One of the hardest things to get over to clients is that no matter who they are, they can benefit from establishing a public affairs programme. Many feel that speaking to politicians has nothing to do with their primary goals of building awareness or sales (the reason why many small businesses seek the services of a media relations consultant). However, they would be completely wrong.

Let me explain by giving a couple of examples:

One of my clients has an on-going problem with the late payments of invoices, particularly from larger companies, causing cash flow problems. The UK government is bringing in reforms to payment terms and we were monitoring their legislative proposals. However, we felt that they did not go far enough. Working with our client, we came up with a simple proposal – that any company paying after 60 days of being invoiced, should also be liable to pay the standard UK sales tax of 20 per cent (businesses paying other businesses for services are usually exempt). This single proposal gained national media coverage for the client, creating a strong impact throughout the sector at a time when the issue of late payments was particularly pertinent in the media.

Another example involves using local politicians and their desire to support businesses in their constituencies (UK electoral districts). We invited the local Member of Parliament to visit a client’s offices to see their latest innovation. The visit created a valuable news hook that was then used to gain coverage in local and specialist trade press as well as improving the client’s relationship with the local chambers of commerce.

These are just two examples of how small companies can benefit from having a targeted public affairs programme that augments their wider media relations.

Discovering Opportunities

However, public affairs is not just about speaking. It is also important to listen by establishing a monitoring function. Material benefits to the client are possible through Government-backed stimulus funding; grants and service contract opportunities that many businesses simply do not know exist. Through monitoring, small enterprises can be among the first to hear of potential business opportunities and get in as early as possible.

The fact is that building a relationship with government, trade bodies and other lobbying groups gives your clients insight into the industry, financial benefits and a strong network that over time will support their business. Further, by integrating it with their existing media relations programme, public affairs can provide a strong source of news hooks to gain media coverage and industry impact.

These are just a couple of points about what is a vast area of activity that can benefit organisations of any size and in any sector. My best advice would be if you are considering whether public affairs might benefit your organisation is to get involved with your industry representative body, your local chambers of commerce and other lobbying groups and see what they are doing. Even if you don’t have your own public affairs programme you can use these groups to raise your profile and to get ideas. Secondly, nothing beats speaking to a public affairs consultant directly and to challenge them to impress you!

Richard Merrin, Managing Director of Spreckley Partners – a GlobalCom PR Network partner in the UK