Getting The Most From The Party Conferences

As many of us get ready to attend the party conferences, it is worth considering how best to achieve your public affairs goals during the time away.

Labour and Conservatives have in-person conferences this year with the Lib Dems having been virtual and the SNP will be virtual later in the year. For many, the in-person events will be the first mass events that will have been attended for some time so there will be undoubtedly be a little trepidation which we all need to be consider. Some may feel a little uncomfortable! But the parties themselves want the in-person party conferences to be as normal as possible.

Putting aside whether the arrangements for fringe organising and booking passes have worked well, many of us will still be in Brighton and Manchester. But what should we be doing there?

Attending fringe events – but there are so many taking place that you obviously need to pick and choose or split them up with others attending with you. Whilst the sessions themselves are about discussion and profile raising, they are also about networking. Don’t overpack your agenda, meaning you don’t have time to talk to people at the fringe events.

Targeting – don’t be afraid to target particular politicians or policy areas to really gain an insight into current thinking. There is no doubt that you can always pick up interesting information and politicians seem to speak a little more freely at conferences, even if they don’t always mean to!

Meetings – some may be opportune but there is nothing wrong with putting a programme in place for yourself as well, and I don’t just mean with friends and / or former colleagues, although that can be really useful (and fun!) as well. Is there anyone you can usefully meet with? Does it provide an opportunity to keep political contacts warm? And don’t forget that we are not just talking about having a Westminster focus. The conferences bring together all parts of a party from across the whole of the UK. For me, that is where the real power of a party conference lies.

Taking things online – if having to go online for everything has taught us anything, then it is that we have to think beyond the four walls of an event or meeting at all times. So, whether that is streaming events or actively using social media during our time at the conferences, we must take our content beyond Brighton, Manchester, or any other venue.

Following-up – as with any event, the most important consideration is the follow-up. You must make the most of the information gathered or contacts established.  Of course, the nature of the follow-up will vary but do not leave anything to chance, continue to be pro-active.

There is no doubt that in-person conferences can be stressful and tiring, and not just because of the social aspect.  But we should not lose sight of our public affairs priorities.

Photo by Rhys Kentish on Unsplash

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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