In the inaugural article of the Public Affairs column in PR INDONESIA Magazine, which was published in January 2018, I described the background of the birth of Public Affairs. The main reference is “Father of Modern Public Relations”, James E. Grunig. His theoretical framework after doing a dozen years of study is “Excellent Public Relations”. To date, it has served as a guideline for best practice despite nearly four decades having passed.

Grunig has also divided various Public Relations (PR) activities into four categories, namely: press agentry/publicity, public information, two-way asymmetry and two-way symmetry. The latter is the ideal according to Grunig. There is a symmetrical relationship and no party dominates, either the corporation or the public.

I will review about press agentry and public information. According to Grunig, the two forms caused CEOs in the United States to look for something more “serious”, so that public affairs was born in the 1970s. In the form of press agentry, public relations functions as the company’s “agent” for the press. Spread the word for propaganda by making good publications about the company. Often the news was not comprehensive. Polished or only partially correct. In this press agentry model, positive reporting is the most important thing.

The second model is public information. This model aims to convey information about the company appropriately to the public. The public relations officer in this model essentially performs the function of journalists in the company. Report the news as it is with no propaganda intent or influence opinion. Inhouse media is an example of this public information function.

Dalam tulisan ini, saya perlu mengulangi pokok-pokok pemikiran Grunig di atas sebab masih banyak yang bertanya mengenai apa itu public affairs? Apa bedanya dengan public relations? Apakah public affairs merupakan bagian dari public relations? Apakah public affairs identik dengan lobbying? Bukankah public affairs merupakan istilah lain dari government relations?

Questions like this are very common. Given that public affairs is a relatively new specialty in corporate communications. Within a few decades there have been changes in meaning as well as many meanings that do not become part or derivative of exact science. What’s more, all the questions above are not wrong because in their development, public affairs has covered the things being asked. Even now, its understanding has shifted to the direction I reviewed in the initial article above.

Everyone has their own opinion about various things that have no standard or definite formula such as public affairs. However, in order to provide objective and inaccurate answers to the questions above, of course we need a justifiable reference. My main reference as noted above is James E. Grunig. In particular, I’m referring to the book Managing Public Relations he wrote with Todd Hunt and published in 1984.

Returning to the similarities and differences between public relations and public affairs, I can conclude based on the experience at Kiroyan Partners that about 50 percent of the activities are the same. However, there are several things that are typical for public affairs companies, namely regarding public policy and the legal framework regarding certain economic sectors. So that an understanding of the system and the dynamics of macro politics is needed to make the analysis.

My previous two articles, “Raising Public Support for Infrastructure Development” (October 2019 Edition), and “Public Debate on Energy in the Realm of German Public Affairs” (November 2019 Edition) are common activities carried out by public affairs companies. In its implementation, it may include activities commonly carried out by Public Relations companies, such as media relations and event organizing.

Kiroyan Partners also carry out many activities, namely making stakeholder mapping and developing stakeholder management strategies for determining company policies and also to assisting foreign companies in understanding the ins and outs of doing business in Indonesia, including the legal framework for implementing activities in the industrial sector concerned. So in this case what we are doing is an activity that includes investment advisory.

The following is an excerpt from an article written in Reputation Today magazine on April 23, 2019 by an Indian woman who heads the Public Affairs, Communications & Engagement function at a multinational company, Mahathi Parashuram. Her position is in charge of Policy Advocacy, Internal and External Communication, Relations with Media and Social Media and Corporate Social Responsibility.

Closely related
She said, to assume the position of Public Affairs, Communications & Engagement, in addition to good communication skills, a good understanding of politics, issues related to public policy and current affairs, organizational skills, and crisis resolution is also needed. Mahathi stated that public affairs is a communication between an organization and all its stakeholders. The focus is on the contact between politics, business and society at large. Its function is to build long-term trust between the organizations represented and these stakeholders.

Related to the above, it is interesting that there is an article in the book Political Public Relations (Routledge 2011). The article says that in public affairs the term stakeholder is used more often than the public.

Furthermore, is public affairs part of public relations? There are those who argue that public affairs and public relations are part of a larger definition, namely Corporate Communications. James Grunig in 1984 even clearly called public affairs a special branch of public relations.

To me, right now it doesn’t matter what part of whom. But as I said before, about 50 percent of public affairs activity is synonymous with public relations. So there is a close relationship between the two even though these two meanings are not the same and congruent. Therefore, I will discuss this in more depth in a book which is planned to be published with PR INDONESIA in 2020.


Noke Kiroyan
Chairman & Chief Consultant, Kiroyan Partners

This article has been published in PR Indonesia magazine 57th Edition, issued on December 2019, page 50.


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