When I started my career in Parliament nearly fifteen years ago I didn’t fully appreciate what ‘public affairs’ was. It seemed to mean different things to different people.

Some believed it depicted the murky side of policy decision making, whereas others saw it simply as a role for pundits to talk at length about the state of the political landscape and hypothesise as to what will come next without addressing any specific business challenges.

This history of mixed perceptions has often meant that there is a high degree of ambiguity over where in business public affairs roles should reside. Over the years a lot of businesses have either outsourced this function to an arms-length agency, simply tagged it on to a corporate communications or policy role, as a nice to have extra, or not bothered at all. Indeed, I have sat as part of a regulatory team, a communications team, and even in a sales and market development team, all whilst wearing a public affairs hat.

Some might argue where you sit in a cross-functional role in business doesn’t matter. But I disagree - it does matter in terms of raising profile, enabling access to resources, and the ability to influence and make change happen from the inside. The most effective public affairs roles are those with direct access to the leadership team, that are strategic, and that cultivate true commitment from a business to meet public affairs goals and challenges.

Disruptive companies have already recognised this, breaking the mould in terms of where the emphasis of public affairs lies. They understand that PR is important, but that without a clear and company-wide public affairs strategy they really limit what they can achieve. The most forward-thinking companies have put public affairs professionals on their boards, or at the very least given them their own identity and status within the business.

Respect for public affairs practitioners has transformed in recent years, and it’s almost shaken its image of ‘jobs for the boys’ and as only for those ‘in the know’. It is clear now that public affairs is a critical strategic function in a high performing business.

It is essential for business not just to keep up with policy makers, but to set the path for them. Businesses that want to break the mould, or proactively push a policy agenda, should recognise the significance of in-house public affairs experience, and give it the profile and accountability it deserves.