Networking from the get-go

Finley Morris is Lead for Young Conservatives in Communications and works at WA Communications. Connect on LinkedIn. Follow on Twitter

As the latest data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) demonstrates, Covid-19 – and the government’s response to it – has impacted every sector, including the communications industry. The pandemic has brought new challenges to light, such as re-shaping ways of working and re-prioritising the skills required of effective consultants. But one thing that hasn’t altered, rather is being reinforced – by what is becoming an increasingly multifaceted profession, is the real significance of networking.

Admittedly, I am in the early stages of my career. However, even during this period of working within lobbying and communications, I have discovered and experienced first-hand how networking can positively impact you both professionally and personally.

In the broadest sense, networking is about people and relationships. Don’t just take my word for it, check out Lionel Zetter’s blog. In practice, this means identifying opportunities – such as events organised by Tories in Comms – to connect with people who share similar and different viewpoints (and politics), and life stories to your own. Hopefully, if the feeling is shared, you’ll develop a fruitful relationship that is mutually beneficial over many years.

The rise in cross-departmental cooperation, inter-organisational collaboration and connected working practices have demonstrated the importance of being “tapped-in” to a variety of people. Be that across government departments, a breadth of officials and journalists, and among peers with different skillsets who work across multiple sectors.

Government and businesses alike are turning to problem solvers, critical thinkers and creative employees to help weather this turbulent period. If you can establish yourself as someone who has a diverse network and range of connections, then you’re likely to be one of these people, and if you’re not, then at the very least you’re likely to know the person who is.

I’ve drawn together six tips that I’d recommend as you start networking:

  1. Identify those networking opportunities. For example, the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) and their various national, regional and special interest groups; the Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA) and their national, regional and sectoral groups; the Conservative Party and affiliate groups (and annual party conference), and of course – Conservatives in Communications! Sign-up and get stuck in. Several of these events are even taking place online throughout the lockdown.
  1. Figure out the purpose of attending an event. Are you going in a professional or personal capacity, or perhaps both? Are you hoping to learn something or generate new business leads, or again both?
  1. Go prepared. Look the part and, if you can, take business cards. Bring a friend or colleague or try to know at least one other person going (sometimes organisations make lists available). Ask to be introduced.
  1. Be engaged. Be kind and curious, ask questions and reach out to people you find interesting or have a shared interest with. People like to talk about the things they’re passionate about, so give them the opportunity to and they’ll likely oblige. 
  1. Every person does matter – from the chairman to the janitor. The people you meet and the peers you have during every stage of your career will end up in all sorts of places within the industry.
  1. Follow-up. Add the people you meet on LinkedIn and drop them a personal note the following day while it’s all fresh. You can simply say thank you for the introduction or think of arranging another conversation in the future.

I have been tasked with bolstering the network’s offer for young people, while diversifying the pool of industry people involved. As I’ve set out above, the value of networking cannot be overstated. I’m determined to make Young Conservatives in Communications the organisation that provides you with the opportunity to nurture a diverse and resilient network that will support you throughout your career. 

While we continue to plan our networking calendar and forge new partnerships, including with Conservative Young Women, I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas on what you might like, in terms of events, content and support. Share your ideas with me here.

This piece was written for our website.

The craft of communications and the coming culture war

GUEST POST: Jason MacKenzie is Managing Partner of Corporate Communications at Nudge Factory and Past-President of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations. Follow on Twitter. Connect on LinkedIn

Political language…is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.

We’re neck deep in that Orwellian future. Fake news is the new norm, and effective communicators will win the coming clash between the ‘based’ and the ‘woke’.

If you’re not entirely sure what those two sentences mean, but you’ve got a good idea that this is an important debate, you’re in the majority. We’re familiar with the language of Brexit, and the emotive political discourse leading up to the EU referendum. It’s rooted in an older, simpler paradigm. But we now need greater nuance to navigate the rhetorical battlefields of the future.

The US culture wars started in the 1920s, with the clash between rural and urban American values. The term was rebooted in the 1960s, placed centre stage by disagreements between conservatives and progressives over moral issues, including marriage and abortion.

‘Pro-life’ verses ‘pro-choice’ is a classic example of the framing of an issue. On the face of it, both seem positive and widely acceptable positions to adopt. In reality, they are diametrically opposite. One emphasises the sanctity of life, based on the conviction that human rights begin in the womb, the other prioritises the well-being of a mother over her unborn infant. No one ever describes themselves as ‘anti-choice’ or ‘pro-death’.

American pollster Frank Luntz demonstrates the importance of persuasive language in Words That Work: It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear, by asking why people dislike big oil.

America’s energy producers have been their own worst enemies…“drilling for oil”…reminds people of Jed Clampett shooting at the ground, conjuring images of liquid black goo gushing into the sky…

The antidote is simple: they replaced ‘drilling for oil’ with ‘energy exploration’ – far more acceptable, at least semantically.

Language matters. Phrasing matters. Framing matters.

Vote Leave won because 17.4 million people understood and embraced ‘Vote leave, take back control’ – most importantly because it encapsulated the underlying message. You could argue that ‘Make America Great Again’ worked for the Republicans in 2016 in the same way, and that ‘Get Brexit done’ delivered an 80-seat majority for the Conservatives six months ago.

But not all air wars are fought by giant industries to reposition themselves, or by political parties to win elections. The coming culture war will be fought on multiple fronts, across social, digital and traditional media, and with myriad voices and factions. While many combatants will simply shout into echo chambers that reinforce their own worldviews, deepening tribalism – others will cut through, and change the way we think, feel and act.

Over the past few weeks we’ve witnessed two major flashpoints. The diehard remain coalition piled pressure on Boris Johnson to sack Dominic Cummings, for actions that Durham Police said “might have been a minor breach of the regulations.” But the Prime Minister’s adviser neither resigned nor was forced out.

The old rules no longer apply. Cummings would not have survived in the pre-Trump era. The US President’s relentless refusal to adhere to convention has crossed the Atlantic. There’s a willingness to stand up to received wisdom, herd mentality and the prevailing media narrative. Whether you believe that this shows craven weakness or bold leadership depends on your worldview and where your loyalties lie.

The second major incident sparked riots, looting, and a torrent of hatred and outrage. The universally-condemned and unjust killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis after being pinned to the floor by police officer Derek Chauvin took place on 25th May. Conservatives, liberals and almost everyone across (and beyond) the political spectrum condemned this instance of police brutality. But from there, narratives and courses of action diverged.

On the one hand, there are calls for law and order to prevail, for justice to be done, and for peace – whether peaceful protesting or other meaningful action. At the other end of the spectrum, anarchic looting and violent protests carried out by the likes of Antifa, the militant left-wing movement. Meanwhile, the middle ground is flooded by virtue-signalling.

Our 52/48 nation will continue to be divided, and social media will play an increasing role as a catalyst, stoking the fires of anger and hatred, and deepening our societal fractures. Even something as innocuous as a blog about whether we need ‘Pride Month’ by young, gay Conservative activist Darren Grimes provoked a furore. “I find it utterly depressing that the pride flag now takes pride of place in our national life over our own national flag” he wrote for Conservative Home. Rather than welcoming debate and the free exchange of ideas, he was pilloried on Twitter, rebutted by PinkNews, and the post was ‘cancelled’ by Facebook.

Free speech is vital for democracy. When social media platforms behave more like publishers, exercising censorship and editorial control, they need to be treated as such. Digital acts of ‘no platforming’ such as ‘temporarily restricting’ Twitter parody account @TitaniaMcGrath, smack of censorship and conscious mass manipulation. This is what the founding father of public relations, Edward Bernays might have called “the engineering of consent”.

Identity politics is here to stay. Tribalism is getting deeper. Truth (and underlying trust in our institutions) is more evasive than ever. That’s why professional communications, precise language and persuasive discourse are needed now more than ever. In the court of public opinion, the most powerful arguments will win. Let’s hope that democracy, decency and common sense prevail.

If you have ideas for the group or would like to get involved, please email us.

This piece was written for our website.

Networking – the key to success

Lionel Zetter is Patron of Conservatives in Communications

Conservatives in Communications is open to all communicators who identify with the aims and values of the UK Conservative Party. Its chair, directors, patrons and supporters include politicians and journalists as well as communications professionals from every branch of that broad discipline.

However, given the political connection it is not surprising that public affairs professionals make up a substantial proportion of the CiC membership. Public affairs – or lobbying – is often regarded by outsiders as being some sort of dark and mysterious art. In reality, it is a straight-forward trade, with few secrets, but also few short-cuts.

I have worked in public affairs for 40 years, at large and small consultancies, in-house and as a freelancer. Sometimes, I am asked if there is a secret to the (admittedly modest) success I’ve enjoyed. My response is always that there is no secret, but there is a key. That key is relationships.

But, relationships have to be instigated and established, and then constantly nurtured. And that takes time. Because instigating and then establishing and then deepening relationships can only be done through networking – often outside of office hours.

So, over the course of my career, I’ve joined every trade and professional body I can, and used every networking opportunity that presents itself. Apart from Conservatives in Communications (which I helped to set up), I’ve joined (and sometimes headed) the CIPR, Government Affairs Group, PRCA and The Enterprise Forum. On top of these formal bodies, I have also supported and attended events ranging from PubAffairs Networking to (back in the day) Village Drinks. Then, of course, there are the party conferences – every networkers’ wet dream!

I did all this because I enjoy socialising, and let’s be honest – I also enjoy the occasional drink. But more than that, way more than that, attending networking events enables you to make new contacts and reinforce relationships. They help you to break out of the echo chamber and talk to people with different political views and colleagues from different communications disciplines. They enable you to promote your own views, but even more importantly, to listen to and argue with people from different backgrounds who hold divergent views. And, if you decide to write a book (plug alert), such as Lobbying, the Art of Political Persuasion, networking will help you to persuade people to contribute passages to the book – and maybe even to buy a copy!

So, if you want to get on in the wonderful overlapping worlds of politics and communications, my advice is to network like crazy, and to cherish and nurture the relationships that flow from those varying events.

And, if you are a Conservative and work in communications – I’m sure that you know what to do…

This piece was written for our website.