The four ‘must haves’ in any Public Affairs plan

As many Public Affairs professionals will know, the PA department can have many different tasks to handle, some which may not even be core for a PA function. This depends of course on the organization, the raison d’être for the PA function and how many people will be working to execute the tasks. However, every good PA department starts with a plan - and in this extract from his book “The Public Affairs Engine” Ulobby CEO Anders Kopp Jensen gives his 2 cents on the four essential parts of such a PA-plan:

Target audience analysis

The target audience analysis includes two well-known steps for most PA professionals: stakeholder mapping and stakeholder analysis.These terms are perhaps the most known, but also the most arbitrary. They can be conducted in various ways and manners. For starters, at this point, if you have followed the steps in this guide so far, it should be fairly easy to get the stakeholder mapping underway. But it is also fair to say that this step is often neglected as it might seem simple or obvious – and perhaps even a waste of time – to spend time on this. This is unfortunately also why it is too often delegated to interns or junior consultants. But many develop blind spots working for long periods in a particular area. You risk losing the movers and new influencers if you always or only go to the most obvious or the usual suspects.

But firstly, you need to map the stakeholders of the organization on an overall level. If your organization is global, this can seem like a very large task to perform. But besides providing the organization with an overall oversight of all relevant stakeholders, as a side effect, it will also make the rest of the organization think about the relevance of who is important and why. Then, you can go into the specific issues and do the same exercise. You will probably experience that some of the stakeholders are the same, which is normal, but it is still very important to have both the overall overview as well as the specific stakeholder overview on an issue.

Often the most common practice is to collect all stakeholders into a software system or Excel spreadsheet and then arrange them in order of importance (tier 1, tier 2, tier 3, etc.). However, this can be quite overwhelming, which is why it is becoming more common to use software for this, both for gathering and for maintenance (more about this in chapter 4). And remember the information you gather needs to be GDPR compliant, which basically means you can only use information collected from public sources. The importance of this exercise is to identify all the stakeholders and, once you have them in place, they should be prioritized according to influence.

At the same time, it is critical to gain an understanding of how the stakeholders are situated on your issues. Technology will automate much of this work (more about this later in the chapter), but also ensure a more thorough process than you could expect from a quick Google search.

The next step is to gain an understanding of the position of your stakeholders. For this exercise we could use the classical subdivision and placement in accordance with influence and attitude.Once this is performed, usually a pattern appears and reveals how these stakeholders should be addressed. The matrix can then be used to label groups with different stakeholder management strategies. This is of course a simple form of labelling, but it often helps to break the stakeholder landscape into actionable and more approachable bites.

This exercise should be performed on all issues that the PA team is responsible for. This can seem like a lot of work, but again remember that the PA organization should not chase all issues with the same intensity, as mentioned in chapter 2, at the same time. But performing this exercise also has the side effect of showing the PA team the overall stakeholder attitudes and can, on an aggregated level, also be used to obtain an overview of the waters the entire organization is navigating and how the environment understands these issues. It provides members of the PA team and often also other departments with a clear view of how the outside world perceives the issues of the organization.

But the mapping is only one part of the target audience analysis. So, before you begin planning your outreach to the stakeholders you want to move in the matrix, you need – as the second step – to understand more about what these stakeholders are moved by and identify the common denominator with your issues as well as what I usually describe as the “zeitgeist” in society as a whole. In short, you need to identify the drivers which you can utilize to boost your own agenda.

The zeitgeist drivers can be defined as issues dominating the public agenda and the political environment. These are usually subjects of importance to society, such as e.g. climate change, the education system, transport mobility or perhaps health in specific areas. The common denominator for these issues is that they circle around a societal problem, which – resolved or unresolved – will affect future generations. Good stakeholder management is about reading your stakeholders’ interests and making your own issues relevant by reflecting the zeitgeist. For example, an interviewee in the 500PAC portrayed it as, “We know many MEPs are very concerned by climate change, and even though we as a company are in a different space, we try to take a progressive stand on the issue of climate, of course because we mean it, but also because it makes us relevant and it signals responsibility which is good not only externally but also internally”. From a business perspective, this extra level of responsibility towards society or the local community is thus used as a competitive tool to improve the reputation of the organization and gain legitimacy.

Moving in accordance with the zeitgeist can be linked to institutional theory and how actors seek to increase their legitimacy as it helps them survive during periods of uncertainty. As Michael Hadani highlights, companies in more politically turbulent environments might “perceive a legitimizing need to do so themselves as a way to manage their image vis-à-vis the government”.

Ideally, you should conduct this analysis on each of the stakeholders. This can become a very comprehensive task if you have many issues or if your PA team consists of you alone. But it can turn out to be the difference between success and failure, and even if it doesn’t you will still be much better pre- pared to notice if something changes in this triangle which may then turn into a possible gamechanger. As a minimum you should perform this exercise on the most highly prioritized issues.

After this it is important to include the entire organization in the stakeholder management. More on this later.

Issue scenario-building

So now you know your issues, the stakeholders and their position and you have identified the drivers in the public agenda. But an important next step is of course to identify the different scenarios on your particular issues. Most companies in the survey had between 4-8 issues (median of 5), but everyone should know that you will not succeed in the way you desire on all issues. The most likely outcome – like many things in life – is that you compromise or seek out the minimum acceptable solution in the political environment you are facing. Thus, the experienced PA professionals know that politics require pragmatism and a “best possible solution” approach.

Before PA professionals begin to reach out, assess and describe the following template.

Experienced PA professionals approach this by defining each step and also the barriers and enablers between them. Much depends on how the legislative process proceeds and how you can stimulate (push or slow/break) the progress.

This is important for two reasons: 1) this creates an overview and makes it actionable, and 2) it also functions as an expectation management step internally to make sure the PA efforts are not only measured in a binary dichotomy between best case or not.

In the plan, the PA professional must describe the different issue scenarios and also how to handle smaller changes in the political environment as well as larger incidents such as elections. As William Oberman (2017) stresses, this should also include reflections regarding at what level the issues are based. In other words the “venue”, as in local, state, national or supranational, and “branch”, as in legislative, executive, judicial, as well as the specific “unit”, as in committee, agency, etc., of government in which public policy is formulated or acted upon. Remember to draw a distinction between horizontal (venues at same level of government) and vertical focus areas (multiple possible levels). There are differences and you want to make sure that you “attack” the right level and don’t waste your time!


We touched upon this in chapter 2, but focused more on the organization as a whole and the environment it finds itself in. This exercise in particular is more focused on each of the specific issues the organization has defined as priorities. But the overall position of the organization of course still plays a pivotal role in defining a position on each of the issues. So if you are pre-dominantly a producer of toys, but also have indirect issues related to, for example, the climate debate, you should consider these factors. The important factor is of course to behave in a consistent and credible way.

Which role you take on the different issues depends on the political situation of the specific issue and obviously the market situation. Inspired by Collins and Butler, five typical roles can be depicted in the following way:


A notoriously either under- or overvalued part of a PA campaign is messaging. Messaging and positioning are of course interdependent and what good does a great PA strategy do you if your messaging and communication is completely off? Developing a well-thought-through message platform for all your issues is surprisingly undervalued compared to other more classical PA activities such as events or network costs, while overvalued in terms of the time spent and importance placed on commenting on everything taking place in society and SoMe. However, overall messaging is very important and this will only increase in the coming years as the amount of “noise” in media or SoMe increases and everybody is fighting to get attention.

The framework for your messaging should reflect your position(s) which we just covered. If you are a challenger your messaging can, of course, be far more bold or aggressive, and you can take on the role as the new guy in class. However, if you are the market leader you often have to take more factors into consideration before you launch new campaigns, and frequently also have to be very careful to follow the public agenda.

So where do you start? For each of the issues you know the priorities, the scenarios you face as well as the position you will take. Going back to the framework for information exchange you need to set up a process which provides you the information you need from your own organization as well as calibrate this with what is going on in the outside world.

Again, remember the framework from chapter 2 on one of the important functions of the Public Affairs department.

When involving internal colleagues to provide input for the messaging, remember that politicians don’t care about all the detailed merits of your product or how you are the best company in your space. They want to know what you do about the issues they are interested in.

To avoid these mistakes, PA needs to set up the right process for obtaining feedback as your colleagues outside of the PA department can be a great source of inspiration for ideas and insights. In this part a three-step approach can be applied:

1. Form an advocacy group:

First, it is crucial to establish a form and advocacy group and formalize meeting rhythms. The key is to identify the “strategic” stakeholders and experts inside your organization to create ambassadors and the right commitment.

2. Set up monitoring:

Secondly, you need to have some routines in place for obtaining new views and insights on the topics relevant to the organization. This can be achieved through, for example, using digital tools for social listening.

3. Set up meeting frequency:  

Often these steps are ignored, as inviting numerous internal colleagues from different departments (and time zones) will delay the process and make it more bureaucratic each time a comma is changed and it needs to be resent for approval. However, besides being important for making your messaging sharper, it also makes them aware of what is going on, and thereby increases the chance of them supporting the messages and activities in their work.

Once you have the messaging in place, you can then convert it into tactical slices, or perhaps a message house like the one included as an example. Before you fill it out remember three principles for doing so:

  1. “The medium is the message”:

The old saying that the medium is the message is perhaps truer in advertising than PA, but nonetheless it is very important not just to uncritically push your messaging out into every possible channel. Banner ads all over the news sites can be counter- productive. Don’t let marketing or communications control the execution phase alone.

  1. Don’t “foie gras stuff” your messaging:

Simply don’t try to force your messages onto your target group all the time. Any politician knows that repetition changes behavior but still it is a balance, and if you keep cramming your message down their throats their sympathies will most likely change and you might come across as bullying or overtly aggressive.

  1. Don’t yell or sensationalize:

In comedy, sometimes, it helps to yell. So, for some comedians, the louder they yell, the funnier they seem. But this approach cannot be replicated by PA. The same goes for sensationalizing your arguments or case. This is just not credible, and politicians are smarter than that. This does not mean you cannot be bold or even aggressive at times, if needed, but think it through – and still don’t yell or sensationalize things.

Also, remember to make a distinction between your messaging towards the issue or the group you are trying to influence in some direction. Sometimes it is more effective to go after one or the other, e.g. if a certain group or actor is dominating the issue-setting, then it can make more sense to attack them instead of the issue.

Message houses come in many sizes and colors and some might perceive them as outdated. But the most important thing about them is essentially that you do the exercise as it forces you and your team to think and discuss the messaging through and afterwards you will have a structure on how you communicate.

Share this article

Try Ulobby today

The Ulobby platform provides all the tools needed for managing issues and stakeholders and for measuring and evaluating impact.

Get started