OPINION: Time to brush up conference tactics

PROs put in months of work to ensure the party conference season goes smoothly, but are the various events worth the effort?

Stokoe: lending his verdict
Stokoe: lending his verdict

It is that time of year again when thousands of activists, councillors, lobbyists, MPs, lords, baronesses, journalists and commentators descend on seaside resorts to discuss the latest thinking in British politics.

Fringe events These can be an excellent way of getting people to think and talk about your key messages and issues. However, the title of the event must be tantalising enough to get more than the usual suspects talking about the usual subjects. Too many fringes end up with all the speakers on the main platform agreeing with each other and the audience, making the session more of a love-in than a debate. Verdict: 7/10.

Drinks in the bar This is the most overlooked part of the conference. Meeting up not to talk business but to get merry is an ideal way of establishing excellent long-term contacts. Verdict: 10/10.

Breakfast meetings A risky strategy, given how late many conferences attendees stay up. They may end up reaching for the aspirin rather than contributing to the event. Verdict: 4/10.

Stalls With the cost of designing an innovative stall, plus the costs of renting a spot in the conference hall and designing interesting freebies, these can be very pricey without always making the biggest of impacts. Verdict: 2/10.

Individual meetings with MPs Can be useful. If done well, they offer a chance to see several key people in a very short space of time. But why not do the same thing in London? Verdict: 6/10.

VIP dinners A great way to get key people round a table to discuss pressing issues. Verdict: 8/10.

In short, party conferences can be useful, but if key messages and tactics are not thought through properly then the conference season can be a very expensive waste of time. If done well, however, it could be the best PR money spent all year.

Richard Stokoe is head of news for the Local Government Association

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