A public affairs fresh start for 2016

A new year is always a good time to assess your public affairs activity and consider whether there is anything you should be doing differently. 2016, in particular, looks to be very exciting politically which could lead to challenges in public affairs. So what should you be looking out for?

The year has started with possibly the longest and smallest reshuffle in history. Jeremy Corbyn’s ‘new’ shadow team looks remarkably like his old shadow team but more changes could take place amongst the more junior positions. Any changes always brings with them the opportunity for briefings and / or the need to update new advisers as well.

Following all that excitement what else should be on your public affairs checklist?

  1. Europe – the referendum on membership could well take place in 2016.  The chances of that have increased now that the Prime Minister has announced that his Ministers can campaign openly but only once a deal is in place.  They will not be able to hold their tongues for long, so the PM needs to move quickly for domestic, let alone European, reasons.With polls suggesting that ‘out’ is winning at the moment, organisations need to take seriously the prospect of Brexit and plan accordingly. Whilst there are a lot of unknowns at the moment, the situation will develop rapidly and it is possible to ignore the issues.Both the ‘in’ and the ‘out’ campaigns will want vocal supporters so organisations need to be prepared for approaches and decide, at least in principle, whether they will consider getting involved or not.

    Not only that but officials will need to be planning for Brexit as well as getting on with their day jobs.  This could impact on the amount of time they are able to devote to you.

  2. Elections in May – the political parties have some particularly important elections coming up in May. Most notably in Scotland, London, Wales, Northern Ireland and in English local authorities. As with other elections, it is a time for manifestos, policy announcements, speeches, set piece events etc. These could provide opportunities for your public affairs engagement.
  3. Don’t forget purdah – for the elections in May and the European referendum, purdah will apply.  Whilst there are some exceptions, this in essence means that big political decisions and announcements are avoided for around the four weeks (up to 28 days) before polling. This can constrain what can be said and done, and should therefore be considered in any public affairs programmes.
  4. The lessons from 2015 – it is important for 2016 to see what worked and what did not work in 2015. That could relate to a failure to engage with specific targets or a detailed assessment of activities that were undertaken, for instance at the party conferences. Without this analysis, your engagement will not improve.The lessons also need to factor in any risks that were learnt during 2015.  For instance, it is clear in the charity sector that media coverage will continue and that this will place a greater pressure on reputations. And where the media go, politicians are sure to follow. Risks analyses should always be updated on an ongoing basis in any case, but the start of the year provides a useful reminder to do so.
  5. Where is the agenda going?  It is always worthwhile taking some time out to consider where your issues are going and whether any new or relevant ones are likely to emerge as well. It is very easy to keep your head down and concentrate on the day-to-day pressures. The start of the year allows for a little more horizon scanning that could easily be missed at other parts of the year.
So start your 2016 with a bang and amaze your friends and colleagues by producing an overview paper.  It’s a good way to show that you are fully over Christmas and New Year!

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Stuart is a public affairs and communications specialist with BDB Pitmans advising clients on all elements of their public affairs strategies including political and corporate communications and reputation management. His work also includes consultation and planning communications and he has advised on a number of high profile media relations and crisis communications programmes. Stuart is an honorary research fellow at the University of Aberdeen and is the author of several books including ‘New Activism and the Corporate Response‘ (heralded as a book that “every aspiring business leader should read” by MIS Asia), ‘Public Affairs in Practice’ and ‘The Dictionary of Labour Quotations‘. His most recently published book, ‘Public Affairs: A Global Perspective’ has been called ‘an absolute treasure-trove’ and is a recommended read by the Government Communication Service (GCS). Stuart regularly writes and lectures on a range of business and political issues and as well as blogging for BDB Pitmans he contributes to the Huffington Post and has written for the CBI, (former) UKTI, Total Politics and LabourList. He is also an adviser to the Entrepreneurs Network (TEN) and a regular speaker and chair at conferences. He has appeared on Sky News, BBC 5 Live, BBC World, the Today programme and on Ukrainian TV and has been a judge for the Public Affairs News, PR Week, Public Affairs and the European Public Affairs awards. Stuart is a CIPR trainer leading the 'Practical Public Affairs' course.

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