You Gotta Fight, For Your Right… To Be Heard By Government

There is no such thing as waiting for your turn when it comes to government announcements.

It is dangerous to assume that simply because government makes one announcement that there is a definitive logic to the next. Instead, public affairs always has to help shape the policy future.

You have to assume that there is no such thing as a fair share as far as government policy announcements are concerned. There could be a logic to suggest that ‘next time it is our turn’ but that makes at least two massive assumptions – that political priorities remain the same and that someone is paying attention / keeping count.

Neither of these are sensible assumptions.

There may be a general consistency of approach for a government as initially set out by its election manifesto but there is always pressure being exerted on them which causes shifts and deviations. One sector could be in vogue at one point, but a new issue could emerge, or a reputational challenge could come to the fore which lead to changes.

Once government comes off a path, it can be difficult to get them back on it.

The lesson must be that a policy is only secured once the legislation or regulation in place, the announcement made, or the funding is place. In other words, it becomes impossible for government to back out or change its mind.

In terms of public affairs actions that means:

Keep on keeping on: maintain the dialogue and the ‘pressure’ even in the event of an agreement to act. Get them to the point of no return.

Constantly look to help: the development of a solution to the problem is a cornerstone of public affairs but ‘the answer’ may need to change. Be prepared to do that.

Help government to maintain focus: this can be difficult, especially over a long period of time but can only be achieved through ongoing engagement, updating the arguments considering new information and keeping the campaign current.

Never lose sight of the political imperative: whatever it is you think is coming always must be tempered by the realities of politics. If a policy change or new project no longer offers political value, ie votes, then it highly likely to be jettisoned unceremoniously.

Never second guess government: keep a constant flow of information coming into you both formally (through monitoring) and informally (through stakeholder feedback etc) so keep your knowledge, understanding and thinking up to date. Keep good records of the conversations you are having so that you continue to revisit and strengthen your arguments and tweak, if necessary, positions.

Refresh your networks: the reality is that the influences on governments change, sometimes rapidly. Political friends and advisers come and go. But there is also a flow to changes amongst officials and civil servants and well. So, fail to renew these networks at your peril. You can easily be forgotten.

Keep up the briefings: never fall into the trap of believing that everything that you said will remain with a contact. It can take several meetings for them to really understand an issue, especially if it is quite complicated (which many public affairs issues can be).  It is also the case that an issue is rarely the preserve of just one contact internally or at government level.  An issue normally requires a number of people, on both sides, to come together.

We all must remember that fighting for the attention of government is highly competitive. Ideas of ‘next in line’ put this to one side. The reality is that someone else will always want to take your place. They too may believe that they are ‘next in line’.

Always look to maintain the momentum and take nothing for granted. Otherwise someone else could well come along with a shiny new offer that looks more attractive.

Do not allow others the time or space.

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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