Too often a public affairs campaign can become obsessed by politics and political audiences. Instead, effective engagement needs to start by looking inwards at your own organisation. Why is this such an important step?
The audiences that we are trying to influence to secure changes to public policy are external to our organisation. In devising a strategy, we take the time to consider the policy making process, timescales, identify the relevant stakeholders and devise a plan of action.
However, we often underestimate the importance of looking inwards as part of that strategy development.
What can we achieve?
What information should be seeking out from our own organisation?
It is doubtful that this will be an organisations’ first public affairs campaign. Try to look for information about what has taken place before and, importantly, what learnings there were. To repeat the same mistakes of the past is unforgiveable.
Existing political contacts
Contacts will have been developed during any previous work but do not forget that political engagement isn’t the sole preserve of the public affairs team. The reality is that contact is going on all the time and your job is to try and capture that. If you don’t then there is a risk of mixed messages and/or ‘over contact’ with stakeholders which can both lead to a souring of the relationship. It can make the organisation look unprofessional.
Existing stakeholder contacts
But it is not just the political contacts that should be focused on. Engagement with the civil service can take place with many teams – legal, policy and others. Then there are the other audiences that could be important in the campaign, across business and other organisations. That is to say nothing of the critical role that journalists could play as well. You must capture all this information, whether it is good or bad. It is not solely about the positive. Capturing poor relationships or previous mistakes is just as important.
Keep up to date
There are always new people joining organisations bringing with them new opportunities, new contacts, new experiences, and new relationships. The need to look inwards is, therefore, ongoing. You need to be permanently tapping into that new reservoir.
Any team can fall into a ‘business as usual’ approach, especially if its membership is static over a long period of time. That is a reason to maintain training and professional development but also to talk to others within organisations as well. Engaging with other departments not only provides information but challenge as well. We can all learn from others and that brings new thinking to a campaign.
Some organisations will have a good system in place to capture all this information on an ongoing basis. But that is rarely the case. It points to a need for good engagement internally to source the information and to maintain it as well. That, in turn, requires a good system of record keeping.
Before a campaign rushes headlong into external engagement, the strategy development should always look inside first. Otherwise, risks increase, opportunities are lost, and stale thinking can set in.
No public affairs team can deliver on that basis.