Reflecting on last year’s Influencing Academy, one graduate explains how what he learned has led to a better relationship with their local MP.
Jack Weaver is Public Affairs Advisor at Flagship Group
17 January 2018
This time last year I’d been in the housing sector for just 3 months and I was psyching myself up to spend three days away at Influencing Academy 2017. It promised to be a crash course in the art of telling the sector’s story. As a newcomer it also promised to be a lesson in what on earth our story is!
I was very excited but also quite apprehensive about what the residential might have in store. Suffice to say I was not disappointed. Everyone took away new skills and a rejuvenated motivation to get out there and start telling our story.
In the packed schedule, one session that stuck with me more than most was a discussion with a local MP. She was discussing some of the ways we can cut through the barrage of letters and emails MPs get daily to make sure we get heard.
I remember listening intently to what she was saying. Here are some of her tips:
- MPs love a hard-hat/hi-vis jacket photo opportunity
- Don’t be afraid to massage our egos
- Have an open-door policy and you’ll probably get the same in return
But my eye kept being drawn to a bloke at the back. He wasn’t part of the cohort of eager-eyed influencers – but he was gently nodding along to everything she said.
Later, she introduced him as her senior caseworker (not a bodyguard as my over-active, caffeine-fuelled imagination had pictured). I call him ‘nodding bloke’.
My biggest lesson from that session was that the key to the winning the hearts of our MPs is (unsurprisingly) their constituents.
But to get their ear, you need their army of researchers, caseworkers and policy people that soldier through their correspondence, manage their diaries and ultimately decide who gets to speak to them. People like nodding bloke.
Six months later, I invited key MPs to an event at our head office. But I made a mistake and emailed the MPs themselves, not their staff. As a result most declined (they’re busy people after all). But one policy manager did come along to hear about all the good work we do. We spoke about our innovative research, new technologies and agile culture. He has proved to be invaluable.
A few weeks later I was invited to the same MP’s office to speak with a number of caseworkers at once. The policy manager was excitedly telling all his colleagues to come along to any events Flagship Group hold in the future because “it was bloody brilliant” and he “had no idea housing organisations did this stuff”.
There is now a genuine open-door attitude between our two offices. It may only be one of our 24 constituencies, but it’s an excellent start and I’m now well and truly tapped into the network.
Before now I had no idea just how crucial the network of parliamentary staff is to the influencing work the housing sector does. There’s an entire eco-system at work and if you can catch the eye of one part of the network, you can soon have access to staff who have their MP’s ear more than most.
Our politicians are eager for innovative solutions to problems in their patch and housing is high on their ‘to-do’ list. So if you’re wondering where to start, dig out the contact details of a caseworker for your local MP, call the constituency office or tweet them and just invite them over for coffee and an honest chin-wag. It’ll work wonders.
Thank you, nodding bloke, for my Eureka moment.
Applications for the Influencing Academy 2018 are now open. Deadline for applications is 5pm on Friday 26 January.