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View from the Street: Public affairs is about to become more important than ever. Here’s why.

Fraser Paterson

Senior client manager

Often depicted as a world of secrecy, elite gatherings, little black books and quiet words in the ear of important people, public affairs is often misunderstood. 

Effective public affairs work is about maintaining low risks and high reputations, not clandestine meetings or who knows who. It’s about providing leaders with the insights and relationships they need to navigate policy and regulation. Moreover, public affairs isn’t just about avoiding problems — it can also be about seizing opportunities and helping stakeholders understand new technologies or markets. 

It’s easy for organisations to fall into the trap of believing that public affairs require their organisation to have a strong public profile but that misconception could prove costly. Good public affairs work is about a more strategic approach to who you engage with and why, not about column inches and mentions on social media. 

Consider the scenario of a cutting-edge start-up poised to revolutionise the educational sector with its AI-driven tools, suddenly facing the prospect of restrictive data protection regulations. Without a nuanced public affairs strategy to engage with policymakers, influence regulations, and adapt operations, this start-up’s path to success could be severely hampered. 

Or imagine a renewable energy company eager to capitalise on political support for green energy, only to encounter local resistance over their plans for a new development. Without a public affairs approach that involves engaging with local communities, demonstrating the benefits of renewable energy, and adjusting projects to align with local values, the company’s expansion efforts could be stalled. 

These scenarios highlight a critical truth: no organisation operates in isolation. In a world where policy, public sentiment, and market dynamics are in constant flux, lacking a public affairs strategy is a gamble with high stakes. Organisations that underestimate the need for public affairs support may find themselves unprepared for preventable challenges. Far from being an optional extra, public affairs is crucial for identifying opportunities, influencing debates, and ensuring organisations are not just resilient but are positioned to lead in an ever-evolving political environment.

The political landscape in the UK and Scotland is becoming more unpredictable. The potential end of single-party dominance at Westminster and Holyrood and the scope for increased collaboration between Labour governments on both sides of the border after 2026 present new challenges and opportunities.  

It is likely that we are about to enter a political era where power is rotated amongst parties on a much more regular basis than the recent past. If you thought public affairs was confusing before, it’s about to get a whole lot more complicated.  

With speculation too of further devolution to English regions and greater powers for Holyrood (Scottish Labour recently floated the prospect of “elected provosts’ based on the English metro mayor model), the importance of more local engagement is growing. This shift requires organisations to identify and connect with key stakeholders at a more local level than ever before to ensure their interests are represented and their voices heard. 

Organisations must adapt their public affairs strategies to stay ahead of these shifts, and understanding the priorities and policies of these evolving political developments will be critical in anticipating changes and positioning your organisation favourably. 

Far from its stereotypical straitjacket, public affairs is a forward-thinking, strategic field that keeps organisations ahead of the curve, ensuring you are prepared for the challenges of today and positioned as a leader for tomorrow.  

By understanding the true nature of public affairs, and adapting to the evolving political landscape, organisations can leverage public affairs as a key strategic asset. It’s not just about crisis management; it’s about shaping the future and ensuring success in an ever-changing world. And its importance is only growing.