Is P.R. the Pink Lady and government relations the Granny Smith?

“National, state and local government impacts all of us in many ways. By pursuing and landing a job in the fast-paced government communications and advo­cacy world, you can help people and their respective organizations see the value in working with the government. Personally, you can develop lasting relationships with elected representatives and their staffs while also promoting causes for which you are passionate” [1]
—– Mike Fulton

Government relations and public affairs seems to be held in this limbo between respected profession and unethical manipulation. Public relations, as its umbrella title, mentions very little of lobbying and advocacy during theory teachings and journals. And due to its birth from public relations and the general rhetoric method behind lobbying and advocacy, government relations takes equally as much flack regarding unethical and arguably unlawful methods of communication.

An Australian government relations organisation, GRACosway , portrays an image of refinement and professionalism, proving that for a government relations professional, one must maintain and display ones image in order to successfully obtain and maintain clientele and relationships with said clientele. GRACosway highlight that the methods of public affairs and/or government relations that they undertake are separated into two categories: Public Affairs and Corporate & Financial Communications. Why are these to specific areas of government relations so important and valuable to a seemingly proud and powerful organisation? And why isn’t public relations not mentioned as a skill employees are well versed in?

Offical logo for GRACosway



Apple Love 80/365


Understandably these questions may seem like comparing a Pink Lady apple and a Granny Smith apple – there isn’t really much different and we all don’t care that much. However, it appears that the term ‘public relations’ is rarely coined in the same vicinity as a government relations, public affairs, lobbying and advocacy, because it generates those images of deceit and manipulation. Disappointingly, there will be organisations who do not incorporate ethical strategies and tactics into their daily tasks, however this appears largely to be the 1%. What needs to happen now is that public relations professionals of all specialities (media relations, government relations, integrated marketing communication etc) work together to eradicate the unethical decisions of their predecessors and instead gradually retain the powerful, rhetoric value of public relations and its specialities. This allows public relations in all its forms to deviate away from famous cases of representing tobacco companies, to representing empowering not-for-profits and ensuring that government relations becomes a useful, dynamic relationship building strategy for both business and civil sectors, instead of an arduous task (like taxes). ‘The connection between lobbying and public relations emerges in the service of advocacy and the ethics associated with such work’ [2] and it is through this valuable relationship between the basics of public relations and advocacy that we see the importance in defining the cores of such skills and lobbying and government relations. We must, at the risk of sounding corny, look to our ancestors and the lessons learnt by experts that came before us and when this is not recognised, the same mistakes are made and the same loss of reputation and relationships can occur.

Ruth Edgett devised ‘Ten Criteria for Ethically Desirable Advocacy [3]:

    1. Evaluation  — ‘this is detached, or objective, evaluation of the issue–client–organization before determining whether it merits public relations advocacy’
    2. Priority — “the interests of the client or organization are valued above those of others involved in the public debate’
    3. Sensitivity — ‘the balancing of client priority on the one hand, with social responsibility on the other’
    4. Confidentiality — ‘the protection of the client’s or organization’s rights to confidentiality and secrecy on matters in which secrets are morally justified’
    5. Veracity — ‘full truthfulness in all matters’
    6. Reversibility — ‘if the situation were reversed, the advocate–client–organization would be satisfied that it had sufficient information to make an informed decision’
    7. Validity — ‘communications on behalf of the client or organization are defensible against attacks on their validity’
    8. Visibility — ‘clear identification of all communications on behalf of the client or organization as originating from that source’
    9. Respect — ‘regard for audiences as autonomous individuals with rights to make informed choices and to have informed participation in decisions that affect them’
    10. Consent — ‘communication on behalf of the client or organization is carried out only under conditions to which it can be assumed all parties consent’ [4]

This list provides a simultaneously simple and in-depth perspective on how logical public relations and its specialities are, and yet here we are with a tarnished reputation and levels of embarrassment within public relations organisations. It arguably seems so clear and obvious to follow these ten criteria to ethically desirable advocacy and even just plain old public relations but here we stand, with professionals who lie, manipulate and go against the best interests of themselves, their clients and their organisations, in search of an unethical, destructive future.

Through developing and strengthening ones own ethical skills and ensuring that ethics is incorporated into each daily activity, will ensure a strong and reliable reputation both publicly and privately. Great ethics and therefore great reputation will then ensue an active participation in such areas as government relations and public affairs, as both the business and civil sectors will see a successful outcome in building and maintaining strong relationships within the government.

There evidently, is no greater feeling that giving back to the community to build a stronger, healthier and happier environment. By building mutually beneficial relationships for your clients within the 3 sectors (government, business and civil) will provide long-term results in support, awareness and a growth in activism.



1. Fulton, M 2016, ‘Government Service’, Public Relations Tactics,
vol. 23, no. 5, p. 17
2. Berg, KT 2012, ‘The ethics of lobbying: testing an ethical framework for advocacy in public relations’, Journal of Mass Media Ethics, no. 2, p. 97.
3. Edgett, R. (2002) ‘Toward an ethical framework for advocacy in public relations’, Journal of Public Relations Research, 14(1), pp. 1–26. doi: 10.1207/s1532754xjprr1401_1.
4. Edgett, R. (2002) ‘Toward an ethical framework for advocacy in public relations’, Journal of Public Relations Research, 14(1), pp. 1–26. doi: 10.1207/s1532754xjprr1401_1.


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