Image courtesy of flickr user Tamaki Sono

The 5 Ps of political engagement

Effective political engagement and public affairs can be full of difficult and challenging decisions but if you remember these five Ps then you will not go far wrong.

There are, of course, no shortcuts to good public advice but we can all use some pointers and guides to help our thinking. These 5 Ps also show that good engagement shouldn’t only be about profile-raising. That can play a hugely useful role but in these times of greater financial constraint that can be difficult to justify to senior management.

We all need to be thinking about the work being delivered and why it is of use, making it as effective as possible.

  1. Policies – keep the engagement focused on outcomes either for your organisation and / or government. Looking at policies should not just mean engaging on the issues that matter to government now but also setting the agenda to put new policies on the table as well. Governments, it should be remembered, are always on the lookout for new ideas and making the ones that they already have perform better.
  2. Personalities – these can be of the politicians or audiences you are engaging with but also those internally you have to deal with. The personalities can impact on the messages being delivered, how they are delivered and by who, and who does the engagement as well. In some cases it may even decide whether you talk to them at all!
  3. Projects – too often, organisations can become distracted by the politics or the general sense of engagement. However, for many, there needs to be a very clear focus on the projects being developed by government. These can be complex, cut across departments and take many years to come to fruition. All the things that can be difficult for Government to cope with but also difficult for public affairs teams to explain internally as well.
  4. Parliament – whatever public affairs is and / or may become, there remains a focus on the role and importance of Parliament. What is said and done there remains critical in terms of policy-development, scrutiny and, in particular, in the protection of reputations. That element of reputation management and protection is now at the heart of public affairs because of the interplay between Parliament, the media and social media.
  5. Process – one of the cornerstones of public affairs is simply in understanding the political and policy-making processes, the ‘what happens when’. Getting the ask of a politician right is not just about the politics but also about the process. Can the ask be delivered? Is it really do-able? If not then there is, for instance, a risk that you damage the relationship with that politician.

Campaigns are, of course, always a little more complex and need to consider the range of stakeholders, the messages to be delivered, the methods of communications to be employed and, critically, the solution be offered.

However, thinking about the 5 Ps will set you on the right path.

Image courtesy of flickr user Tamaki Sono

Stuart Thomson

Stuart is a public affairs and communications specialist at Bircham Dyson Bell LLP advising clients on all elements of their public affairs strategies including political and corporate communications and reputation management. His work also includes consultation and planning communications and he has worked on a number of high profile media relations and crisis communications programmes. Stuart is an honorary research fellow at the University of Aberdeen and is the author of several books including 'New Activism and the Corporate Response', 'Public Affairs in Practice' (for the CIPR) and 'The Dictionary of Labour Quotations' (published by Britain's leading political publisher, Biteback). 'New Activism and the Corporate Response' was called a book that "every aspiring business leader should read" by MIS Asia. Stuart regularly writes and lectures on a range of business and political issues. Stuart recently released a book published by Urbane Publications, 'Public Affairs: News, Views and Hullabaloos' based on his blog. He is also a CIPR trainer and was shortlisted for the 2014 Director of the Year award by the IoD and CIPR.

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