As the UK stands on the brink of a second wave, a knotted Brexit withdrawal and a health crisis that could break the economy, engaging government has never been harder. Recent statistics reveal that, worldwide, companies have spent on lobbying at almost record levels in 2020: a testament to how much they stand to win or lose from decisions made at this unique time in history. Now, more than ever, it is business critical that the right case meets the right minister or department head, with impeccable timing, to help shape government decision making.
As an independent Westminster-based public affairs and strategic communications agency, named as Consultancy of the Year 2020 at the CIPR Excellence Awards, WA Communications has seen both the rising stakes and shifting dynamic between industry and government during Covid-19. “Government’s role is more business-critical than ever before,” says Director Marc Woolfson. “With furlough ending and a new wage subsidy scheme for some workers coming in from November, the actions of government will have a direct impact on whether thousands of businesses can stay afloat, affecting jobs and livelihoods for millions of people. Meanwhile, government also has major decisions to make around infrastructure investment, the transition to net zero, and whether to stimulate demand in struggling sectors like hospitality and tourism. The pressure on government is immense and getting a hearing is more challenging for businesses, because everyone is clamouring to make their points to government.”
To spark interest and gain support from overworked politicians, explains WA Director Lisa Townsend, it’s vital for a business to formulate a compelling and succinct case with two-way benefits. “For a successful meeting with a Conservative politician you need a clearly defined solution that’s also in the government’s interest. If that’s ever been true, it’s now. The government is massively overstretched, so it’s important to present simple solutions that are a clear win for both our client and the government.”
During the pandemic, WA has shown its strategic agility in this area, helping clients to capitalise on real-time problems and present immediate solutions. “The way we approach our clients’ work is with nimbleness of thought,” says Woolfson. “If your case is set out one way, then the context changes, it’s up to us to advise on how to adapt to that changed environment. For example, when public transport was decimated, and the government was desperate to avoid gridlock, it was a real opportunity for our client, Cycle to Work Alliance, which promotes cycling as a commuting option. We got the government talking about the scheme, and the numbers rocketed. So that was a nimble move by our team, a win for our client and for government.”
Without expertise of how the political system works, however, influencing government decisions can be an uphill battle. A business must not only be able to demonstrate its credibility and expertly frame its case, but also understand the ebb and flow of Westminster, and bypass gatekeepers to reach receptive MPs. Perhaps it’s no surprise that at this critical time, WA Communications has welcomed new clients and helped existing ones pivot. “From the strength of the case to the credibility of the organisation making it,” says Woolfson, “there’s a need to bring it all together. That’s where our integrated communications services are a real strength.”
“It’s often about reframing the messaging, so the client can demonstrate their value to the government,” explains Townsend. “But a key challenge is also to understand which three or four MPs or backbenchers hold a real interest in your issue, and have the ear of Number 10 or the Treasury. That’s where an agency like WA can really support a business, because we have those networks already. There’s an enormous amount of noise right now. But the thing that hasn’t changed – and never changes – is that it’s all solutions-based. That’s what will get you heard.”
Discover more about WA Communications’ work here.