As party conference season winds up, it is important to take stock about what you have learnt and, critically, what you are going to do next. Activity at conferences is important but so is what you do next.
I recently wrote about getting the most from the party conferences but thought it was worth thinking a little more about the follow-up that I highlighted as a key aspect. It is easy to become focused on the party conference activity itself and to breathe a huge sigh of relief once it is over. But rather than just moving on to the next action, we should reflect on the knowledge we have gained from the party conferences.
If a public affairs strategy is to be successful, then we must allow it the space to change and develop considering new information. Exactly the sort of information that conferences deliver.
As I write, we know so much more about Keir Starmer’s approach to leading the Labour Party and what its new priorities are. We expect to get more on the Government’s levelling-up agenda and net zero plans from the Conservative Party conference. So, all directly relevant to many public affairs strategies.
So where should we look for information?
- Fringe meeting notes and reports – there will doubtlessly be ones that you didn’t get to, especially at breakfast time…
- Speeches – it is easy to spend time around the fringe and in the exhibition hall and miss what is being said in the main speeches. Even some of the debates may give you a flavour for issues that are bubbling away.
- Follow-up reactions from organisations and other politicians – this helps to complete the picture. Watch out for opposing views and arguments but also potential supporters as well.
Armed with all this information, it is right to then ask ourselves some questions:
- Do we need to follow-up with teams or individual politicians? These could be existing or new contacts.
- Do we need to alter our approach in light of new information? Are we out of step or missing a new angle?
- Can we reach out and establish relationships with new organisations?
- Was anyone unexpectedly active at the conference? That could be positive or negative as far as we are concerned.
- Are there any wider communications threats or opportunities? Is there any need to address issues in public?
- Could we make more out of our conference activity, after the event, across social media channels?
- Do we need to reach out to any stakeholders who were not in attendance? We should not assume that they aren’t interested in hearing a short report even if they couldn’t be there in person.
And do not forget the ‘good standards’ of event follow-up apply equally to any fringe events you held as well. Remember that this sort of follow-up too needs to tie into the public affairs activity. It is an opportunity to keep the dialogue and engagement going. This is where additional value can be gained from holding fringe events.
Whilst the Labour and Conservative conferences have been in-person, the Lib Dems held a virtual conference as will the SNP later in the year. The same rules of follow-up though still apply.
Attending the party conferences is not an end in itself. Attendance, in all its various forms, has to deliver agreed outcomes. Those outcomes are best achieved with the use of active follow-up.
Attending the conferences may be fun (for some people!) but that is not enough. It must play a useful role in your public affairs activity.