The starting pistol has been fired and the general election campaigns are well under way. It is always an exciting time for the public affairs industry. In consultancies all across the country public affairs consultants are debating what the top policies will be, which candidates will stand out, who will make the first major gaffe, and ultimately who will win.
After five years of the coalition Government, it would be easy to be disillusioned by the political process and be sceptical about the ability of politicians to effect real, positive and meaningful change. But if there is one thing that a general election can do for politicos, it is to reignite passion for politics.
There are many ways to get involved. The first is as a commentator and analyst for clients. Consultants should be unpacking daily policy announcements, having an opinion on who is winning the media war, explaining the impact of any mistakes, and identifying the trends and direction of daily polls.
The general election is a noisy time. It is difficult for agencies or individuals to cut through and make an impact. Regurgitating the day’s news or parroting leading commentators won’t add any value, and might even irritate clients and contacts. It is important to have bite-sized pieces of content that come at issues from a different angle, challenge the status quo, and think through the impact of policies or events for specific clients.
The second, and most valuable, strategy for agencies is for consultants to be seconded into one of the political parties or to regularly volunteer either in HQ or in a target seat.
During both 2005 and 2010 I was seconded to the media team at Labour HQ. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you which election I enjoyed more, but both were fantastic experiences where I learned a tremendous amount. How to analyse and respond to fast-moving issues; how to write quickly with clarity and a consistent tone of voice; how to take complex policies and announcements and communicate them in a simple and engaging way. I also built strong relationships and contacts.
General elections only happen every five years. They only last for a few months. But they set the tone for policy development and engagement for the life of a parliament. Being involved should be at the top of every public affairs consultant’s priorities.
Campaigning on the doorstep helps you understand voters’ priorities and the challenges candidates, politicians and political parties are facing. Being in a campaign HQ gives you policy insight and enables you to build relationships like at no other time in the political cycle. Taking the lead in your agency or in-house team will challenge the way you think about the election.
The 2015 election promises to be as close as 2010. The polls are volatile, the impact of both UKIP and the SNP is hard to predict, and the continued rise in personality politics of the leaders makes this an exciting election no matter which party you support. Being part of this election in a meaningful way will be thrilling, intense, fun and good for your career.
Jo-ann Robertson is partner and managing director, corporate and public affairs, at Ketchum