What is Public Affairs?

Origins of the term

The term “Public Affairs” is linked to the Greek term “politeia” and the Latin phrase “res publica.” In the Greece of antiquity politeia indicates the organization of a city-state and in the Roman Empire res publica referred to the general system of government of a state in the form of a republic.

In the 1950s, as national governments, especially in the USA, began regulating businesses to ensure more transparency and better accountability, Public Affairs began to become a serious profession. At first, these professionals broadly oversaw the development of legislation. Their roles soon evolved to become business consultants, serving to keep the corporate community up to date with new legislature.

In the 21st century, the roles of public affairs professionals have expanded much wider.

In Public Affairs, the main task is to establish meaningful relations between businesses and their relevant stakeholder groups such as government agencies, clients, international organizations, but also local communities, think tanks and non-governmental organizations. Professional public affairs consultants, then, are the conduits for forming these relations through, among others, industry associations or other initiatives.

Peter Hellmonds, CEO of Arete Publica Associates

Public Affairs professionals manage not only government relations, but also engage with the corporate community within and beyond regulations: they manage issues, oversee reputation management, engage stakeholders, promote corporate social responsibility, and at times, they even engage with media and Public Relations. The role of the modern Public Affairs expert is to bridge the gap between a business and its various stakeholders.

Public Affairs vs. Public Relations

Although Public Affairs is often confused with Public Relations, these two professions cover very different aspects. As mentioned above, public affairs professionals act on a stakeholder level within different frameworks and industries, depending on a company’s needs. They shape the company’s strategy and organization, and often influence policy-making. Public relations professionals, on the other hand, are mainly concerned with the company’s public image as it is perceived by the general public.

An industry that’s always growing, adapting, and evolving.

The definition of Public Affairs is ever-changing.

Public Affairs revolves around helping businesses foster their relations with their different stakeholder groups, but its breadth spans much wider. With every year, the number of stakeholder relations a business has becomes increasingly harder to navigate as new laws are written, civil society organizations are formed, and business compliance is made more important than ever. At Arete Publica Associates, we’d like our advisory services to help make your public affairs navigation process easier.