Why everyone in EU public affairs actually works in communications

Brett Kobie

I like to rattle on ad nauseum about how communications and public affairs* are two peas in a pod that probably shouldn’t be as segregated in Brussels as they are today. Then I sat down with one of the top communications directors in Brussels who got where I was coming from, and in two simple phrases was able to finally articulate the point I was failing to make.

Public affairs is really just one tactic in a comprehensive communications strategy. Basically, public affairs is well…well, it’s comms actually.

Public affairs is a comms “tactic”?

The discipline of public affairs in Brussels is defined in its most traditional sense as “knowing the right people and meeting those people in person to deliver your message on an issue.” But surely there’s more than one way to deliver a message right? And aren’t messages more of a comms thing?

The best communications strategies tend to follow a simple yet effective structure that allows you to constantly answer the question “why are we doing this?” with hard facts and measurable outcomes. While models vary between organisations, most comms practitioners use a framework that looks something like this:

A closer look at channels & tactics

The channels and tactics in a comms strategy are basically any route you think will work to convey your message to your target audience. You might take the pure play public affairs approach and set up one-on-one meetings with your audience (if you can get them), or you might plan an event that brings your stakeholders together in debate.

But…you may also realise that it makes sense to pitch your story to media outlets you know your audience reads, or to take an owned media approach by crafting a blog post on LinkedIn or on a more ambitious brand journalism approach on your own channels.

What’s to be learned here?

Despite their titles, Brussels public affairs practitioners should think of themselves as communicators first and plan their efforts in the framework of a broader communications strategy in which the old school concept of PA is just one part of a more comprehensive and more effective whole.

Planning a “public affairs-only strategy” is like locking yourself in the tiniest half-bathroom of a 32-room mansion. Get out of the bathroom and at least enjoy that pimped out kitchen with the six gas burners you could never afford. Why would you stick to your comfort zone when you can avail yourself of every wrench in the ever-growing comms toolkit?

*A quick note here: when I talk about “public affairs” in this post, I mean it in the European sense of the term which in the US is more comparable with “government relations”. 

A version of this post also appears on kobiebrett.com. Views here are my own and not those of any present or past employer or client.