Today, there are an extensive range of organizations, corporations, businesses, advocacy groups, and lobbyists, making efforts to integrate government relations into their activities. They want to be able to develop good relationships with key players at various levels of government, such as the regulatory agencies and policy and legislative committees. When organizations seek to establish mutual, beneficial government relationships, one essential step in the campaign process is to know how government communications and PR works.
Governments of democracies should embrace public opinion and understand that government works best when citizens are well informed. In this current political climate of policy changes, budget cuts, divisive political rhetoric, and demand for more transparency and accountability, government officials at all levels are under pressure to get their messages across to the public. However, diverse media channels, from social media to 24/7 cable news present challenges to how government officials can best convey their messages and protect their reputation and personal brand.
Government relations campaigns are designed not only to inform the public, but also to help organizations, groups, and individuals be heard. As well, politicians and government officials want to show that they are successful through the media because they want to keep their jobs. The role of government public relations should be leveraged in government. PR communication strategies enable governments at all levels to be more responsive to citizens and more accountable for its activities. In addition, government needs compatibility with different forms of PR in order to be more transparent and accountable.
The media is the chief communication vehicle for government. Media releases and media events dominate government PR programs. Since the media is the tool for disseminating information to the public, government media relations are almost always tightly controlled. Therefore because of the tightly controlled process, politicians and officials are aware that talking freely, or off -script, can be a major mistake since they have no idea how the media will package it and present it to the public. This in turn makes it difficult to develop effective relations with key members of the media.
Government decisions can affect many, most, or all of its citizens, making it easy for PR specialists to generate media interest. However, coordinating with the media to meet their demands can be difficult, especially when trying to stay ahead of a story before it takes on a life of its own. As with any PR role, government PR specialists must understand the environment they are working in because media reporting helps to shape public opinion and therefore it impacts the reputation of the government.
Since there is a lot of attention paid to government and the politicians serving in office, new issues emerge practically on a day-to-day basis. This means politicians need to respond quickly as the media is used effectively for personal interests by many people and organizations such as opposition politicians, political organizations, advocacy groups, lobbyists, business groups, unions, and community organizations. It can be very stressful and a lot of work to deal with the media. A key role for government PR specialists is to anticipate and help manage issues and the media’s coverage of the issues as they emerge.
An effective government PR communications program is designed to help officials and politicians successfully navigate their way through issues while effectively responding to those who have an interest or stake in those issues, such as media, lobbyists, political opposition, regulators, unions, etc. Reputation management is a key focus of PR and government. Reputation management involves: strategic positioning and planning, statement preparation, message development, and media outreach. Media training should play a role in areas that include: alleviating anxiety associated with the media interview process, maximizing the impact of an interview, responding in the event of a crisis, and teaching officials and politicians how to respond in negative interviews. When the reputation of the government is protected and defended successfully, the government’s brand is protected.
In government, public relations are basically public administration. Government relations are about understanding the interests of the public and the interests of stakeholders. These areas of interest can include: lobbying and grassroots advocacy, coalition management and alliance building, policy development, input on legislation, obtaining government funding, etc. Effective government public relations communication strategies can not only get key messages across all spectrums of the public and private sectors, but also can strengthen the government’s standing with the public, inform and educate the public, provide information about government policies and legislation, increase the use of governmental services, and improve media relations.
A good government PR team will have a firsthand knowledge and understanding of public policy and advocacy. They will know that reputation matters as the media, stakeholders and influencers all have the capability to affect a government’s reputation and its brand.