The Marcus Rashford Guide To Public Affairs

Not only is Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford a brilliant footballer but he is also proving himself to be a highly effective campaigner. Everyone in public affairs could learn lessons from his approach to engagement.

There is no doubt that Rashford is a special footballing talent but his campaign to secure free school meals to those who receive them to include the school holidays has been a masterclass in campaigning. He has pushed, cajoled and secured action from the Government. So, how has he done and what more can he do?

Using the tools at his disposal: for such a campaign, the weight of numbers can be important. A current petition on the Parliament website has over 300k signatories and is growing.

Effective social media use: so not just putting a statement out on Twitter but engaging directly with politicians and calling them on their position. Steve Baker MP was challenged by Rashford to open up to comments so that they could engage in a debate.

Hold the government to account: always try to play the government’s own agenda and comments back at them to help exert pressure. Do the same with individual MPs as well.

Make common cause with those who support your aims: Rashford has been happy to work with others to drive for success in the campaign and hasn’t been precious about any ‘ownership’ issues. That is not just about other campaigners. The private sector are involved as well, for instance, with the Child Food Poverty Taskforce, which was set up. Take a look at the Nestle release on their involvement and it is obvious to see the benefits for them.

Don’t waste time reinventing existing campaigns: the creation of the Taskforce allowed Rashford to get existing experience in and secure advice wherever it may be needed.

Ensure the messages hit home: the aims of the campaign have to seem achievable and resonate with people, which also helps to build the support.

Maintaining the pressure over time: it is difficult to keep large numbers of people motivated over a long period of time. He has managed it so far but he needs to keep giving supporters useful things to do.

Sometimes a blanket approach can be right: targeted is normally more effective but sometimes a blanket approach, for instance to all MPs, can be right. Don’t always rule it out as ineffective.

All this is to say nothing of Rashford himself who embodies the campaign and has a very personal connection to it. His experience means that he will not be distracted from the campaign and isn’t simply a paid influencer of the type some campaigns will be attracted to. This is a personal crusade. One of the challenges he will undoubtedly face will be the range of other campaigns that will come knocking.

Rashford also has to keep his own brand in good shape as well. A Covid-19 failing or personal indiscretion would have consequences for the campaign as well as personally. To be honest though that doesn’t look likely!

What is there still to do? Some of that will come down to how the campaigns deals with failure, such as the Government turning down support for half term. It has been going brilliantly so far and this is an undoubted test. The Government ‘U-turned’ the first time around but seems unwilling to do so again. Rashford’s reaction has been to retweet messages of support from local restaurants and cafes, widen the coalition of support to include children’s authors and make a direct appeal to the PM again on social media. He is determined not to give up.

There may be more wins as well. What happens then? There has been mention of direct talks between the government and Rashford but what should the approach be? So plenty of difficult future decisions remain.

There is also the hard slog of public affairs to consider – events in Parliament, potential one-to-one briefings, appearing in front of a Select Committee, taking the campaign to the party conferences, thinking about how mayors and others may help etc.

There will, I am sure, be a slew of awards coming Rashford’s way from communications professionals but whether any of them will top his MBE is unclear.

Image courtesy of wikimedia user Ardfern via Creative Commons 4.0. This image his been cropped.

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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