Public affairs consultants use their understanding of politics and communications to offer policy advice to clients
As a public affairs consultant, you'll draw on your understanding of the political system to offer political and public policy advice to your clients. Clients may include private sector companies, trade associations, charities, not-for-profit organisations and overseas governments.
Keeping abreast of political developments and sourcing key information from personal contacts, a range of media sources and political intelligence and monitoring are key aspects of the job.
You'll also identify key stakeholders in the decision-making process at European, national, regional and local government levels. You'll work to maintain relationships with these individuals and to assist your clients to promote and protect their interests effectively.
Public affairs consultants are often referred to as lobbyists, but their work is more wide-ranging.
Types of public affairs consultancy work
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 you'll spend on different activities will vary according to the type of employer (such as consultancy, or in-house organisation) you work for and your level of experience. For example, consultancies do very little lobbying, whereas others describe themselves as lobbyists.
At entry level, you'll 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.
As a public affairs consultant, you'll need to:
- monitor proceedings and provide 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
- read parliamentary publications and printed transcripts, such as Hansard, and monitor other activities such as debates, questions, committee enquiries, statements, reports, regulations and legislation
- assist with research and draft written submissions to government consultations and select committee inquiries
- research, forecast and evaluate the effects of public policy on an organisation using public sources, political intelligence and personal contacts
- write newsletters, briefings, campaign material and press releases
- attend select committee hearings, party conferences and other events
- establish and maintain two-way communication with relevant official bodies and stakeholders
- maintain 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
- respond to public policy threats and opportunities
- maintain relationships with existing stakeholders and develop new business
- provide media management and other publicity activities
- review the effectiveness of previous activities, and how the client is viewed by political and other stakeholders.
- Salaries for newly graduated public affairs officers (account executives) typically range from £18,000 to £25,000.
- As a public affairs consultant (account manager), you can expect to earn between £25,000 and £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, your working hours are typically 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. You may be able to use your experience and contacts to set up your own consultancy or undertake freelance work.
- Most political consultancies are located in London or Brussels, although there are a significant number in Edinburgh and, to a lesser extent, Cardiff and Belfast.
- A smart appearance is essential when meeting clients and contacts.
Although this area of work is open to all graduates, the following subjects may increase your chances:
- modern European languages
- public relations
- social policy business or management.
Although many public affairs consultants have a degree in politics, experience in and around politics and communications, 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 isn't essential, some entrants have a Masters degree in a subject related to politics or public affairs.
You'll 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. You'll 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.
Competition for posts is fierce and you'll need experience related to politics 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, MSP or MEP, peer or a member of another political institution (see Working for an MP (W4MP) jobs for vacancies)
- an undergraduate internship with a public affairs consultancy
- 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
- a work placement (stage) within one of the European Union institutions.
It's vital to network as much as possible in order to establish and develop a relationship with decision-makers, influencers and those who lobby them. Try to attend debates, political seminars and receptions as well as party conferences to meet key contacts and make use of the membership lists held by professional bodies.
Specialist recruitment agencies may be able to provide some advice about getting into this role and you can search the websites of consultancies to keep up-to-date with any developments within public affairs in general.
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. You can also work for a government agency or in local government.
Public affairs consultancies may be independent or part of a larger PR or communications company. For a list of professional political practitioners, ranging from sole traders to large firms, see the Public Affairs Register.
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.
Several of the larger PR agencies have a specialist public affairs or government relations division.
With experience, it's 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 Jobs
- PubAffairs Jobs Board
- W4MP Jobs
Specialist recruitment agencies such as Hanson Search advertise vacancies on their websites.
Consider making speculative applications to consultancies. Contact details for lobbying and public affairs consultancies are available from:
- Public Affairs Register
- European Public Affairs Consultancies' Association (EPACA)
- DODS People
- PubAffairs Resource Centre
Many of the larger political 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.
As a graduate, you'll usually be expected to carry out research for more experienced colleagues, which gives you 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 - courses on the core skills for dealing with parliament, government and policymaking
- Parli-training - 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).
Further study at Masters level in areas such as public policy, public affairs and lobbying, corporate communication and European governance and politics is also possible.
Joining a professional body such as PRCA (Public Relations and Communications Association) provides various membership benefits, including information and resources, training and networking.
To begin with, you’ll spend a large proportion of your time on research, monitoring and responding to requests for information, but will soon start to have face-to-face contact with clients. Initially, you’ll attend meetings, briefings and conferences alongside more senior staff while you gain experience.
Consultancies generally have a clear structure and opportunities in place for career progression. A typical career path is 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.
Moving into an in-house public affairs department as a public affairs manager or policy adviser is possible. 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's 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're 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.