Emily Wallace: Public affairs is now a team sport
Gone are the days when lobbying was an individual pursuit.
What qualities make a great public affairs practitioner? It’s a standard interview question and one which I have often asked, but is there a secret ingredient?
This is the point at which you now expect me to set out all the key attributes, but times have changed, the industry has matured, there is not one way to be a great public affairs professional.
I don’t think that this was always the case. As the public affairs industry has matured it has become a career choice and embraced a wider skill set. There is a place for everyone in the industry today. Public affairs has become a complex discipline requiring a range of skills which are not readily found in one person.
I have seen brilliant public affairs professionals who are forensic and obsessive about detail, who thrive in a world of legislation and regulation. I have seen others that are brilliantly persuasive and communicate an argument with almost no handle on detail, just a few well-placed facts and stats.
I have seen successful practitioners with little interest in the day to day foray of the political back and forth, who use their independence as a virtue, whilst others succeed on the basis of their involvement and understanding of the cut and thrust of party politics. People that can write effortlessly about anything in minutes and others that almost never put pen to paper but can deliver ideas and strategy on the hoof and who are incisive and brilliant and say the thing you really wished you’d thought of first.
There is no secret ingredient. Delivering great public affairs requires different skills at different times, it requires you to be able to complement those around you.
Whether building a team in house, in consultancy or in partnership, the key thing is being able to use the right people at the right time for the right task, to know your own strengths and play to them, but to recognise where you need to bring in other skills too.
A great practitioner does not have to be the whole package, but does need to be able to pull together the right team for the task at hand. Public affairs has moved from an individual pursuit to a team sport.
Emily Wallace is chief executive at GK Strategy.
Picture by: Matt Dunham/AP/Press Association Images