A recent survey revealed that Washington insiders expect quicker growth in spending on “public affairs”—digital, grassroots/grasstops, and public/media relations—than on traditional government relations—which include direct lobbying, advocacy advertising, and political contributions—for the second year in a row in 2017.
A separate study revealed the federal government employed over 3,000 public affairs officers spread across over 200 federal agencies and offices in 2014. Based on these data, the U.S. government has essentially been the world’s second largest public relations firm for some time now. Rasky Baerlein’s October 2016 survey of 202 Washington lawyers, lobbyists, executives, think tank leaders, and academics indicates that Washington Insiders are realizing the benefits of such intensive PR work.
The digital sphere of public affairs is expected to grow more than any other. As we are learning from the recent presidential election, the digital realm is fertile ground for generating new pathways of connection between the public and the government or its representatives. EagleAi, an artificial intelligence program developed for British news media, predicted Donald Trump’s surprise election victory even where other experts failed to do so and attributed his win to his frequent mass communication over Twitter, a popular social media platform that allows for reaching large groups of people. It therefore comes as no surprise that over 40 percent of Washington Insiders indicate that they will reallocate their public affairs spending away from traditional, non-digital realms to fund digital advocacy in 2017.
“There is an increased demand for integrated public affairs programs that incorporate traditional government relations along with public relations, grassroots and digital components,” Larry Rasky, Rasky Baerlein’s chairman and CEO, explained in a press release. “These findings are an important barometer as Washington readies itself for post-election activity and 2017.”
Beyond next year, digital technology, social media, and grassroots efforts are expected to continue to grow for the next half-decade as policy influencers will work harder to sway public opinion by reaching out to audiences outside of lawmakers and government officials.
“Washington insiders are adapting to a new public affairs environment,” noted Greg Schneiders, founder and CEO of Prime Group. “It should not be a surprise that they are reallocating resources to achieve their public policy objectives.”
Despite these expected growth trends, however, traditional government relations remain the most cost-effective way to lobby for changes to public policy on a federal level, at least for the time being. Insiders note that the cost-effectiveness of such efforts has decreased from 85 percent to 74 percent over the course of this year. Nevertheless, they expect the importance of advocacy advertising to rise by 8 percent in the coming year even as they spend more on public affairs efforts.
Whether through public affairs or government relations efforts, 40 percent of insiders expressed belief that Congress will take action on infrastructure legislation in 2017. Just 22 percent believed there will be a resolution to Merrick Garland’s Supreme Court nomination—though we now know he will not be confirmed—and only 8 percent anticipate any action on tax reform.