18, Jul 2023
Public Affairs and Rhetoric
Public affairs is a set of activities and relationships between a business and the public – in other words, those who have an interest in its operations or policies. Stakeholders can include customers and local communities, regulators, shareholders, political parties, industry associations and think tanks. They may also include media organisations and other influencers. The key to public affairs is building and maintaining those relationships, both with the public and policy makers, and influencing those who shape public policy.
A business may engage in public affairs in order to interact on policy issues and legislation with politicians (MPs, MSPs, AMs, MLAs, MPNs) and other policy makers, as well as with interest groups or activist publics (as they are often referred to) and the media. Public affairs can also help a business communicate with internal stakeholders, such as investors and employees.
For example, when an animal rights organization lobbies officials on behalf of wild horses to protect them from slaughter for human consumption in Europe and Asia, the result is that those officials introduce legislation outlawing horse slaughter. In this case, the company’s public affairs team is leveraging their position in the community and its relationships with policy makers to change a public policy that affects the business.
Similarly, the pharmaceutical and healthcare sector has engaged in public affairs to explain its view on policy and legislation, such as pricing restrictions, and assist with the development of better and more transparent laws and regulations. The public affairs teams in these sectors are leveraging their relationship with policy makers, as well as their knowledge of the law and statistics, to positively influence legislative change.
One of the challenges for any public affairs team is keeping its relationships alive as people move on – both within their own organisation and with partners. For example, a clinical commissioning group (CCG) might have a strong relationship with its local MPs, the leaders of the two local hospitals and ambulance trusts, as well as the editor of the local newspaper, but those relationships will be fragile if the CCG’s chief executive changes jobs.
In addition to tackling these practical challenges, academics in the field of rhetoric have long focused on the intersection of public affairs and rhetorical theory. Rhetoric & Public Affairs is an interdisciplinary journal devoted to research in the theory, history and criticism of public discourse including executive leadership, diplomacy, political campaigns, judicial and legislative deliberations and other forms of symbolic inducement. Manuscripts that explore the nexus of power, ethics, and politics in the arenas of persuasion, argumentation, and advocacy are welcome. In addition, manuscripts that report on the pedagogy of public affairs courses and programs are especially encouraged.