Public Affairs is the communications discipline that most easily gets away with being unstrategic: frequently (not always, clearly) it can be executed without being linked to clear business objectives and a corresponding, measurable plan of execution.
The amount of detail often inherent in issues managed by PA pros is far greater than it is in any other communications discipline. Simply being on top of it and understanding which issues and stakeholders matter and doing something about them, however spurious, can be seen as doing enough. Even when there is no way of truly demonstrating outcomes that benefit the organization’s bottom line.
PA is often not expected to be as measurable as other disciplines, certainly in terms of true outcomes. This is largely because the ultimate outcome – impact on policy – is governed by so many external factors beyond a PA professional’s control. They are therefore often not held accountable for failure, certainly not compared to say a marketer, who is held entirely accountable if a hike in activity has not resulted in an increase in sales.
Many PA professionals have little to no experience of strategic communications, and operate in a space in which deep knowledge of policy and relationships are often seen as more important. Granted, both remain essential, but increasingly, influence has to be built up beyond the corridors of power and broadsheet media, and to do so, PA needs to adopt the staples of strategic communications (research, strategic planning, measurement and so forth). However, given that they view themselves as political beasts, not communicators, a number of PA pros are reluctant to do so.
The PA function often remains under-resourced, largely because it is frequently seen as a cost by the people who control the purse strings. Small PA teams thus too often spend their time doing the basics, or fire-fighting, rather than planning for the future.