The birthday cake: sketch by Bella Opacic
Given their political and parliamentary know-how, public affairs professionals are often called on to help organisations select policy priorities. Here’s three tips to help you take the stress out of prioritising policy.
• Choose your top policy priority first, then move onto two and three. Once you have one agreed, the others tend to follow more easily. Be careful, a simple mistake you can make here is to be secretive about the selection process.
• Be clear about why you chose those policies. Why are they important? Why’s it an issue now? What financial impact could the proposed government policy change – for instance – have on your current services, your members, the people you support.
• Communicate those messages back to everyone who helped you choose them, and thank them. It’s your chance to connect up and keep people engaged in the policy conversation. It’s always helpful to add a call to action, even if it’s as simple as getting them to express an interest in getting more involved; or asking them to send stories (some people call them case studies) that focus on a policy priority.
Why not e-mail a policy question through to firstname.lastname@example.org or add a comment.
Sketch by Bella Opacic
Being able to shape policy is one of the key tools of a public affairs expert.
Put simply policy means what you think or believe around a particular issue, where you stand or position yourself. Do you believe that all older people should pay for their social care? Should volunteers be paid?
Here’s 3 tips to help you shape your policies with confidence.
Be clear about what your organisation’s strategic priorities are and what campaign, marketing and fund-raising is planned for the year ahead.
Listen to the people you support. Have a clear idea about the issues that matter to them and action change that benefits them.
Horizon scan. Ask yourself what the key issues in your sector are likely to be? What launches, consultations, white/green papers, announcements, reviews etc are about to happen? What emerging issues are expected in the medium to long-term? Use your networks and political monitoring services to help you.
If you want to know more about how to shape policy with confidence, then why not give us a call on 07966 369579 for a quick chat.
As a public affairs professional I’m used to shaping policy to influence.
Photograph by Bella Opacic
Media stories – like Leighton Buzzard and “modern slavery” – can sometimes throw up hidden, cruel facts about our society; and start people talking. Talk is good. It’s a start. Media stories can also throw up startling statistics. Evidence is good. Here’s two statistics that help build a case for a committed, co-ordinated multi-agency approach to stop modern slavery in the UK.
• 5,000 people are in some form of forced labour in the UK (guess-timate from Anti-Slavery International)
• 1,481 reports were received by the UK Human Trafficking Centre of suspected trafficking in the two years up to end of March 2011.
The statistics sit uncomfortably with Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Right: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”
If you want to know more about modern slavery, then this is a useful place to start: a Q and A by BBC Home Affairs correspondent Dominic Casciani.
Please do add a comment. I’d love to hear from you. What do you think?
Some simple steps to help you plan your next lobbying campaign.
T: Target the MPs who have shown an interest or have a responsibility over the issue you’re interested in promoting.
O: Be clear about what you are trying to achieve – what are your objectives? Have a clear outcome in mind.
S: Identify your strategy and the key milestones.
C: Ask yourself how this will play to the MP’s constituents or responsibilities.
A: Be clear about your ask.
What’s your opinion? Which tip grabs your attention most? Please do leave a comment.
“Lobbying is the practice of individuals and organisations trying to influence the opinions of MPs and Lords. Methods of lobbying vary and can range from sending letters, making presentations, providing briefing material to Members and organised rallies”. (click here for more information).
A little light relief from TOSCA before you get started.
Have you ever contacted your local MP and wondered why you never got a formal reply? It might be worth checking that you didn’t accidentally make one of the three simple mistakes listed below. They’re very easy to make – especially if you’re in a rush or a rage; and the world of public affairs is notoriously difficult to navigate, if you’re new to it.
1: Have you sent your request in the right way, to the right person and to the right address? A good place to start if you’re looking for an MP is the www.parliament.uk/website. If you put in your home postcode, then your constituency and MPs details will come up. The best way of contacting your local MP is by letter (almost always the House of Commons rather than the constituency address). If you need some help, you can always call the House of Commons Information Office on 020 7219 4272.
2: Have you double-checked that the MP can do what you’re asking him/her to do? An MP (without ministerial responsibilities) can do various things to help you move your issue forward:
- Write a letter to the relevant department or official
- Write to the Minister involved
- Have a meeting with the right Minister
Public – parlimentary actions
- ask an oral question at Question Time
- put forward an early day motion
- ask to lead a debate in the House of Commons
- raise an issue in the Adjournment debate
- put forward a Private Members Bill
If you’ve contacted an MP with ministerial responsibilities (eg parliamentary private secretaries or Secretary of States) s/he can’t question Government policy through Parliament (eg ask questions). Opposition spokespeople may also be restricted by internal party rules.
3: Is parliament in recess? This could be slowing the response time. Parliament doesn’t sit all year round. During recess, MPs can carry out their other duties. The recess calendar is not set in stone – it changes; and it’s normally slightly different for the two Houses (Commons/Lords). Again the parliament.uk website details recess dates.
Please do add a comment. I’d be interested to hear if other people have come across simple, practical reasons as to why their MP letters didn’t get a formal response.
Excellent article by Ekow Eshun on the Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei on how to use simple participatory art movement campaign tactics to reach out and connect with “real” people affected by “real” social issues.
- Have a provocative key message. In Ai Weiwei’s Sichuan campaign the allegation was that 1000s of children had died needlessly because of shoddy, building work fuelled by corruption.
- Organise people to get to real people with real lives affected by real social issues. In the Sichuan campaign 200 volunteers went door-to-door to collect information and record the bereaved families’ stories about the children they’d lost.
- Share these stories on blog posts quickly.
Is it art? I think it is because it’s making people see the world differently, making them aware of something that they perhaps hadn’t seen before. Look through the prism at a different angle. Change starts with a change in perception.
“This investigation [Sichuan campaign] will be remembered for generations as the first civil rights activity in China. It directly affects people’s feelings and their living conditions, their freedom and how they look at the world. To me, that is art.” (Ai Weiwei)
When you first start writing blogs it can be difficult to know where to begin. Here’s a few questions to ask yourself to get yourself started.
Who’s your audience? Be as specific as possible. What issues have they got? How can you help them?
What are you going to put in the blog?
- Tips around your business?
- Answers to frequently asked questions?
- A success story about someone you’ve helped?
- Personal stories eg why you got interested in doing what you’re doing?
- Lists: Do you have one you can share?
What tone are you going to use? A supportive, encouraging, friendly and open one tends to work best eg:
- invite feedback
- promote a conversation/discussion
- engage others in talking about your area of expertise
- offer to answer their questions online
- have a clear ask at the end for feedback and
- canvass people’s opinion
It’s probably best to avoid shouting out your opinions, being closed so that people feel scared to share and being overly-controlling.
Why bother with blogs? They help people understand what you do; raise your expert status; add value to your brand (as they can be put on other social networking sites like LinkedIn and Twitter); and they heighten your online presence (search engines love blogs).
A big thank you to
for helping me understand what I’ve shared with you today.
Charities can get a lot out of going to local, face-to-face (F2F) business networking events; and yet – it seems to me – that very few do so on a regular basis.
Let’s look at the benefits:
- Raising awareness of what your charity does.
- Building a stronger profile in your local community.
- Promoting your brand to people who are interested to know more.
- Expanding your volunteer base so that your charity can keep running its services.
- Increasing fund-raising, sales leads.
Some advice for budding charity business networkers*
- Don’t think about it as just money – sponsorship means more than money.
- Ask for practical support: volunteer marshalls on a sponsored walk eg
- Believe that people want an opportunity to get to know the charity well (what it does, who and how it helps people).
- View it as a chance to build lasting, sustainable relationships – not just a one-off event.
- Go with some specific stories up your sleeve about how businesses can benefit by working with you eg how it has helped in team building.
And a few tips from me:
- Be open, optimistic and supportive: How can you help the person you’re talking to? Building relationships takes time. Perhaps there’s an issue that you can resolve together?
- Set your objectives. What do you want to achieve? Be as specific, measurable and realistic as possible eg share 3 human stories (some people call them case studies) about the benefit of your services/products? give out 6 business cards; ask 5 people to visit your website?
- Be prepared: Have the answers to the following questions along with a stash of business cards: what you do; who you work with, what service and products your charity offers, and how it helps people.
Finally, two actions to set the ball rolling:
- Choose your event. Find out what F2F business networking events are happening in your local area. Some like Business Biscotti and First Friday – in my local area of Reading, Berkshire – are free. Others charge. Be careful.
- Double-check when they’re on: normally early mornings or late afternoons. Timings can be a barrier for some – but this shouldn’t put you off – it’s worth it!
I’d love to hear from any charities about the things that have worked for you n F2F business networking. Please do write a comment.
* Thanks to Jacqui Dunne of Business Biscotti and Juliette Smith of the Athena Network for their expert advice.
People sometimes ask me what an elevator pitch is. My understanding is that it’s a way of letting people know what you can do for them in about 30 seconds – the time you’d have if you were sharing an elevator/lift with them.
My experience in public affairs is that you’re lucky if you have 30 seconds with – say – a key business leader at a public event to exchange ideas about how you could work together.
So, here’s the challenge: you’re in a lift with Lord Alan Sugar, you introduce your business/organisation, he doesn’t know about it, and you have just 15 seconds left to talk to just three of the five key elevator pitch points – which three would you pick?
- Who you work with
- What the problem is you’re helping to solve
- What service and products you offer
- What difference you’re making
- What the benefits are
I don’t think there’s a right answer to this -but I’d really like to hear your thoughts.