What’s your political strategy?
With Britain's exit from the European Union set to take centre stage in the coming months and years, the relationship between the United Kingdom's business and political worlds will be of increasing significance.
Business leaders have long been aware of the benefits of harnessing the power of the media to raise their own profile and to influence public perceptions to further their business interests. But negotiating the nuances and potential rewards of Westminster can seem a different prospect altogether.
For many, engaging the political world can feel like entering uncharted and unfamiliar territory, but the current uncertainty around what the future has in store for the UK arguably offers a unique opportunity for business leaders to engage, contribute and effect political change.
Traditionally, many companies, particularly smaller businesses, have been content to bide their time and adapt to political change accordingly. But with Brexit, this approach is unlikely to be sustainable, and for many "wait and see" is simply not a risk worth taking.
Let's remember, the Brexit negotiations are yet to even begin. But the deal that Theresa May eventually strikes with the EU will have a profound effect on every business sector, and will in a large part determine our relationship with the rest of the world.
For this reason, businesses of all sizes, and from all sectors, should now be considering their political strategy. It has never been more important to take a proactive approach, both to champion their own interests, and do all they can to protect themselves from potential risks.
Central to achieving this is ensuring that business priorities and concerns are being heard by the people who will be leading and scrutinising the exit negotiations and implementing government policy going forward.
There are a number of ways to go about doing this: initiating a campaign to draw attention to the issues that might affect your sector; building relationships with relevant political stakeholders; or even by taking the ultimate plunge and pursuing an active role on the political frontline yourself.
When it comes to personal engagement with politics, for those who have never done so before, getting involved for the first time can be frustrating. Often, the status achieved within the commercial world, from innovation or financial success, doesn't automatically transfer to the political world. To the uninitiated politics can feel like an alien planet and unguided early engagements can be disempowering experiences. It can be easy to get demoralised at the first hurdle and just give up.
The good news is that it is possible to navigate the quagmire. As with the press, it is all about good messaging, relationship development and building influence.
But politicians are a very different audience to the media and it's important to consider their interests if you want to succeed. You may have achieved a great deal in business and be passionate about what you do, but why does that matter to politicians? And what can you offer them? Politics is all about give and take.
Individuals step into the political limelight with varying ambitions and intentions: the currency of politics is power, which can be an attractive prospect, and is nothing to be ashamed of. Others will be motivated by a specific issue and a desire to engineer change. Some people want to make a difference on a larger scale, while others wish to shine a light on the achievements of their sector, particularly if they feel that they are being overlooked by the government.
As someone who has already been successful in business, your best chance of success will come when your political strategy draws on your personal experiences, interests and strengths.
As with business, your first step should be to establish a realistic goal and strategy flows from there. For example, it's all very well knowing that you want to become a minister, but you won't achieve this without first committing to a party, getting selected, getting into Parliament and building the right profile and relationships of patronage.
Similarly, if your goal is to change the law, you have no hope of doing so without planning and implementing a specific campaign that builds government or Parliamentary support for practical legislation. A one-off press stunt won't do it. You will need to ensure that your views are being heard by targeted decision makers directly and consistently. You'll also need to stay ahead of the political agenda and be prepared to evolve your strategy with the situation - politics is, after all, predictable in its unpredictability.
When engaging with politics, it's important to understand that it is still as dominated by patronage as it was in Tudor England. To progress and gain preferment, you need champions and you need to earn that patronage. Paramount to doing this is identifying and developing key relationships with the right stakeholders. Just as you spend years cultivating relationships and building trust in the world of business, so you must in politics. This can be as simple as ensuring that you join the right political party, that you attend relevant events, and that you are constantly expanding your political network.
Traditionally, businesses and individuals are relatively quick to reach for professional support when they want to get in the media. The same principles now make sense if you want to communicate appropriately with politicians, to build political relationships and influence.
If you go about things in the right way and find yourself in the favour of those who wield influence, then you will see results faster. Equally, make an approach the wrong way and you may spend weeks waiting on the phone or for emails that will never arrive, or find yourself pigeonholed in the wrong stakeholder category.
If you are running a business, have a perspective or needs to promote, or political ambitions to pursue, then ask yourself today: "do I have the political strategy I need?" If not, in the context of Brexit, now is probably the best time to reach for the phone and engage some professional support.
Tim Snowball is head of political strategy at PHA Media, and was previously political secretary to Nick Clegg and director of party communications for the Liberal Democrats
Post Date: March 7th, 2017