The professions of public and political communication – episode #24


The mini trade fairs of the Communication We Are COM X ISCOM, present the daily life of communicators: their challenges and their successes. 🤓 Let's go for an overview of the public and political communication sectors.

Expert opinion

From the side advertiser, we receive John David Nahon, Head of public and parliamentary affairs for the SNCF Group. While on the side agency is Frederic Fougerat, President of Tenkan Paris and Co-founder of the DirCOM collective Les Cogiteurs, who will discuss his daily life as a communicator.

Hello John-David, what is your definition of public affairs? 

John David Nahon : Public affairs correspond to a communication particular, whose public is the public sphere, that is to say the political and administrative representatives. In effect, the purpose of public affairs is to influence the law and therefore those who make it. We also talk about lobbying, a term that has a bad reputation. However, everyone practices lobbying, businesses, non-governmental organizations, associations of elected officials, etc. 

It is true that the very Rousseauist French vision generally considers that personal interest cannot serve the collective interest. Nevertheless, by establishing a genuine dialogue between political decision-makers, civil society and economic society, lobbying ultimately serves the interests of all. 

Doing public affairs or lobbying is enlighten political leaders, to help them put in place the most appropriate legislation. When a deputy or a senator, for example, has to decide on such and such a subject, it can be difficult for him to master all the ins and outs. Also, we provide him with the information he needs and let him benefit from our expertise in this area. 

Hello Frédéric, what is your definition of political communication? 

Frederic Fougerat : Indeed, in France, lobbying too often gets bad press. However, it makes it possible to keep the public decision-maker informed and directs him towards decision-making in favor of the collective interest. 

Regarding political communication is above all communication. This specialty covers the same subjects and requires the same skills and abilities as generalist COM. However, the difference is due to the particularity of our speech. Indeed, being in the service of elected officials or political parties, we communicate for people and not for institutions. 

#1 – Why did you choose the field of communication and what was your background? 

FF : I would say that it was communication that chose me and not the other way around. When I was younger, I wanted to go into law, I was driven by this desire to help and defend the weakest. Nevertheless, the faculty, where I started to study law, was not a universe that suited me. I sought to learn by “doing”, by acting, and not by passively following teachings. It was in the 80s, at the start of free radio in France, that I gave up everything to start producing and promoting this new type of program. 

Subsequently, this experience allowed me tointegrate the public sector and specialize in the communication of elected officials and communities. Then, I joined the advertiser and therefore the private sector for more than 20 years, during which I had the chance to follow a President in 5 major international groups. Finally, more recently, I left the advertising world to create my own agency, Tenkan Paris, dedicated to crisis communication for sensitive personalities, their image and their reputation. At the same time, I co-founded the agency Les Cogiteurs, a DirCOM collective serving DirCOMs. 

JD. NOT. : Just like Frédéric, my background is quite atypical. Having always had an attraction for politics, I studied philosophy and became Doctor of Political Philosophy. This training first led me to become parliamentary collaborator, to finally join the private sphere and the corporate public affairs sector. 

I had no particular appetite for public affairs, it was when I discovered the profession that I became passionate about this field.. Our role, on the edge of the public sphere and the private sphere, consists of supporting policies in agencies or with advertisers. I first learned about the public affairs profession in an agency where I did my apprenticeship in this profession before joining the advertiser first at the Union of Public and Rail Transport and then at the RATP group. 

#2 – Why and for whom would you advise public/political communication? 

JD. NOT. : Public affairs are everywhere. Any organization (company, association, NGO, community, etc.) needs public communication at some point, depending on changes in its environment. : evolution of legislation, new opportunities, new risks… Public affairs are crucial because legislative and administrative acts can have major consequences on the business of companies, the action of NGOs, the policy of local authorities. 

Any organization should take care of public affairs, because most of the time, when you think about it, it's already too late. 

This sector is made for all people who have the sense of human relations, who know how to show diplomacy, which justify a excellent relationship, strategic sense, ability to create a network and convince his interlocutor. Do not forget that a communicator in public affairs is the representative of his company, the construction of his speech is essential. He must know how to convince his interlocutors with flawless oratorical and rhetorical ease. 

FF : The essential quality for all communicators, in all sectors, is political sense. You cannot communicate without showing empathy and without learn to observe and listen to others. It would be futile to come with your own certainties without taking into account your interlocutors. In addition, one must be able to evolve in both formal and informal relationships. 

Regarding political communication, if you defend political values, if you are an activist, this sector will naturally come to you. Some even engage in political communication, before embarking more personally on politics. Besides, the politician is most often a tribune, therefore a communicator. 

On the other hand, if you are not an activist, you are certainly more destined for public communication, that which serves the city in the broad sense. 

I also think that this choice can be made according to meetings and opportunities. But these two sectors are not hermetic, it is possible to pass from one to the other, just as I was able to do. 

#3 – What excites you most about your industry? 

FF : On the one hand, the fact that no two days are alike. Besides, even a day may not look like the image we had made of it. Political communication is the unexpected on a daily basis, it is an integral part of the job. This lively and animated side, which requires agility and creativity, is truly exciting. 

On the other hand, human relations animate me. In communication, we do not work alone, but as a team. Admittedly, everyone has their own skills, but these are shared, put at the service of all. To promote these exchanges, I work with my teams as in an editorial department, in open space, with a permanent transmission of information. 

JD. NOT. : What stimulates me the most is undoubtedly meet the needs of my business, solve its problems from a political point of view. 

In an agency, you may have to defend the interests of a company whose values ​​you do not necessarily share. While with the advertiser, you have the chance to choose your company, and therefore your values. And what could be more motivating than being in agreement with the principles that we must defend? 

I also very much appreciate everything related to public affairs strategy and tactics. Who to contact? How to challenge politicians? How to construct this or that discourse? And finally, how to reveal your company? In effect, our job is a job of “revelations”, since it provides decision-makers with information and understanding.

#4 – On a daily basis, what are your missions and challenges? Do you have a typical day? 

JD. NOT. : There is no typical day, that's for sure. However, on a daily basis, some stains are recurrent, such as the day before for example. Every morning, I start by monitoring the news: what is happening in the political sphere and in the public sphere. Depending on the news, my day can take completely different turns. Generally, my work oscillates between pure lobbying, working on the law and building a network to ensure better interaction with the public sphere, if needed. 

I see public affairs as a kind of encephalogram with peaks of activity and calm. 

FF : Definitely, the typical day does not exist. Communication is not a profession but an ecosystem of skills. When you practice as a generalist in this field, things come up every day: exercise watch, interact with those who challenge you, develop and implement campaigns. It is also necessary monitor the press, what is being said about your company or your manager, writing press releases and organizing press conferences, responding to journalists, etc. 

One day no one asks you and the next day, following an event (planned or unplanned), you are mobilized to respond to a whole host of requests. 

In fact, a day is built according to the news. Today, and more and more, work in crisis mode is growing. The “just in case” reorganize our daily lives. 

#5 – Can you tell us about your pride? Do you have any projects to share with us? 

JD. NOT. : When I started out in public affairs, my client was a group specializing in genetic research on plants. In France, many scientists were working on these new technologies, which generated real added value for the country. Our mission was therefore to challenge politicians, to inform them of the progress of this research and to convince them not to discredit it and ban it at European level. 

FF : My greatest pride as a communicator is to always have, always tried to break the codes, the codes of good image and political correctness. I am convinced that our role is to show society as it is, and not as it can be idealized. 

For more than 35 years, I have tried to show diversity, equality, disability... We must never make communication a pretext subject, but on the contrary integrate all the subjects in a communication which reflects the world, with truth, highlighting both its qualities and its faults. 

#6 – In your opinion, how will public/political communication evolve in the years to come? 

FF : As previously mentioned, the certain evolution of the years to come, is that of the crisis communication. Today, we live to the rhythm of smartphone notifications, everything goes very quickly, crises too. 

The crisis has an advantage for the communicator, it positively reinforces his professional image. Indeed, communication is a relatively new field in business and sometimes still misunderstood. Everyone gives their opinion on COM, but COM is not the result of everyone's personal tastes, it is a real expertise, a reflection. 

However, faced with crisis situations, we meet far fewer “Community tourist offices” and everyone’s opinions are much rarer. 😊 It is interesting to note that the consideration, the image and the respect of the communicator, also passes through the crisis mode. 

JD. NOT. : As far as public affairs are concerned, I would say that the main development, which has already been going on for several years, is decompartmentalization. Previously, this sector was totally autonomous and only required a good address book. Today, we need to call on other strata, other expertise and other areas of competence : communication, crisis COM, institutional COM and even the Social Media. The heart of the job remains to communicate with the spheres and the public, but today, these take public opinion into account. 

This is why the ability to build a network has become essential. Having an address book is no longer enough, in a world where the renewal of the political ecosystem is regular. You have to demonstrate flexibility, no longer simply building a network, but knowing how to build and rebuild it constantly. 

#7 – Do you have any last advice for future communicators? 

FF : Communication is a profession of passion, so be passionate ! Have the feeling of getting up in the morning to treat yourself. Communication is not an easy job, but if you have the fiber, you will have a blast. 

And finally, whatever field of communication you want to go into, I would recommend this enriching reading on the history of the sector and our professions: Propaganda by Edward Bernays. 

JD. NOT. : In your studies, give priority to training that puts you in condition in a company and multiply the experiences. Theory is not everything. It is by forging yourself with practice that you will become an expert.

John-David Nahon,

Responsible for public and parliamentary affairs within the RATP Group

Frederic Fougerat,

Agency President Tenkan Paris & Co-founder of the agency The Cogitators

Case studies of public and political communication

😎 And to go further in our overview of the professions of political communication, public affairs and lobbying, a look back at some campaigns that have marked these sectors and have particularly pleased the We Are COM team.

gendarmerie of the vosges
karl lagerfeld
big paris
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