public affairsWho doesn’t know James Grunig? He is famous among academics and communication practitioners. Grunig’s 15 years of research resulted in the Excellence Theory in Public Relations. Until now, this theory has not been surpassed, both in terms of the span of the study and the breadth and scope. IT has become a reference for planned and structured communication practices in corporations and government agencies.

In describing the variety of public relations (PR) activities, Grunig and Todd Hunt in a book entitled “Managing Public Relations”, published in 1984, classified PR into four categories: Press Agent/Publicity, Public Information Model, Two-Way Asymmetry Model and Two-Way Symmetrical Model. This two-way symmetrical communication is the essence of Excellent Theory in Public Relations. Symmetry in this case is an equal relationship between the parties, no one dominates.

In the book Managing Public Relations, Grunig and Hunt discuss public affairs in a special chapter. It is said that in the 1970s, many company leaders changed the name of corporate communications activities from PR to public affairs. The reason for this was due to the dissatisfaction with PR practices, which at that time only prioritized publicity and media relations aspects. The change from PR to public affairs is in line with the shift in orientation from the press agentry/publicity or public information model, to a two-way symmetric approach in achieving company goals.

In more than 30 years since Grunig and Hunt’s books were published, public affairs has continued to grow. There are also a growing number of reference books on public affairs. According to the author, the most comprehensive and up-to-date book is the SAGE Handbook of International Corporate and Public Affairs (Phil Harris and Craig S. Fleisher – 2017). This book explains the concept of public affairs that has become mainstream today.

Duane Windsor, a professor who has written extensively on business ethics, said that the function of public affairs is as a means of connecting communities, corporate communication and public relations, corporate philanthropy, image and reputation management, media relations, and stakeholder engagement. In the SAGE Handbook of International Corporate and Public Affairs, the definition of public affairs is the link between government relations, issues management, social and corporate responsibility, media communication, political education, and strategic communication.

A professor of management, John Mahon once said that public affairs is corporate functions relating to non-market fields. It is in this arena that the social license to operate or the support of stakeholders outside the licensing stipulated in legislation is at stake. This requires expertise in analyzing issues and working together and forming coalitions with stakeholders.

The Context of Stakeholder Management and Corporate Communications

This concept is in line with what I developed through Kiroyan Partners. That communication is part of the company’s stakeholder engagement. In it there are various functions, such as public affairs, investor relations, community relations, influencer relations, and so on according to the company needs, size, and industry characteristics.

Corporate communication does not take place in a vacuum. There are many factors affecting the activities being communicated. For example, legislation on labor will be related to employee relations. Public affairs intersects with all external factors. From local issues, specific issues for certain industries, economic dynamics and socio-political dynamics. Therefore, it is necessary to have a social, political and cultural understanding in the implementation of public affairs.

In line with the growth of democracy in Indonesia and the increasing role of social/non-market aspects, corporate communication should begin to expand its practice from being limited to press agentry and public information. Corporations need to adopt two-way communication with a public affairs perspective based on stakeholder engagement and issue management as stated by Grunig and Hunt in 1984.


Noke Kiroyan
Chairman & Chief Consultant, Kiroyan Partners

This article has been published in PR Indonesia magazine 34th edition, issued on January 2018, page 34.


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