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.

How we’ll support female Tories in Comms

Katie Perrior is Chair, and Aisha Vance-Cuthbert and Laura Dunn are co-Directors of Conservatives in Communications

Once again, thank you for your continued support and to those who participated in the CiC Census 2020. The anonoymised and aggregated data is a helpful guide for everyone concerned.

As a reminder, we invited all supporters to weigh in and we received a strong response. In particular, we polled gender (25% of respondents are female) and invited everyone to suggest how we should get more women involved. We received plenty of comments (125 in total!), including some constructive feedback and ideas. We read each and every one.

Responsibilities

Before we get underway, let’s remind ourselves about our group: Tories in Comms is an independent, voluntary and informal industry network for conservatives who work in our sector. While we have a role to play and take our responsibilities seriously, there are others who must take the lead.

For example, while it’s great that just over half of all MPs elected in 2019 were Conservative (365 of 650), it’s also disappointing that – just like our base – only one quarter of them are women (87 of 365). The Party must do more to improve this, and outfits such as the Conservative Women’s Organisation and Women2Win continue to play an important role.

Women are under-represented as senior leaders within the worlds of PR and PA. Other groups, such as Women in PA and Women in PR agree, and they too continue to make a difference; though businesses must do even more.

In a similar vein, the Party, businesses and network must do more to ensure the membership, workforce and base are ethnically diverse.

Let’s look at how we can improve things.

Us and you

Our core team is 50% female, including our chair and two directors. Laura is our women’s lead while Finley Morris is our lead on young people, including, yes, young women. Men have a role to play in encouraging gender parity.

We will continue to advertise all volunteer positions in our newsletter as well as on our website and social media.

Partners

There are several organisations doing an excellent job to encourage female participation. We don’t want to duplicate efforts, rather promote each other’s respective work.

Today, we’ve agreed to work closely with Women2Win and Women in PA, and we look forward to working together on future events and content. You will find them highlighted on our website.

Events

Historically, our group was 100% focused on networking and there was a preference for after-work drink receptions. For the past 12 months, we’ve continued down that path with events on Wednesdays, 6-8pm. However, we recognise that format doesn’t suit everybody, especially women with children and/or those based outside London, and therefore we commit to hosting breakfast and lunch events. We will also look to vary our guest speakers and topics and virtual events. Where we can meet in-person, name tags will also be provided, and we’ll do whatever we can to make all our events welcoming and inclusive. While our Summer Reception has been cancelled and Conservative Party Conference is unlikely to go ahead as planned, we’ll do our very best to host face-to-face events soon.

Speakers

Our commitment to female involvement has been there from the get-go. All three of our most recent events since our relaunch featured women: Lord Black hosted a Q&A with Katie, Kulveer Ranger hosted a Q&A with the Home Secretary Priti Patel MP and Katie chaired a panel on the 2019 election. We will continue to invite high profile women, including our parliamentary patrons like Baroness McIntosh as well as MPs Esther McVey, Joy Morrissey, Nickie Aiken, Siobhan Baillie and Theo Clarke, and we commit to having at least one female speaker at every CiC event.

Content

All supporters are invited to submit content for our newsletter, and to be promoted on our website and social media, and we really encourage you to do so especially if you have something to add on this issue.

Mentoring and profiling

Almost three quarters of survey respondents are interested in becoming a mentor while two thirds are looking for a mentor. Throughout 2020, we will profile our female supporters. Watch this space for details of both of these ideas.

Promotion

We don’t assume people know about Tories in Comms, so we’ll continue to promote the group, by partnering with organisations and leveraging social media.

We also encourage every supporter to invite one female friend or colleague to sign-up to the network and attend an event.

OUR 12-POINT PLAN

  1. We will advertise all volunteer positions
  2. We will work with our partners on events and content
  3. We will host both breakfast and lunch events
  4. We will vary up both speakers and topics
  5. We will use nametags at events going forward
  6. We will ensure our events are both welcoming and inclusive
  7. We will continue to invite high profile women
  8. We will strive for at least one female speaker per industry event
  9. We will encourage women to submit content for our newsletter
  10. We will launch our mentoring scheme
  11. We will do more to promote the network and supporters
  12. We will encourage supporters to encourage others to sign-up.

Our commitment is real, but we cannot do this on our own, so whether it’s encouraging your female friends and colleagues to join us or writing a piece for our e-newsletter, please do get involved. A final note to all our male supporters – thank you for everything you do which helps us progress and succeed. We’re fully aware that most of our career progression has been through decisions made by men and while we want to see more females in these leadership roles, we’re thankful for that support from our male colleagues over the years.

We’re optimistic about the future, but the MSM must up its game

PRESS RELEASE – IMMEDIATE DISTRIBUTION

A survey conducted by Conservatives in Communications (CiC), the independent and informal industry network for over 435 professionals, reveals that its supporters are optimistic about the future of the sector (7.24 out of 10), with 99% in employment. The positive findings come as the Government looks to ease lockdown measures in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. This in spite of 62% feeling that the mainstream media (MSM) is not providing balanced and unbiased reporting. Bloomberg and the BBC ranked as the most trustworthy news brands while Al Jazeera and Russia Today ranked as the least trustworthy.

The group, which is marking one year since it was relaunched by its chair Katie Perrior and principal director Adam Honeysett-Watts, has been encouraging supporters – including 23 parliamentary patrons – to take part in its inaugural Census 2020. In addition to its industry patrons, a new tier of Tory peers and MPs – who have previously worked or have an interest in communications (public affairs, PR, policy, digital, marketing, events, journalism or publishing) – have recently signed-up. The team has also been widened to build out its offering to young conservatives and to get more women involved.

Survey respondents were largely positive about the Government’s original ‘Stay home’ message (4.49 out of 5). They scored all nine aspects of the daily press briefings, such as stage management and inviting the public to submit their questions, as effective; with the Chancellor of the Exchequer recognised as the most impressive performer. That said, there is little appetite for the conferences to become a permanent fixture. Further, supporters were invited to submit ideas for a new slogan or comment on the ‘Stay alert’ message. Of those who did, 69% proposed an alternative, which may have contributed to a lower score of 3.18 out of 5 for the Government’s overall strategy.

Turning to other topics. While 73% of participants benefited from flexible working and / or working from home (WFH) before the pandemic began, 90% will be advocating for this post-lockdown. Perhaps unsurprisingly, supporters do not miss commuting to and from work (77%), and many used this available time to spend with the family and to ‘think’ more about their work. Professionals have adapted quite well to the changes with 44% saying they have been more productive, especially when it comes to producing written materials for both internal and external clients. 42% said they’re more active while 41% have reallocated earnings.

Katie Perrior, Chair of iNHouse Communications and a former Director of Communications at Number 10, said:

“Our supporters have risen to the challenges posed by the country’s response to the global pandemic. That aside, we’re a people industry – our successes are built on networking and relationships. Although the many technologies – for example, Microsoft Teams and Zoom – have worked much better than expected, they are no substitute for face-to-face. Survey respondents cited less time with colleagues (60%) and friends (45%) as reasons they like least about WFH. I too, look forward to seeing my colleagues and clients as well as family and friends, in-person, very soon.”

Adam Honeysett-Watts said:

“We spotted an opportunity to relaunch and grow CiC into a more dynamic, proactive, diverse and transparent resource, and the pandemic has shown how much one is needed. While industry networking is the main reason our supporters joined us and continue to be involved, there is appetite for us to offer more. That includes advertising job opportunities (63%), sharing industry news (61%), connecting with our parliamentary patrons (59%), widening blog content (55%) as well as offering careers advice and mentoring opportunities (50%). Many of these are already in the works, including the latter, where 72% of supporters cited interest in being mentors.”

Note to Editors

You can learn more about the survey and access all of the results here.

As covered by PRWeek.

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.