Public affairs and PR seek consistency

There was a time, not that long ago, when a company's public policy needs could be kept entirely separate from the rest of its business.

There was a time, not that long ago, when a company's public policy needs could be kept entirely separate from the rest of its business.

You could hire a lobbyist in Washington to secure a tax credit here, stop a regulation there. Policy and politics were related transactions all happening on the island we call "inside the Beltway." What happened in Washington stayed in Washington. And what happened outside of Washington – how you marketed to consumers, what your messages were, what your CSR strategies were going to be – didn't matter that much in the nation's capitol. 

One of the most important trends in PR over the past two years has been the blurring of the lines between PR and public affairs. The requirement that brands be authentic and that corporate leaders be "real" doesn't just apply to communications outside the Beltway anymore.

Social networking, the democratization of communications, digital organizing, and 24-hour news cycles have combined with the dramatic increase in the role of government in business and in our lives, requiring a greater integration of corporate communications teams and government relations teams for the first time.

Messages have to be aligned and public policy positions must be consistent with a brand, a product, and the target consumer's views. Anything that is inconsistent may be called out by a President, an influencer, an NGO, or a Walmart mom.

The worlds of politics, policy, brand, and consumer communications have become one. And every indication is that this need for integration of PR and public affairs will grow more critical in the years ahead, as digital platforms allow consumers and voters (these are the same people, after all) to reward authenticity and punish pretenders. 

Lane Bailey is president of global public affairs for GolinHarris.

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