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



Business rate announcement


The chancellor’s announcement yesterday at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester to allow councils to retain Business Rates was stunning.

It could have a massive impact on businesses throughout England.

The CBI has yet to issue a comment, but the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) was quick to make a statement:

“The surprise announcement to allow councils to retain Business Rates presents a huge opportunity for local authorities and business to work together to boost local growth, develop a fairer tax system and create the jobs of the future.

We also know there will be challenges to get the new system right. We want to ensure businesses don’t get short-changed. It is essential the new Rates structure works for all our 5.2m small firms.”

The FSB is right to be concerned about challenges and concerns for small – and not so small – businesses. The impact at the local level cannot be underestimated.

The chancellor has promised to:

• Abolish entirely the uniform business rate – the single national tax imposed on every council.

• Give cities with elected mayors, such as London, Manchester and Sheffield, extra powers to add a premium to rates to pay for new infrastructure projects.

What impact could a change in business rates have on your organisation?

Business rates are a huge driver of change, and most businesses are small. Here’s some data we recently presented for a client project in Milton Keynes.

There are 11,530 businesses in MK:

  • – 10 with 1,000+ staff
  • – 15 with 500 – 999
  • – 40 with 250 – 499
  • – 165 with 100 – 249
  • – 260 with 50 – 99
  • – 715 with 20 – 49
  • – 875 with 10 – 19
  • – 1,445 with 5 – 9
  • – 7,995 with 0 – 4

Small businesses are vital for many reasons, and where they chose to locate and trade from has a huge impact on the local economy and community. Don’t underestimate how important your organisation is to your local area.

Make your voice heard

Now is the time to lobby your councillors and MP to ensure your needs and concerns are understood. With the right approach this lobbying can also be a powerful PR tool and can be good for sales and staff morale, as well as helping to future-proof your business.

If you would like help with any external communications activities for your business, I hope you will get in touch.  6.10.15