Public Affairs: An Unexpected Career Path
Written by: Lenze Morris
When people used to ask me what I wanted to do after college, I would usually give a broad answer and say, “I want to work as a communications professional, but in a political capacity or for an elected official.” I didn’t know how to explain a clear and relatable job title, but I knew what interested me. I wanted to pioneer a career path that combined communications and policy.
Little did I know, my ideal career path already had a name – public affairs.
My passions for history, politics and policy, and a genuine fascination with communications strategy led me to my public affairs internship at PERITUS public relations. I quickly found that public affairs is a unique and rewarding career option based on my interests, and so many students like me don’t even know that it exists.
As my mentor during this internship and the Peritus Director of Public Affairs Mary Elizabeth Roberson put it, “You don’t have to be an SGA president or political junkie to enjoy a public affairs career. If you are a self-starter and love analyzing both sides of an issue, and if you are interested in making an impact and serving as a relationship builder, then public affairs may be a career path for you to consider."
According to PR Daily, public affairs deals with matters that concern the public directly. This can include community issues, policy or grassroots advocacy initiatives. Public relations, however, focuses on a company’s relationship with the public through branded campaigns and earned media. Public affairs and public relations tactics routinely overlap, even though target audiences and goals may differ.
One thing I have learned is there is no typical day working in public affairs—you are constantly problem-solving and pivoting strategy. Recently, I’ve helped with a project promoting Alabama-made products and the importance of local manufacturing. A workday supporting this issue may include securing an op-ed in a local publication, garnering letters of support to influence policy, identifying local events for our spokesperson or meeting with a local business leader to recruit their support and explore opportunities for them to advocate on behalf of manufacturing.
My public affairs internship at Peritus has helped solidify my career path, and has taught me the skillsets needed to continue this journey. Although I am majoring in public relations at Auburn University, my education in communications, paired with my internship experience in public affairs, has made my dream career tangible.
With my recent experience, I wanted to share a few things through PUBLISHED by Peritus PR that I have learned along the way:
It is imperative to build a broad network of diverse, influential contacts. These people can help support your cause down the road through grassroots advocacy or coalition building.
Social media isn’t limited to public relations. You can use social media to directly engage with the public on your advocacy issue.
Always think ahead about opportunities to amplify coverage to extend your reach and ensure the public is informed issues.
Now that you know more about public affairs, you may be wondering how you can work in this wonderfully-blended world of communications and policy, as well.
For those of you who are students, branch out and take some political science or public policy classes. These classes will give you an edge when utilizing your communications and policy skillsets.
If you’re looking for hands-on advocacy experience, a good place to start is with local non-profit organizations or local political campaigns. Reach out to them and offer your communications skillset to influence change in their communities. In doing this, you will gain valuable experience in grassroots outreach, political communications and how to garner local support for issues impacting your community.
As I approach my senior year, I am both overwhelmed and excited for the future and starting a new chapter. I may not know exactly where my experiences will lead me, but I can confidently say it will be in the unexpected career path of public affairs.