During my Master’s in Political Economy I experienced that political decision-making goes hand in hand with the developments in the corporate sector and society. For this reason, I repeatedly told everyone at the University of Amsterdam that I was looking for an internship on the cutting edge of politics and economics; where the public and private sector come together. Public affairs is precisely about this, and soon I set foot in one of the best-known public affairs and lobby consultancies in the Netherlands: Public Matters in The Hague. Working in the midst of Dutch politics, a leap in the dark with my studies in International Relations as a background.
After more than 4 months working as a trainee, I noticed that as a public affairs consultant you really serve as a link between organizations, politics and civil society. Public Matters has a wide range of clients in a wide variety of sectors. From tech to healthcare, and from energy to the housing market. I couldn’t imagine a better and broader introduction to the field of Public Affairs.
Working in public affairs is a circular flow
Because I am working with various clients in different sectors, I have noticed that public affairs really is everywhere. Advocacy is therefore certainly not something that only belongs to large multinationals with deep pockets. Municipalities, small organizations, and green NGOs also have interests that have to be represented. This makes working at Public Matters all the more varied.
In addition, I have also come to realize that lobbying is not simply exerting pressure. It consists of repeatedly balancing interests and anticipating on new political situations. One of my key take-aways is that the work is not linear, but circular. A continuous flow from advisor to client and back, based on the latest political events. This is because politics never stops, there is always a new debate or legislative consultation on the political agenda.
In addition, the work is incredibly varied, and advocacy does not just take place by means of a platonic beer at the bar. One minute I’m writing a newsletter for an international client, the second I’m working with colleagues on a lobbying strategy, and the third I’m directly sparring with a partner about a new research project via a Zoom meeting. It’s a pity that the internship ‘only’ lasts six months, because there are still many concrete political results further in the future.
Political communication in times of crisis
An important part of my work is monitoring news sources and publications from Parliament and Goverment. In this time of crisis, I also follow the weekly debate on the developments surrounding the coronavirus. This has given me a good impression of the crisis. In addition, I have gotten to understand that every newly announced emergency measure has cost a lot of political blood, sweat and tears. For example, it is impossible for the Dutch Cabinet to independently figure out how a dentist should get back to work in the Dutch “one-and-a-half-meter society”, or how a hospitality entrepreneur can safely open his terrace again. The involvement of parties in the field contributes to the nuance that lies in every measure: it also has to work in practice. As a result, I tend to look differently at the implemented policy measures during the crisis, despite the fact that I personally would like to sit on that terrace again. In addition, by live monitoring these debates, I am not simply ‘aware’ of the news, but by doing so I often even work ahead of the news; what our Prime Minister says during the debate at night, will only appear in the newspapers the next morning. You’re always on top of the latest developments.
No more talking at the coffee machine
Besides being politically involved in the corona crisis, I am currently also work from home because of this situation. The digital friday afternoon drinks and pub quizzes are definitely present, but form a stark contrast with the good atmosphere at the office. The daily lunch with the team, our regular visit to snack bar ‘De Vrijheid’ opposite of the Malietoren, and the beer that was put on your desk on Friday around 17:00, are examples of this. The good atmosphere on the work floor and the chat at the coffee machine are all the more missed, as well as the Thursday beer on ‘Het Plein’ (“The Square” in the Hague). Nonetheless, also during the corona crisis politics never stops, and with that, neither does my work. Now, I dive into the vibrant Dutch politics in the Hague from my room in a – now – silent Amsterdam.