Building a bridge to Westminster

There may be different reasons for wanting to engage with Parliament, policy-makers and officials but outreach needs to be planned. If you want to build bridges into Westminster then follow these practical tips.

There may some solid risk management reasons for engaging with Westminster, especially as various rulebooks face being ripped up post-Brexit. That is to say nothing of chequebooks, if they still exist, being put away and new budgets being allocated. There could be market opportunities to follow-up, funding streams to be bid for, or regulations to be seen off.  Motivations for bridge building can vary.

As a general rule of thumb, the earlier engagement takes place the better. This is based on the assumption that the greater the level of knowledge that policy-makers have about you and your issues, the less likely they are to ignore you or impose policies without your knowledge or input.

This isn’t a fool-proof strategy on its own but it is better than allowing policy-makers to operate in a vacuum without any idea about what you do or what the impact of a policy might be.

But building a bridge can take time and there should ideally be a number of bridges between you and different parts of government. Why? Because government simply isn’t joined-up enough and don’t always know what other parts of government are up to.  You have to make the connections.

So consider these 10 tips when building your bridges:

  • Know where you are starting from – reflect and build on previous contact, whether successful or unsuccessful.
  • Think cross government – many organisation think about their ‘home’ departments but these are not always the most important and not the ones making the decisions.
  • Working with others – as with any good networking, it may be that others can help make connections and introductions. The approach doesn’t always have to be a cold one (however relevant it may be).
  • Make the connection relevant – you have to be saying some that is not only the responsibility of the connection but resonates with them as well. That could be based on a policy, an idea being worked on or simply the need to know more about you (what you do, contribution to the economy etc).
  • Get to the right person – make sure that your approaches are targeted at the right people. You may get lucky with a scattergun approach but more likely it will show that you don’t know what you are doing and could adversely impact your reputation.
  • Talk their language – be prepared to play their game, not simply insist on your own. That could be anything from avoiding the use of jargon through to knowing the processes they need to follow.
  • Think about roles – remember, for instance, when it comes to civil servants that they will have been assigned tasks by their political masters. This limits what is in their power to achieve.
  • Getting the timing right – pay attention to the timetables as making or renewing the contact at a critical moment will be beneficial. Offering useful insight at a time when it is needed makes the contact more than simply PR for an issue.
  • Cross the political divide – be sure to build your bridges across all the parties, some may be in power now but others have their eyes on the keys to No 10.
  • What is your ask? – In your engagement be prepared to have an ask of your audience if they want one or you really need an action. Don’t let the opportunity go by. That does mean knowing what they can do. Again, relevance is key.

Conclusion

There will be a lot of change after Brexit and organisations need to be ready to take advantage or protect themselves. Now is the time to build bridges.

Photo by Everaldo Coelho on Unsplash

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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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