PRCA Public Affairs Census – Top 10 takeaways

PRCA Public Affairs Census cover

Last week I was at the PRCA Public Affairs Conference for the launch of its first Public Affairs Census, which is one of many results from the increased resources resulting from its merger with the Association of Professional Political Consultants (APPC). These are my top 10 takeaways from the census:

1) Genuine consultancy and counsel is the future of the public affairs industry

As a PR Futurist, who specialises in helping in-house and agency PR and public affairs teams to modernise, the most interesting question asked which public affairs tasks and roles have increased or decreased significantly in importance in the past two years.

The two that have increased most significantly are ‘crisis and issues management’ and ‘provide internal counsel on public policy’. One that has decreased significantly is political monitoring.

public affairs graphs

This reflects my personal experience of working with PR and public affairs teams in-house and in consultancies to help them develop the skills they need to thrive in the future. Much of the focus of this work is helping to improve their strategic skills so they are more capable of providing expert counsel on public policy and business issues, rather than simply doing the day to day lobbying activity such as political monitoring, producing campaign collateral and organising events.

Hidden behind the headline that 43% say that ‘crisis and issues management’ is increasing significantly in importance is that what this actually means is changing rapidly. Too many PA professionals are still wedded to a very traditional approach with a bit of digital and social media tagged on, which doesn’t take into account significant shifts in society.

Some forward-thinking PA leaders are also starting to recognise that the public affairs professionals need to seriously improve their understanding and use of data, analytics, insight, planning, measurement and evaluation. This is one of the fastest-growing areas of my own consultancy and training business.

2) Most likely to consider voting Liberal Democrat

I suspect this is a figure very much “of the moment” driven by the Brexit chaos and the fact that both Labour and the Conservatives have leaders from the extremes of their parties. As might be expected political opinion amongst PA professionals is diverse. However, given the relative size of the three main parties, it is interesting that the Liberal Democrats lead for voting consideration amongst those who aren’t already certain who they would vote for in the future.

Political opinion amongst public affairs professionals graphs

Personally, I’m not surprised that of those who are certain who they would vote for that just 9% say Labour. If I just look at my own friendship network many of my dozens of friends who work in PR and PA were also Labour Party members. Today I could probably count on one hand those who are still even members.

3) Public affairs is too posh

PA professionals are far more likely to have attended a fee-paying school (21%) than the general population (7%). This is almost identical to the figure for the whole PR profession which according to the PRCA PR Census is 20% and 28% in the CIPR State of the Profession survey. What is interesting is the additional demographic breakdowns that show just 54% of parents or guardians had completed a university degree and 18% grew up in a household that had received income support. In contrast just 13% of respondents to the PRCA PR Census said they had received income support (or free school meals).

Education background of public affairs professionals graphs

4) Public affairs is London centric

This isn’t a surprising finding as it simply reflects how horrifically London-centric the United Kingdom is. 67% of respondents work in London and 9% in Scotland. It will be interesting to watch this figure over time and see if there is an increase in the regions and nations figures because of increased devolution.

5) Public affairs is male-dominated

In contrast to the broader public relations profession then public affairs is more male-dominated. 64% of respondents to the public affairs census are male, compared to 67% of respondents to the public relations census who are female.

6) Public affairs attracts the young

More than half (53%) of respondents are under 34. My initial thought on seeing this figure is because many people start in public affairs roles then move onto broader public relations roles later in their careers. However, my thinking is at odds with the finding that “senior employees outnumber junior in this survey”. It would be interesting to explore this more.

7) Senior employees outnumber junior

This is the part of the survey that doesn’t ‘feel’ right to me, not least because it feels illogical for a profession to be both made up of senior people and to be predominately young.

Senior employees outnumber junior in public affairs graphs

8) Public affairs has a gender pay gap

Given the skew towards more males, perhaps the most surprising thing here is that the depressingly predictable gender pay gap isn’t bigger than on average men getting paid 7% more than women.

9) Diversity both is and isn’t recognised as a problem

I was fascinated by the “How diverse do you feel your organisation is in the following areas?” question. Respondents apparently recognise the lack of diversity in terms of disability and ethnicity but fail to do so in terms of social background and gender.

10) Mental health problems rear their head again

Respondents to PR and PA surveys reporting being diagnosed with mental health problems is now a given. My question about the PRCA PA census (21%) is the same as the one I asked about the CIPR State of the Profession survey (21%) and the PRCA PR census (32% – although it appears this question was “suffered from or diagnosed” which probably explains the higher figure).

It is concerning that anyone is reporting mental health problems, but without comparative data from other professions, it is impossible to say if this is a PR/PA industry issue or simply a symptom of what’s happening in society generally.

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