PR Basics: What is Government Relations in Public Relations?

By Promo Panda Staff

Opening a communication channel 

Here on the site, we’ve talked a lot about the nature of public relations and the most common reasons to utilize public relations services. 

Perhaps one of the most straightforward ways we could PR is to say that it’s about opening and altering communication channels that might not have been there before. 

A new company wants to get in touch with men and women between ages 24 and 35, so they launch a PR campaign that speaks directly to this group so that they will be aware of the company’s offerings. 

When we ask ourselves, ‘What is government relations in public relations?’ we can very easily make connections to different areas of the PR industry. 

Governments relations are really just an extension of standard PR that happens to focus on government representatives and other types of government employees. 

But this central question gives us the perfect chance to talk about government relations in PR: how it works, who needs it, and why it’s important.  

We’ll start by defining the term lobbyist. 

What is a lobbyist? 

There’s no doubt you’ve heard the term ‘lobbyist’ before, but what does it really mean and how do lobbyists function within the context of government relations PR? 

In the most basic sense, a lobbyist is an individual who represents the interests of a larger organization, company, or group of people and works to influence government officials in order to create conditions that will benefit the group they represent.

What is a lobbyist?

Some of the most well-known lobbyists represent large corporations and try to make sure that new government policies won’t negatively impact the group they represent. 

Lobbying is completely legal in the United States and there is nothing inherently unethical about working as a lobbyist. 

However, there have indeed been instances of lobbyists offering lavish gifts to government representatives, most likely with the intention of winning the favor of that representative. 

Quite a few government representatives in the United States have been caught accepting multiple gifts that can be valued at tens of thousands of dollars, and the general public, rightfully so, has been skeptical about the ethics of these very common practices. 

Does the possibility of corruption mean that lobbying should be made illegal? Well, it’s a matter of opinion, but we don’t think so. Above-board lobbying can still be achieved. 

In fact, as we’ll soon discuss, large for-profit companies aren’t the only groups sending lobbyists to the capital. 

What companies require government relations PR?

Now let’s talk about what kinds of privately-held companies tend to require government relations PR. 

Some of the most obvious examples include major multinational corporations. In particular, a large soft drink manufacturer would have a vested interest in preventing new legislation that would increase taxes on the purchase of sugary soft drinks. 

Another type of company that might require substantial government relations efforts would be one that utilizes a fairly new type of excavation to obtain natural resources. 

This was precisely the case with fracking companies several years ago. Fracking businesses had found an incredibly profitable system all their own, but local and national governments posed a threat to their business model as the general public voiced growing concerns about the impact of fracking on the environment. 

Lobbyists representing fracking companies needed to be in close contact with lawmakers, not necessarily to influence the formation of policy but to be part of the conversation surrounding the issue.

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Company leadership recognized the threat to their business and knew that they needed to make use of government relations PR. This type of PR has no doubt had an impact on attempts to outlaw or limit this specific type of excavation. 

What other groups can benefit from government relations PR? 

But privately-held companies and corporations aren’t the only ones who need to think about government relations PR, and that’s because companies aren’t the only groups who need to worry about how new legislation will affect them. 

For example, non-profit organizations and charities need to have robust government relations PR branches as part of their overall PR strategy, especially if an organization depends on government funding to keep the doors open. 

This is just one of the reasons why the lead-up to a new federal budget is always a huge news item. 

There are so many groups who want the federal budget to look one way or another so that their group will benefit in some way. 

Each of these groups has to depend on government-centric PR in order to have a say. Public outcry can certainly play a role as well, but in many cases, these outcries are actually just part of a larger PR strategy. 

This is all to say that just about every group, whether organized or not, can benefit from government relations PR in some way. 

Ethical considerations

This is a subject that we touched on earlier, but it’s an important subject nonetheless. Ethical considerations are an incredibly important concept when looking at government relations PR.

While government-related PR certainly was never intended to be an important aspect of representative government, it is an important part of the process regardless.

Ethical considerations

This is especially crucial for anyone out there hoping to become a PR professional. If you find yourself in a situation where you can communicate directly with a government representative in the name of a company or a large group of people, then you need to know where your ethics stand and how you want to proceed. 

You get to decide whether specific tactics feel unethical and whether you want to do anything about changing how things are done. 

Discussing the specifics of ethics in PR is certainly beyond the scope of this site, but even when explaining the basics of government PR, the subject still needs to be introduced. 

If you’re interested in the idea of government PR and how it has changed over the years, we strongly encourage you to do some additional reading on the subject to gain a more complete understanding.