What Makes A Good Public Affairs Consultant?

What are the skills needed to make a good public affairs consultant, whether they work for an agency or in-house? And how can we use this to think about how we can all improve?

It is very easy to think about public affairs as being focused on political engagement. That may be the main aspect of what many of us do but even that disguises the complexity of the role we are playing and how we properly fulfil that role.

So, I tried to spend a bit of time thinking through all the aspects of what we in public affairs do and set them out in a diagram. The skills I highlight are not mutually exclusive with many crossing over with each other.

By trying to unpick the skills needed, I hope that helps us all recognise those areas where we could improve as well. This would make it a little easier to identify where we could do with some training or where knowledge needs to be improved.

The skills

My list includes:

Policy navigator: understanding how policy is made and what the processes are, as well as the audiences.

Strategy developer: being able to develop a public affairs strategy, pulling in the information and knowledge needed to do so.

Communications expert: everything from message development through to being able to work with the channels needed to get to out audiences. A communications expert is also thinking about reputation management as well.

Political entrepreneur: a little OTT I will admit but it reflects our ability to work with different political audiences at different times, bringing people together where needed.

Audience engager: the ability to know and understand stakeholder audiences so that you can identify what drives them, how to communicate with them and how to work with them over a potentially prolonged period of time. I recently heard a podcast from the Centre for Corporate Public Affairs where Mark Pesce  talked about public affairs being the ability to keep a conversation going.  I am inclined to agree with that analysis.

Risk analyser: the ability to take into account a raft of information, as well as knowing and understanding politics, to identify potential risks. But also, how they should be addressed as well.  It is very much a ‘risk and response’ approach we need to be able to advise on.

Campaigner: the ability to keep going and constantly think anew about the best way to deliver on the aims of the public affairs project.

Networker: both inside and outside of the strict confines of work, a good consultant will be constantly looking to build their network so they can bring the benefits to their work as well. A good network provides knowledge, understanding and information as well as the connections themselves.

Partnership developer: the ability to work with a range of audiences, outside of politics as well, to build appropriate coalitions of interest.

I am sure others will come up with other suggestions and I’d be happy to hear them as well (and update the diagram).

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Stuart is a public affairs and communications specialist with BDB Pitmans advising clients on all elements of their public affairs strategies including political and corporate communications and reputation management. His work also includes consultation and planning communications and he has advised on a number of high profile media relations and crisis communications programmes. Stuart is an honorary research fellow at the University of Aberdeen and is the author of several books including ‘New Activism and the Corporate Response‘ (heralded as a book that “every aspiring business leader should read” by MIS Asia), ‘Public Affairs in Practice’ and ‘The Dictionary of Labour Quotations‘. His most recently published book, ‘Public Affairs: A Global Perspective’ has been called ‘an absolute treasure-trove’ and is a recommended read by the Government Communication Service (GCS). Stuart regularly writes and lectures on a range of business and political issues and as well as blogging for BDB Pitmans he contributes to the Huffington Post and has written for the CBI, (former) UKTI, Total Politics and LabourList. He is also an adviser to the Entrepreneurs Network (TEN) and a regular speaker and chair at conferences. He has appeared on Sky News, BBC 5 Live, BBC World, the Today programme and on Ukrainian TV and has been a judge for the Public Affairs News, PR Week, Public Affairs and the European Public Affairs awards. Stuart is a CIPR trainer leading the 'Practical Public Affairs' course.

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