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A PR Reference to Strategic Communication in the Public Sector

· Public Affairs,Public Relations,Strategic Comm
Anneshia Hardy | The Hardy Exchange

The popularity of digital news, citizen journalism, and online democracy has become the spoon that feeds the government-inspired media propaganda. Mass media communication has changed the way government agencies communicate with the public. Today, news regarding politics, government policies, corruptions, and political figures are received within seconds of someone posting a tweet or a digital press release. Communication strategies in the public sector should enable the effective flow of information between government agencies and their internal and external publics. The demand for accountability and transparency in our government has increased over the decades. Internal and external communication has become a primary issue for public sector organizations. It has become an indispensable and innermost component of an effective communication channel between government agencies and the public. Effective communication results in stronger trust between government agencies, the general public, and the media. In addition, effective government communication should uphold the public expectations and serve as a credible source of public information for citizens.

If you are part of the group that is confused regarding the difference between a public relations professional and a public affairs professional, don’t worry, there is only a slight difference. Public affairs is the area of public relations that operates in the public sector. A public affairs professional often deals with governmental matters that affect the public, along with fostering positive relationships between the government and the public. The only actual difference between a public affairs professional and a public relations professional is their client’s overall objective. In a corporate setting, the objective is to promote and sell a product or brand. In a government setting, the objective is to serve the public good. Typically, work includes political monitoring to foresee public policy which may affect a community, business, or specific industries. In addition public affairs professionals act responsively to legislation or policy, public affairs professionals will regularly network and engage with policy makers to maintain valuable relationships.

A study regarding public relations professionals’ perspectives on communications challenges faced in the U.S. Public sector lists 8 challenges public affairs professionals face in the U.S. Public sector as follows:

  1. Politics – General government activities
  2. Public good – Meeting the public’s information needs
  3. Legal frameworks – Inability to communicate fully and openly. U.S. Federal Agencies must comply with the Freedom of Information Act. Federal law prohibits lobbying by government officials and using public funds for advertising.
  4. Media scrutiny – The media generally covers government decision-making more often than the actions of private companies and the media can influence the timing of government decisions.
  5. Poor public perception – The negative connotations of “media propaganda” and derogatory use of “spin” make publics cynical about government communication.
  6. Federalism – Federalism requires that multiple levels of government coordinate on most policy issues so that no single level can act unilaterally.
  7. Limited professional development opportunities – Recent survey research found government communicators desire more professional development opportunities
  8. Limited leadership opportunities – Public affairs professionals have limited leadership opportunities because government communicators have limited advancement opportunities and limited financial support.

Amidst these challenges, Public affairs professionals must develop strategic communication strategies that will overall improve and build trust, encourage public participation, and improve decision-making and accountability.

But How? And Why?

Public participation and building trust

  • Public affairs communication is a service for all citizens. The driving principle is transparency.
  • Effective public affairs communication is a dialogue that engages all individuals and communities of all social levels while assisting them with voicing their opinions and views.
  • Public sector communication departments should be efficient, credible, and quick disseminators of information. Public affairs professionals working in government agencies should be able to answer questions honestly, accurately, and in full.
  • A transparent and positive report of government policies, achievements, and objectives is vital in maintaining the trust and confidence of the public.
  • Emerging media and technology provides government agencies with several tools for direct, immediate, and unmediated communications with the public. It is important that these tools aren’t used to manipulate the public’s viewpoints and perspectives.

Informed decision-making

  • Communication is a core part of the policy and service development process.
  • Communicating transparently and credibly in a coordinated way enables citizens to make informed decisions.


  • The public can judge the quality of decisions and the delivery of government services that affect their lives by utilizing information provided by public affairs professionals.
  • Public affairs professionals should develop communication strategies that link communication openly to the success of their outcomes.

Although public affairs professionals may not receive a large campaign budget or partake in flashy campaigns such as private corporations, their communication is in fact essential and can make drastic differences in the lives of everyday citizens. For example, citizens in need receive information regarding food or medical assistance programs via government produced brochures regarding SNAP, Medicare, and Healthcare. Another example would be individuals who are protected from further abuse because they viewed a public service announcement for a government sponsored hotline to report abuse and receive help. Lastly, how many times have you received notification regarding a defective product recall? This is also a result of government communication.

If you enjoy the art of communications and public relations and have a passion for helping everyday people, becoming a public affairs professional will allow you to be a part of a circle of professionals who shape the way we view our government.

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