Advice from Luther Pendragon
Most w4mp guides are written either by us or by current staffers. Here’s an exception, written for us by Lucy Minshall (Associate Director at Luther Pendragon – see below) who has worked on both sides of the fence so hopefully gives a good balanced view of things.
When you google the term ‘lobbyist’ one of the words that strikes you in the results is ‘scandal’. The media often write negative stories on lobbyists and portray us as the second evil after bankers. And working for an MP, we understand why you are sometimes cautious when we call you.
It is true that over the past 20 years there have been a handful of said scandals, and there are still some questionable practices which exist but the truth is that most of the industry and those who work in it are very far removed from this.
The UK Public Affairs Council (UKPAC) was created by the industry bodies to provide a united front for agency and in-house consultants in response to the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PASAC) Inquiry into lobbying and the Government’s response to this Inquiry, which made clear that a system of self regulation, involving a voluntary register, was needed to ensure ethical behaviour and transparency amongst lobbyists. The creation of the body demonstrates how seriously the industry is taking the need to restore public confidence in Westminster and will hopefully offer the transparency to those in power and their staff to feel confident in engaging with us.
The future of the UKPAC has however recently been questioned as the Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA) has withdrawn from the Council, and endorsed the Government’s decision to introduce a statutory register of public affairs practitioners.
Many think we spend our time lunching our clients then drinking gin and tonics in the Westminster village with various MPs trying to twist their arm into doing something for them. False. What we actually do is spend a lot of our time explaining to our clients how parliamentary processes work, advising them of when certain pieces of legislation are going through, when key announcements are likely to come out and helping to draft consultation responses. In many ways we are performing a similar role to you but for a different sector.
It is worth remembering we are also do ‘good’ work. We don’t just represent big corporate organisations, many of our clients are in the third sector, and many public affairs companies frequently undertake pro bono work.
Below are some hints and tips for working with us:
- We are here to help. If you are working for a Shadow Minister/Select Committee member etc., someone who has a particular policy interest and we call you on behalf of an organisation within that area, tell us what would be useful. If you are unsure about letting our clients meet your boss, meet us or them first. We can only help you if we know your needs and concerns.
- Put personal opinions aside. Whatever your feelings about the aims of certain commercial organisations or charities, they have a right to be heard and have their concerns addressed. To give informed opinion in policy debate, your boss will have to know all sides of the argument in hand. Lobbyists can make sure your boss has all the information, and is prepared for all the counter arguments he or she may face.
- If you feel nervous, say so. If you feel you are being subjected to some unethical lobbying practices, report it. The UKPAC can only function if it is informed in the way the industry is working.
- Be organised. Keep a constant record of anything of monetary value a public affairs professional pays for or gives to you such as lunches, dinners etc, to avoid any questions in the future.
- It’s a small world. Do remember it is a small industry, you will frequently see the same faces at party conferences and receptions etc so try and have positive and productive relationships.
At the time of writing, Lucy Minshall was an Associate Director at Luther Pendragon – www.luther.co.uk, with more than six years’ experience in public affairs and corporate communications.
Prior to joining Luther in 2007, she worked for a Conservative MP in Parliament, as well as a Democratic Congresswoman in Washington DC, a pro-business pressure group, and a leading political monitoring agency. Lucy also worked on campaigns for the Conservative Party in 2005 and 2010, and for the Democrats in the southern states of the US in 2004. She works with a range of clients focusing on public affairs and media relations in sectors including aerospace, insurance, and manufacturing. She holds a degree in Politics and Parliamentary Studies from Leeds University.
See also our Guide to Handling Lobbyists