Public Affairs Careers: How and Where?

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    Nov 13, 2013
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Public Affairs Careers: How and Where? Photo by Tim Connolly

It’s a rather obvious irony that the public affairs industry hasn’t always done the best job of explaining itself in plain English to the public. It hasn’t always done the best job of explaining itself to those looking to begin public affairs careers either!

On this page you can take a look at some of the different kinds of options you have in seeking public affairs careers, where to find the jobs, and how to give yourself the best chance of doing so.

How hard is it to start public affairs careers in the UK?

There isn’t much information on how many people work in the public affairs industry, but in his excellent ‘Lobbying – the Art of Political Persuasion’, senior lobbyist and former Chairman of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations Lionel Zetter uses some judicious guesswork to arrive at the figure of 4,000-5,000.

This figure is derived from a 2005 study in which former lobbyist turned academic Karl Milner estimated that there were approximately 600-800 lobbyists working in the UK. Zetter argues there are now more than 1,000 people working in consultancies in the United Kingdom, and four to five times that many working ‘in-house’.

The Coalition Government’s 2012 consultation on regulating lobbying actually offers a much lower figure in its Impact Assessment, using the UK Public Affairs Council’s estimate of approximately 1,500 individuals being captured by its own lobbying register.

In fairness to the consultation, that figure isn’t positioned as an explicit total number of those in public affairs careers, but it is nonetheless the closest the Government’s consultation comes to offering a figure.

What are the entry routes for careers in public affairs?


Run correctly, internships offer an opportunity to gain valuable frontline experience in an extremely competitive environment. An intern in the right environment gains access to both new professional experiences and potential allies in her quest toward interviewing for paid public affairs jobs.

Many public affairs consultancies offer internships which pay a nominal sum, expenses, or a very modest salary. It is up to the individual to decide whether an internship is a valuable enough asset on their CV to make up for their likely greatly reduced earning potential during the internship.

Given they are working for very little pay, an intern should be very sure they are gaining good quality experience from their hard work and make a realistic assessment of the prospect of paid employment at their current place of work.

Members of both Houses of Parliament offer a great number of internships, though there has been a degree of controversy over the morality of elected members asking able young graduates with significant debt from their degrees to work for next to nothing.

Time working for an MP or a Member of the House of Lords is frequently valuable. Researchers are invariably extremely busy, and as a result some very interesting tasks will likely fall to an intern along with all the more routine tasks like drafting responses to constituent enquires and ad-hoc research and briefing tasks for meetings and events.

Recruitment consultancies

There are a few recruitment consultancies which specialise in public affairs. The majority of them, however, will be unlikely to have many positions at entry-level – but that certainly isn’t a reason to pick up the phone and look for the opportunity to send on a suitably well-crafted CV!

Entry level positions will occasionally come up however, and consultants themselves tend to be gregarious and well-informed about the industry they work in – excellent contacts for anyone serious about careers in public affairs.

Some of the consultancies who deal with a large volume of public affairs jobs are listed below:

    VMA Search & Selection
    Ellwood & Atfield
    Peter Childs
    Michael Page Policy
    JFL Search & Selection
    Birchwood Knight
    Clayton Desant
    Hanson Search

How much do lobbyists earn?

According to VMA Group’s 2012/13 survey of those working in public affairs jobs, the average basic salary for lobbyists in the United Kingdom is £61,920, with 13% of public affairs practitioners earning more than £100,000. The median salary band in the survey was the £41-£60k segment, which accounted for 26% of respondents.

Who do lobbyists work for?

Those in public affairs careers can work ‘in-house’, lobbying directly on behalf of the organisation that employs them, or on a ‘third party’ basis – providing support for an organisation on a commercial basis other than the one that employs them.

The VMA 2012/13 survey suggests that 27% of practitioners in public affairs jobs work for a commercial agency providing support to other organisations, while 52% of respondents had an in-house role, whether in the private or public sector.

The biggest single sector of employment for those working in public affairs jobs is trade/membership organisations. This isn’t surprising given that a central function of most industry bodies is to represent their members with Government.

Trade/Membership Organisation – 30%

Healthcare – 24%

Financial Services/Banking – 20%

Transport – 18%

Education – 17%

Have any questions you would like answered about the industry, or how to go about your search for a job? Let us know in the comments!

Author's Profile

Tim Connolly is a public affairs professional and the publisher of Public Affairs Jobs HQ, a magazine for people in public affairs and policy jobs with all the latest industry news and gossip

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