Public affairs consultants are often referred to as lobbyists, but their work is more wide-ranging. They use their understanding of the political system to offer political and public policy advice to their clients. Clients may include private sector companies, trade associations, charities, not-for-profit organisations and overseas governments.
Keeping abreast of political developments, in order to advise clients on a possible response, is vital to the role. Key information is sought from personal contacts, a range of media sources and political intelligence and monitoring.
Public affairs consultants identify key stakeholders in the decision-making process at European, national, regional and local government levels. They work to maintain relationships with these individuals and to assist clients to promote and protect their interests effectively.
Key areas of work include:
- monitoring the activities of Parliament, Whitehall and other relevant bodies and organisations;
- raising the profile of an organisation/client;
- public relations work;
- providing strategic communications advice;
- providing general public affairs support.
The amount of time spent on different activities varies according to the type of employer (for example, consultancy or in-house organisation) and level of experience required. For example, some consultancies do very little lobbying, whereas others describe themselves as lobbyists.
At entry level, you will be involved in a high level of research and monitoring of information, while an account director will be principally involved in strategic planning and relationship management.
Typical activities are likely to include:
- monitoring proceedings and providing analysis of activities in the Houses of Parliament, government departments, European institutions, political parties, local government, think-tanks, pressure groups, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and other bodies in order to keep clients informed of any developments related to their field of activity;
- reading parliamentary publications and printed transcripts, such as Hansard, and monitoring other activities such as debates, questions, committee enquiries, statements, reports, regulations and legislation;
- assisting with research and drafting written submissions to government consultations and select committee inquiries;
- researching, forecasting and evaluating the effects of public policy on an organisation, using public sources, political intelligence and personal contacts;
- writing newsletters, briefings, campaign material and press releases;
- attending select committee hearings, party conferences and other events;
- establishing and maintaining two-way communication with relevant official bodies and stakeholders;
- maintaining regular contact, in person and in writing, with politicians, civil servants, and staff in local authorities and regulatory bodies to brief them on clients' work and concerns;
- responding to public policy threats and opportunities;
- maintaining relationships with existing stakeholders and developing new business;
- providing media management and other publicity activities;
- reviewing the effectiveness of previous activities and how the client is viewed by political and other stakeholders.
- Salaries for account executives typically range from £18,000 to £32,000.
- Account managers can expect to earn an average of £25,000 to £45,000, while salaries for account directors range from £35,000 to £55,000.
- Salaries at managing director level start at approximately £60,000 and may rise to over £100,000 in larger consultancies.
Salaries vary depending on the size and location of the consultancy and the types of client they work for. Additional benefits, such as medical insurance, may be offered.
Salaries for those working for charities, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), trade associations or in-house for a company may vary.
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
Working hours are usually fairly regular. However, flexibility is important as the work can be pressured - working to deadlines means you must put in as many hours as are needed to complete the task. During parliamentary recesses, working hours are more regular, except for the party conference season in September/October.
What to expect
- While the work of a junior account executive is largely office-based, it also involves some visits to clients and attendance at meetings, conferences and other events. More senior staff visit clients on a regular basis.
- Self-employment is possible after several years; some public affairs consultants use their experience and contacts to set up their own consultancies. Freelance work is another possibility.
- Most political consultancies are located in London or Brussels, with smaller numbers in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast.
- A smart appearance is essential when meeting clients and contacts.
- Travel within a working day is occasionally required but overnight absence from home is uncommon, except when attending party conferences.
- Overseas work is occasionally possible in Brussels, the heart of the European Union institutions, working for a European consultancy.
Although this area of work is open to all graduates, the following subjects may increase your chances:
- business or management;
- modern European languages;
- public relations;
- social policy.
Although many public affairs consultants have a degree in politics, experience in and around politics, together with personal qualities, are more important than your degree subject.
Entry with a HND only is unlikely due to the competitive nature of the profession, although those with political and campaigning experience may be successful.
Although a postgraduate qualification is not essential, some entrants do have a Masters degree, often in public affairs, politics or a related subject, for example:
- Brunel University - MSc in Public Affairs and Lobbying;
- Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen - MSc in Corporate Communication and Public Affairs;
- University of Sheffield - MA in Governance and Public Policy;
- Ulster University - MSc in Communication and Public Relations.
Some postgraduate degrees in PR include a government relations module.
You will need to have:
- a strong interest in, and enthusiasm for, politics, policy issues and current affairs;
- excellent research and communication (written and oral) skills;
- the ability to assimilate, analyse and summarise written material quickly;
- time management skills and the ability to work to tight deadlines;
- the ability to organise and prioritise your workload;
- interpersonal skills;
- the capacity to work on your own initiative and to relate well to colleagues, as well as clients and other contacts;
- teamworking skills;
- excellent listening skills, as well as the ability to take an impartial view;
- IT skills, as many information sources, such as Hansard, are online and you will often have to prepare documents and Powerpoint presentations for clients and potential clients;
- the ability to inspire trust and confidence in clients as they may be making commercially sensitive decisions, based in part on your advice, and will therefore need to trust your judgement and discretion;
- commercial awareness, in order to attract new business.
Pre-entry experience related to politics is essential in order to develop the necessary skillset and contacts. This experience is usually gained through:
- voluntary work or internships, such as working for an MP, peer or a member of another political institution. For vacancies see Working for an MP (W4MP);
- involvement with a political party, for example as a political party agent or activist, trade union, think tank or employers' organisation;
- involvement in student politics and/or holding office in a students' union;
- campaigning work for a charity or pressure group;
- large public affairs consultancies offering internships to undergraduates;
- a work placement (stage) within one of the European Union institutions.
Some public affairs consultancies offer internships to undergraduates lasting from a few weeks to 12 months. Opportunities are not always advertised so you are advised to apply speculatively using a well-thought through and targeted CV and cover letter.
It is vital to network as much as possible in order to establish and develop a relationship with decision-makers, influencers and those who lobby them. Attend debates, political seminars and receptions as well as party conferences to meet key contacts.
Competition for posts is fierce.
Advice and details of jobs for recent graduates can be found on the PubAffairs website.
Register with specialist recruitment agencies to gain access to advice, expertise and opportunities. Use consultancies' websites and general politics sites to keep yourself informed about public affairs generally. These sites may also carry job vacancies.
Public affairs consultants typically work either for a political consultancy, acting on behalf of a range of clients, or in-house for a charity, pressure group, private company, public sector body or professional/trade association. (In-house consultants may form part of a communications function/government relations department.)
It is also possible to work for a government agency or in local government.
Public affairs consultancies may be independent or part of a larger public relations (PR) or communications company. The Association of Professional Political Consultants (APPC) website provides links to their members, which range in size from sole traders to firms employing over 1,300 public affairs consultants.
Some consultancies specialise in particular areas, such as monitoring and intelligence gathering, while others provide a 'full service'. Similarly, some consultancies focus on particular industries, whereas others provide a generalist service.
The majority of consultancies are based in London or Brussels, although there are a significant number in Edinburgh and, to a lesser extent, Cardiff and Belfast.
Several of the larger PR agencies have a specialist public affairs or government relations division.
It is possible to work as a freelance public affairs consultant.
Look for job vacancies at:
- GraduateForward Job Board - vacancies for undergraduates, recent graduates and career movers into the public affairs and communications industry.
- PR Week
- PubAffairs Jobs Board
- Public Affairs News
- Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA) - PR jobs in London and the UK.
- Working for an MP (W4MP)
- National press.
Specialist recruitment agencies advertise vacancies on their websites. See the PubAffairs website for a list.
The majority of vacancies are advertised, but you are advised to make speculative applications to consultancies. Use the following information sources for contact details:
- Association of Professional Political Consultants (APPC)
- Dods People
- European Public Affairs Consultancies' Association (EPACA)
- Marketing Nation
- PubAffairs - the resource centre includes a list of lobbying and public affairs consultancies.
Many of the larger consultancies run a graduate programme lasting from three months to a year. Trainees are introduced to the main political processes and forms of communication used in politics and lobbying, and also gain exposure to the wider aspects of public relations and communications.
Training in forming and developing client relationships is also provided.
Training may include some in-house courses and some consultancies arrange work experience placements in outside organisations for their trainees.
Graduates are often expected to carry out research for more experienced colleagues, which provides the opportunity to develop skills and find out more about the different areas of work available.
In other organisations, training is largely on the job, learning from more experienced colleagues, usually supplemented by short, external courses covering topics such as public affairs management, parliamentary procedure and policy making.
Organisations offering these types of courses include:
- Dods Training - Westminster Explained - courses on the core skills for dealing with parliament, government and policymaking;
- Parli-training - offers professional training for those working in public affairs.
A Public Affairs Diploma, aimed at practitioners who want to develop their strategic public affairs and management skills in order to take on more senior roles is offered by the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR).
A number of employers also encourage their consultants to obtain the CIPR Diploma in Public Relations. This is because public affairs work is increasingly interconnected with more general aspects of PR, such as corporate communications and media work.
Further study at Masters level in areas such as public policy, public affairs and lobbying, corporate communication and European governance and politics is possible. Search for postgraduate courses in public policy.
For details of organisations providing Masters level study, events, training and professional courses see PubAffairs.
New entrants to a public affairs consultancy spend a large proportion of their time on research, monitoring and responding to requests for information.
However, face-to-face contact with clients will come quickly. Initially, this is through attending meetings, briefings and conferences alongside more senior staff, and will increase as your career develops.
Within consultancies, there is generally a clear structure and opportunities in place for career progression. A typical career path would be from account executive to account manager, heading up a small team within the consultancy and being responsible for a group of clients.
The next step may be to senior account manager or account director and then associate director, handling the consultancy's work for a range of clients, providing strategic advice and developing new business.
At higher levels, the ability to develop and win new business, as well as servicing existing clients, becomes increasingly important.
Consultants may move into in-house public affairs departments as public affairs managers or policy advisers. Some may move into full-time political roles, such as working for a political party or as an adviser. These moves may be permanent or may be used to further develop experience and contacts before returning to consultancy.
It is generally easier to start in a consultancy role and move into an in-house position, rather than vice versa, as consultancies are keen to employ staff with previous experience in a consultancy environment. In-house teams are generally smaller and you may need to move organisation in order to further your career.
However, you are likely to have more input into policy and communications strategy and more opportunity to specialise in a particular market and industry in an in-house role.