Public Affairs is the provision of information to the public, press and other institutions concerning the goals, policies and activities of a sponsor. Public Affairs seeks to foster understanding of these goals through dialogue with individual citizens, organised groups and other institutions, as well as domestic and international media. However, the thrust of Public Affairs is to inform the domestic audience.
From a business perspective, Public Affairs is a term used to describe an organisation’s relationship with stakeholders. These are individuals or groups with an interest in the organisation's affairs, such as politicians, civil servants, clients, shareholders, trade associations, think tanks, charities, unions and the media. Corporate practitioners aim to influence public policy, by lobbying stakeholders in order to promote the organisation's policies and views on public policy issues.
Public Affairs and Propaganda
Critics of ‘Public Affairs’ argue that the concept is just a nice way of saying ‘Propaganda’. They suggest that there is no significant difference between Public Affairs and Propaganda, with both involving a manipulation of their audiences on behalf of their sponsors.
In an article in the Washington Post not long after the September 11 attacks, former Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke clearly equated Public Affairs to Propaganda, and argued that what was needed to offset terrorism was “Public Diplomacy, or Public Affairs, or Psychological Warfare, or – if you really want to be blunt – Propaganda”.
Other authors do not go as far as to equate to Public Affairs to pure Propaganda, but suggest that they are both intrinsically linked. They would suggest that Public Affairs does fundamentally incorporate aspects of Propaganda, but it is not identical to it .
Examples of Public Affairs Organisations
- Public Affairs Networking, What is Public Affairs?: Industry description of Public Affairs
- Public Affairs News, Public Affairs News: Public Affairs news
- Chartered Institute of Public Relations, Public Affairs (CIPR PA): Public Affairs specific accreditation and organisation
- UK Public Affairs Council, Welcome to UK Public Affairs Council: register for UK Public Affairs practitioners
- Wikipedia, Public Affairs Industry: Brief overview of Public Affairs
- PDAA, About U.S. Public Diplomacy, PDAA website, accessed 27 March 2015
- Public Affairs Networking, What is Public Affairs?, Public Affairs Networking website, accessed 27 March 2015
- John Brown (2008), Public Diplomacy & Propaganda: Their Differences, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill website, September 2008, accessed 27 March 2015
- Jan Melissen (May 2005), Wielding Soft Power: The New Public Diplomacy, Netherland Institute of International Relations: Palgrave Macmillan, accessed 27 March 2015
- UK Public Affairs Council, The Register, UK Public Affairs Council website, accessed 27 March 2015