Table overlooking a beach and bungalows at dusk.

Prove your impact: speak like a local



An airy beach under a painted sky with palm trees swaying in the wind. You sit down for dinner and a couple sits down across from you. They don’t speak the local language; their server only speaks it. Three people talk past each other for five minutes. Sounds like what we experience in public affairs (PA).

We in PA spend a lot of time explaining what we do. Half the time our audience has no idea what we’re talking about. Some of the time that’s on us.

Public affairs professionals tend to speak about “reach:” How many people experienced an initiative. A digital advocacy campaign generated two million impressions, for example. But reach isn’t real.

Non-PA professionals think about PA in black or white terms. Two million impressions don’t matter if the organization didn’t motivate 50 critical people to take action.

In truth, we’re most concerned with that, too – with “impact,” what changed and the difference it made. We’ve got three good reasons to focus on impact:

  • Impact leads to better strategy. Focusing on tangible results encourages other functions to proactively partner with PA for strategic planning, resulting in a PA plan that better serves the entire organization and sharpening PA-specific strategies and tactics. It also helps other functions see PA as an equal partner, not one told later about big decisions.
  • Impact is measurable. Tangible results (eg: legislation introduced) make it easy to assess if PA’s plan did the job: It worked. Or it didn’t. If it didn’t, let’s figure out why not.
  • Impact is easier to explain. By using the same terms others functions use every day (financial value, for example), we’re giving them a language to understand what PA has accomplished.

Remember that couple who sat down for dinner? If they spoke the local language, they’d be having an off-the-menu favorite for dinner. Now imagine if PA spoke the local language when communicating value and impact. We’d similarly have more stakeholders giving us the inside track.

This article was originally published in the Public Affairs Council's September 2017 International Insider newsletter and on its website.