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.

Lionel’s pub quiz

Lionel Zetter, Patron, has put together a quiz for PRCA members / guests, and they invite Conservatives in Communications to participate.

  1. Who was the only post-war British prime minister who attended university not to have gone to Oxford? The Rt Hon Gordon Brown
  2. Name one sitting MP, other than Dominic Raab, who is a martial arts black belt. Shailesh Vara
  3. Other than Boris Johnson, who is the only other prime minister to have been born outside the UK? Andrew Bonar Law
  4. Which sitting MP has a quadruple barrelled surname? Richard Grosvenor Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax
  5. Which school gives pupils a day off when a former pupil becomes prime minister? Eton College
  6. Which Labour frontbencher’s father was a tool-maker? Sir Keir Starmer
  7. Which Lib Dems first name was a hit for Derek and the Dominos? Layla Moran
  8. Which sitting MP is the only MP to have appeared on BBC’s ‘Top of the Pops’? Pete Wishart
  9. Which MP shares a name with a power station? Richard Drax
  10. Which hereditary peer and current government minister had previously founded (and then sold) his own public affairs consultancy? The Lord Bethell

Please email your answers to him before 5pm on Monday, April 27. Thanks in advance for your entries!

Boris the builder

Lionel Zetter is Patron of Conservatives in Communications

Boris Johnson once described himself as ‘basically a Brexity Hezza’. What he meant by that was that he and former Deputy Prime Minister Michael Heseltine shared a penchant for ‘grands projets’.

The prime minister’s announcement that, despite ballooning costs, HS2 would go ahead underlined his fondness for giant infrastructure schemes. At the same time, he also gave the green light to Northern Powerhouse Rail and promised massive investment in the bus network and in cycle superhighways. As if these were not enough, there were also announcements about 5G roll-out, and plans for up to ten freeports.

Aside from his personal predilection for such projects, the stream of announcements around HS2 also reflected the hard-headed calculation by Tory strategists that the best way to signal to former Labour voters in the North and the Midlands that their Damascene conversion would not go unrewarded was to at least start to address the long-running imbalance between investment in London and the South East, and the rest of the country. In order to do so the government had to tear-up long-standing Treasury rules on return on investment.

Aside from the cynical political calculation of the announcements they were also designed to take advantage of the historically low rates of interest on offer to stable governments, such as the UK’s. An added bonus is the prospect of, over time, using infrastructure investment to help to address the issue of low productivity that has plagued the UK for many years.

Boris Johnson’s track record of delivering on giant infrastructure projects is patchy. He can certainly claim much of the credit for the effective delivery of the 2012 London Olympics, and Crossrail was on time and on budget under his watch when he was London Mayor. However, the Garden Bridge scheme across the Thames was a costly fiasco, and during his time as Mayor he had vehemently opposed Heathrow expansion. Instead he championed ‘Boris Island’, an airport in the Thames Estuary – a feasible but controversial project.

But these past, present and future ‘grands projets’ – including talk of a bridge between Scotland and Northern Ireland – are like their progenitor; they are not just very big, they are very bold.

The prime minister is proposing and championing them partly because of political and economic necessity, but also with an eye to his legacy. Boris wants to go down in history not just as a winner, but as a builder.

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

This piece was written for our website.

Red wall, blue sea

Lionel Zetter is Patron of Conservatives in Communications

In the end, it wasn’t even close. The polls had showed Labour closing the gap in the final few days of the campaign, but there was no surge. Soufflés really don’t rise twice, and the ‘magic grandpa’ had lost his sparkle.

The CCHQ team had always wanted this to be an election focused on Brexit, and they largely got their way. But it was not just about the principle of Brexit itself. Most people wanted Brexit out of the headlines and off of the front pages, but they also wanted the normal functioning of government to resume. 

But perhaps even more important was the issue of trust. If you promise not to raise tuition fees and then treble them, as the Liberal Democrats did in 2010, then you get hammered. If you stand on a manifesto to respect the result of the EU referendum, as both Labour and the Lib Dems did in 2017, and then you constantly seek to block Brexit, then you get hammered.

The fact that much of the discontent with the non-delivery of Brexit was concentrated in the neglected Labour heartlands of the Midlands and the North acted as a double whammy. People in those regions wanted Brexit delivered, but they had originally voted for Brexit because they felt neglected by Westminster, and ignored by the Labour Party. So like Trump supporters in the ’fly over’ states of the US they refused to change their minds, and they demanded to be heard.

There was also poor targeting on the part of Labour. Both the party machine and the parallel Momentum organisation concentrated their resources on Corbynista candidates, rather than on those who most needed support. This cost them unity, and it cost them votes, and it cost them seats. The fall-out from this will rumble on for months, if not years.

By contrast CCHQ did a great job. When it came to strategy Isaac Levido provided calm, whilst Dominic Cummings – as ever – provided inspiration. The cyber war was master-minded by two young kiwis, Sean Topham and Ben Guerin. Meantime the mainstream media was effectively marshalled by Lee Cain and Rob Oxley and a team of experienced press officers, many of whom had worked for Boris on and off over the years since his first mayoral bid.

But the main reason Labour lost and we won was because of the respective leaders. Boris came across as a dynamic leader with a strong focus and clear priorities – including, of course, getting Brexit done. Of course there were mis-steps, including pocketing a journalists phone and escaping in to a walk-in fridge. But generally Boris came across well, with his trademark good humour and with his bright young politically-engaged partner by his side. Parading Dilyn the rescue dog also worked well – an estimated 9.9 million households in the UK own a dog.

By contrast Jeremy Corbyn came across as old, tired, testy, petulant – and (more importantly) nasty. He may not be an anti-semite himself, but he certainly seems to enjoy the company of people who are. This cost him votes not just in the handful of seats with large Jewish populations, but also amongst the wider electorate, who hate discrimination and loathe bullies.

So, the fabled ‘red wall’ has crumbled, and it has been replaced by a ‘blue sea’. And let’s face it, seas are stronger and more durable than walls. Now the task – fully recognised by CCHQ and Number Ten – is to justify the faith placed in us by all those former Labour supporters who loaned us their votes in order to ‘get Brexit done’, and to keep Corbyn out of Number Ten.

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

This piece was written for our website.

Tories in Comms relaunches

Conservatives in Communications (CiC), the industry network that brings together senior Tory PR specialists, has relaunched under the chairmanship of Katie Perrior.

Industry stalwarts Lord Black, Kevin Bell and Lionel Zetter – all of whom have been involved in CiC since it was established in 2011 to support the Party – have agreed to be patrons.

PR director Adam Honeysett-Watts and Westminster recruiter Carol Freeman are supporting the effort, including an event yesterday at the Ellwood Atfield Gallery in Smith Square.

Lord Black, deputy chairman of Telegraph Media Group, moderated an audience Q&A with Perrior – who worked as Director of Communications to Prime Minister Theresa May before returning to iNHouse Communications.

Among the 100 guests were industry and association campaign leads, agency partners and colleagues, as well as current and former special advisors and staffers.

Katie said:

“The Conservative Party would be wise to tap into this talent pool, and leverage the network as it seeks to shape and tell its story to the voters.”

For more information, including how to sign-up for events, email us.

As covered by ConservativeHome.com, The Holmes Report and The House Magazine.