Henry Goodwin, TLG: Looking beyond the election

Now is the time for businesses to develop a leadership position ahead of a new administration.

Holby City woman or 'Asda mum'? The media would have us believe that Tory strategists are busy weighing up which is the key election demographic (The Sunday Times, 13 December 2009).

But electoral insights like this are probably irrelevant, because the campaign itself shouldn't be a business priority. The pre-election period isn't a spectator sport, it's the last chance for business to position itself ahead of a new administration.

So, rather than thinking tactically about 6 May, smart businesses will be looking beyond the circus of the general election and preparing for the aftermath. David Cameron's promised 'emergency Budget', and a Queen's Speech shortly after, will have a greater impact on UK plc than any other political event in 2010.

To be seen and heard in the post-election period (and make an impact on the emergency Budget and first Queen's Speech), businesses need to develop a leadership position pre-election.

The Conservative Party will want to work with Thought Leaders once it is in Government. So how can companies achieve this?

In order for the party to recognise and take them seriously, businesses have to demonstrate relevance to the party's core social and economic policy areas.

There is no great mystery here - it is common knowledge what the party wants to achieve: a stable economy, low unemployment, increased productivity, 'more for less' from the public sector, a low-carbon economy, and the decentralisation of power.

Appealing to these (and other) Conservative priorities means, first, identifying shared agendas between the party and your organisation, and second, leveraging business assets, qualities and services that support the delivery of public policy objectives.

Ultimately, politicians will always turn to companies with strong brands that resonate with voters. In other words, they want to be associated with brands that they perceive to be popular with consumers - perceptions that are heavily influenced by the media.

The best way to build such a brand is through Thought Leadership campaigning. It demands a closer relationship with consumer trends and a willingness to take a leadership position in order to forge a 'values-based connection' - both with consumers and politicians.

For b2b companies, alignment is more about UK plc than UK society, but connecting the two is crucial.

The concept of a Thought Leadership approach, as envisaged by TLG, defines what a brand stands for and builds a coalition of advocates, by demonstrating leadership on an issue that influences opinion leaders and stakeholder opinion. In practice, TLG has identified five behaviours common to successful Thought Leaders:

1. Pioneer Challenge established wisdom to create new ways of thinking;

2. Rigour Develop consistent and original ideas;

3. Objective Deliver benefits for stakeholders, both financial and non-financial;

4. Authenticity Accurately reflect corporate beliefs and behaviour;

5. Clarity Clearly communicate positive motivation, mission and product.

TLG's Thought Leadership Index - published annually in conjunction with Populus Opinion Research - revealed a significant correlation between Thought Leadership and positive corporate reputation.

In 2010 we are working with CASS Business School to 'stress test' these five behaviours. This new research is the first of its kind to track the relationship between Thought Leadership and its impact on organisational performance.

The companies that appear at the top of next year's index will be those that were able to define their brands positively after 6 May.

VIEWS IN BRIEF

- Who are your five fantasy dinner party guests from the political world?

Queen Rania of Jordan, Peter Mandelson, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, Archie Norman and Boris Johnson.

- Predict one thing that will happen in the week running up to the election.

Terry Wogan will be tipped to be culture secretary in a Tory administration.

- A hung parliament: good or bad news for public affairs?

Irrelevant - brand strength will still matter most.

Henry Goodwin is a consultant at TLG

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