OPINION: Lobbying - Conference season puts new spin on the lobbyist/As conference season draws to an end, PR Week looks at the reality of conference lobbying and charts a day in the life of fantasy lobbyist Saul Spinwell

As lobbyists head southwards after the Tory Party conference in Blackpool today, they will breathe a sigh of relief that the conference marathon is over for another year.

As lobbyists head southwards after the Tory Party conference in

Blackpool today, they will breathe a sigh of relief that the conference

marathon is over for another year.



But the lobbying industry is not out of the dock yet: what started as a

sleepy, mid-term conference season this year exploded midway - during

the the Labour Party conference - with more cash-for-access headlines,

this time emanating from the Scottish Parliament.



The Observer’s latest revelations certainly set the tone of public

affairs gossip in Bournemouth last week, much to the delight of those

agencies which have managed to elude the broadsheet’s muck-raking

tentacles so far.



But the splash did nothing to hamper lobbyists’ activities at the

conference - because the reality of the conference season is far removed

from the picture national newspapers paint of lobbyists pushing their

clients’ cases to MPs.



The fact is that lobbyists do not lobby at party conferences. Rather,

consultants spend their time arranging meetings for their clients with

relevant ministerial special advisers and members of government

taskforces and ensure MPs attend dinners and fringe parties hosted by

their clients.



Lobbyists may not even attend these meetings, letting the clients speak

for themselves.



’The more sophisticated clients do it themselves, if they are well

plugged in,’ says BKSH UKhead Ian Lindsley.



And a consultant’s role at fringe parties is more akin to that of an

event organiser. Commenting on fringe debates organised by Ludgate

public affairs last week, deputy managing director Richard Elsen says:

’We do everything from checking people are still coming to picking them

up from the station.’ He adds: ’I’d be very surprised if anyone did any

lobbying.’



Conference is certainly a contact-builder’s dream: at no other time in

the year is there such a concentration of lobbyists, journalists and

politicians in one building. For public affairs consultants, this means

laying the foundations for potential new business, gathering information

and monitoring what their rival lobbyists are up to.



Most of all, the Labour Party conference provides a chance for lobbyists

- most of whom have either worked for the Labour Party or moved across

several consultancies - to catch up with former colleagues. Something

which invariably happens over drinks at the hotel bar into the early

hours of the morning.



DIARY OF A VIRTUAL LOBBYIST



8.30am: It is Saul Spinwell’s second day in Bournemouth and his sleep

deprivation levels are already reaching the

matchstick-propping-eyelids-up stage. He didn’t leave the Daily

Chronicle’s party until 4am. And watching Peter Mandelson boogy to the

tunes of Boy George is enough to put anyone off their breakfast. But, as

the head of Blaglots public affairs, he feels a duty to rally his team

at the daily breakfast meeting in their hotel, ensuring that his minions

have got every fringe event covered for potential business leads.



11am: Saul himself heads for Bournemouth town centre - it’s not quite

Notting Hill, but he needs to avail himself of this year’s conference

must-have: a hands-free mobile phone. He saw his arch-rival Yank

Baricello with one yesterday and won’t be outdone, especially after Yank

had the effrontery to gatecrash his client’s lunch-time fringe

yesterday.



1pm: Saul is seen among the crowd milling around the British Utilities

plc stand in the conference centre waxing lyrical about the abilities of

his competition policy consultant to BU’s comms head. He then dashes off

to catch Our Glorious Leader’s speech - Alastair did a good job on that

one.



3pm: On his way out of the hall, Saul manages to grab a couple of

sun-blushed tomato bruschettas from the Somerfield stand in lieu of

lunch - he hasn’t seen a fresh vegetable in what feels like days. He

wanders up the seafront to the Beachcliffe Hotel - the main conference

venue - dodging pro-hunt protestors, just in time for the British

Transport Association’s afternoon fringe bash. But what’s this?

Baricello is on the door, so Saul is forced to make a swift exit.



4.30pm: Back in the Beachcliffe lobby, Saul catches a glimpse of Norman

Nomates, newly appointed public affairs head at BigPharm, looking

forlorn.



Saul rescues him and has to put up with an hour’s tedious conversation

over a gin and tonic.



6pm: Nomates floats off, and Saul returns to his room to write a speech

for BigPharm’s chief executive. But he is strangely overcome by sleep

and, suddenly, it’s time for dinner at the Ocean Dragon - Bournemouth’s

attempt at gourmet Chinese food - with a group of journalists.



11pm: Saul battles for breathing space with a hoard of other lobbyists

at the Beachcliffe bar, which unusually is not taking credit cards this

year. By his seventh whisky, the bar swimsbefore him - is that Robin

Cook or a garden gnome someone dragged in from the hotel pond?



4am: Time to head back to the hotel - there are only a few hours to

spare before the next breakfast meeting and the beginning of another

conference day.



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