Working with politicians

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This could be the most unpopular blog post I ever write.  It’s about how to work effectively with your local MP.

Whatever we think of current politics and parliament, a good public relations professional should have a clear understanding of the role of their local MP and how important they can be to their clients.

Let’s think positively, and assume there isn’t another gunpowder plot in the making and normal service will resume soon.

It is normal to call on your MP for help on local matters –  or for help or advice on wider national or international business matters – if the business in question is in their constituency or will impact its residents.

Many PRs are nervous or unsure of how to approach and involve an MP in support of their legitimate business objectives.

This is why we were lucky to have a great panel of speakers lined up for us by the Oxford PUBLic Relations Group in June this year: Ed Vaizey, Susan Brown and Frank Nigriello.

Between them they cover the political spectrum from left to right, with business in the middle.  Ed Vaizey is Conservative MP for Wantage and served as Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries from 2010 to 2016 before Theresa May sacked him. Susan Brown is Labour leader of Oxford City Council and Head of Communications at the Oxford University Hospital Health Trust, and Frank Nigriello is director of Corporate Affairs at Unipart.

Each of them plays an important part in helping to shape where we live and work, but only Ed Viazey is a full time MP. This is why it is especially important to understand and use your MP effectively; because as Ed pointed out, that’s exactly what they’re paid to do – represent you.

They may not reflect the political values of your client or you, but they are still paid to work for the good of their constituents.  That work may mean securing or safeguarding better employment prospects, new homes, access to health care, better road or transport links, or a host of other things. The important thing is that if you don’t make them aware of your needs (or your clients’) then they can’t help.

Here are Ed’s top tips for working with your MP:

  1. The way to an MP’s heart is through his constituency. They will be available every Friday looking for constructive things to do. Do stuff on Fridays
  2. Come with something specific to do – not just an event or opening to attend, but a meaningful action they can do for you.
  3. Give them a photo opportunity.
  4. Do your research and identify their areas of interest and committee membership.
  5. Develop a proper relationship from the start, with a formal, personal letter or email from the MD, rather than their PR, and build a meaningful dialogue between MP and brand.
  6. Ensure you spell out the connection with their constituency, which may require using a home rather than business address.
  7. Support any communication with information and statistics which present your case and highlight the local or specialist subject context, information the MP can then use.
  8. Bring in another business. Look for synergy across your market or subject, and how it dovetails with your MP’s interests and committee work, allowing them to justify working with you.
  9. Don’t neglect the opposition. As well as your current elected MP, involve other parties. They could be in power next, and will appreciate being informed. They may also be able to help right now.
  10. Identify the advisors who work with your MP and facilitate direct communication with them too.

Look out for the next event organised by the Oxford PUBlic Relations Group. They offer great networking and learning opportunities.

“How does PR secure a seat at the Board” Tues 17 Sept 2019, Jericho Tavern 6 – 9 pm

Nicola Green, Corporate Affairs Director, O2 (Telefonica UK)

Fathima Dada, Managing Director Oxford Education, Oxford University Press

Mish Tullar, Head of Communications, Partnerships and Policy, Oxford City Council

Photo credit: Aswin Mahesh, Unsplash



The beauty of the hummingbird

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Are you watching Planet Earth? What connection can this possibly have with PR and B2B marketing?

The photography and camera work is so exquisite, people have been asking if it is CGI.  The beauty of the natural world; the iridescent plumage of the hummingbirds; the incredible beak of the sword billed hummingbird; the way it has evolved to occupy a niche and survive – such artistry in nature.

Bathos alert! It reminded me how apposite Google was to call its latest search platform hummingbird. Google  logo of hummingbird search engine platform

You can really understand that the platform is designed to pick out exactly the page or information you are looking for in a jungle of information.  Google defined the name as being chosen because it means ‘precise and fast’.

There are many factors in a Google search, but when Hummingbird was introduced in 2013 it brought in an emphasis on looking at how each word and other factors (such as your location) work together, to try and take into account the meaning of the whole query not just individual word.

And it does this of course with incredible speed and accuracy.

A reminder then, if we need one, of competition and survival of the fittest in business to business marketing.

Search engine optimisation and google ranking is vital for a business to thrive.  Good content is a top three factor used by Google to rank a website. And that is where of course,  a PR agency can help you stay ahead of the competition…

Value for money and the importance of good communication in education

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Every time I visit or work with a school I am always struck by the dedication and determination of the staff.

They are always, always trying to help their children learn and thrive.  They are not ‘just doing a job’.

This is why communication is so important, because people – parents, the media, government – need to know about the good work going on in your school, college or university.

Another factor which always strikes me in schools, and even more so in universities, is the sense of collaboration and willingness to share best practice.

If all you want is for your pupils or students to learn and thrive, of course you will gladly share any tips and ideas you have learnt which help this happen.

Again this underpins the importance of good communication, telling people about your best practice, your successful interventions.  Which is why it was disappointing to see this headline in Schools Week:

DfE doesn’t know which interventions are ‘value for money’, education secretary says”  We need to encourage any attempt to identify and share good working practices.  Being honest about looking for evidence is to be applauded not criticised.  The example Justin Greening cites of the Parent Engagement Project is a good one.

This was a huge project conducted by Bristol and Harvard Universities among almost 16,000 pupils in 36 schools. It showed that by sending a weekly text to parents about homework, pupils made an additional month’s progress in maths, compared with a similar group whose parents did not get the texts. Child absence rates were also reduced, which given that the link between absence and attainment is proven, is another huge boost from the intervention.

We can’t all work on this grand scale, but for our individual schools, college and universities we can communicate the daily efforts we make to improve teaching and learning.

Here are our top tips for improving communication and sharing best practice among your stakeholders

  • Ensure you have a regular communication channel to the outside world

Consistency beats intensity every time. Give regular, well planned feedback to your key stakeholders. A simple blog or newsletter is always better than nothing.

  • Develop a regular column or forum for explaining how your schools works such as a ‘Did you know?’ feature.

Here you can describe any internal processes you have for improving or exploring ways to improve teaching and learning. Parents are endlessly fascinated about what goes on in the staff room or behind the scenes. For example, what is your system for checking school marking and feedback to children on a school-wide basis? It may be ‘old hat’ to you but to a parent it’s a new and reassuring activity.

  • Use the power of third party endorsement

Invite a ‘third party’ to comment or review an activity you’re especially pleased with and describe their feedback in your external communication. It could come from a conversation with your Chair of Governors or a meeting you had with the head of another school, but having external endorsement is always reassuring and interesting to parents.

  • Make the mundane magical

Describe how you and your governing body go about checking and challenging the school over certain tasks, such as reviewing standards or pupil progress. Again this may be a routine activity to you but describing it and quantifying it helps other people see the work and care which goes on behind the scenes.

The core message is to keep communicating, because if you don’t tell people about the efforts you go to every day, how will they know?

And if you have discovered an intervention which has really benefitted your pupils or students, the world needs to know about it!