product, your president embezzles fund of your nonprofit or your chief of police is caught in a scandal. Employ a public affairs firm with expertise in public communication and crisis management. Use them to advise and help develop your strategy and communication documents. If you can afford it they can help you implement. If you cannot afford that, they can help you develop a detailed plan on the best steps to implement with all those spedific entities that matter – media, funders/financers, organization members, employees, customers, government officials or the public.
- Government relations example: Your organization is too small and doesn’t need a public affairs staff and doesn’t employ a government affairs expert or lobbyist. You suddenly become aware of legislation or regulations that will have a significant impact on your organization. Hire a government affairs firm or individual on a contract. This will be more effective if you have previously built relations with elected officials and been involved in an association in your sector. Your association can provide you good advice on the landscape of what government affairs firms or individuals will be most effective given the specifics of your issue. Your organization stays involved, not abdicating involvement, and works with the contractor as extra staff employing your other array of strategies to educate an influence government officials.
 Related Best Practices
 Other Resources
- For more background on public relations see the Wikipedia page on public relations
- For more background on government relations see the Wikipedia page on government relations
- Public Relations Society of America, a professional association, provides their definition and views on public relations
- “Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”
- PubAffairs, a European public affairs network, provides their definition, background and insights on public affairs.
- The Association Connecting Electronic Industries, an electronics industry association, provides a good general read - "Government Relations 101" - on their website and a downloadable PDF.
The author of this article is Terry Gardiner.
Terry Gardiner is the founder and President of Silver Lining Seafoods and NorQuest Seafoods - a medium size Alaska seafood processing companies; and currently Board member of the Anvil Corporation, an employee owned company specializing in oil and gas engineering.
His co-operative experiences include member director of the Commercial Fishermen Co-operative association; creation of legislation for the Alaska Commercial Fishing and Agriculture Bank; and advisor to the US Dept of Health and Social Services for the state Health CO-OPs.
Terry served ten years as a member of the Alaska House of Representatives -several legislative committee chairmanships, Speaker of the House, Chairman of the Alaska Criminal Code Commission and board member on various state and federal boards and commissions.
Terry authored the leadership book, "Six-Word Lessons to Build Effective Leaders: 100 Lessons to Equip Your People to Create Winning Organizations".