I went to university a few years later than most and whilst studying I undertook several internships including at Dods, Macmillan Cancer Support and ABTA. After graduation I worked at Munro & Foster before taking a policy job at the British Orthopaedic Association. I joined Whitehouse in November 2014, where I work on clients across health and education sectors.
How did you get into Public Affairs?
I wanted to accelerate my career as quickly as possible when leaving university and knew that I wanted to work in politics, so I researched what options there were other than getting involved with a political party. My two internships exposed me to the diverse range of work done in the public affairs industry and the opportunities that it provided for people interested in politics, and that ignited a passion which I have pursued ever since.
What does your current role entail on a day to day basis?
It’s a cliché, but there’s no typical day in this job. The news and political cycle can impact your work significantly, whether it’s a Written Ministerial Statement or a new external policy report I need to brief my client on and explain its likely implications for their business. Our clients rely on timely intelligence and value-added analysis of events to make crucial business decisions, so it’s really important that we’re on top of developments as they happen.
I manage around five clients as part of a team, and we all work together to build and take forward an agreed strategy. This includes a wide range of activities from writing external briefings to facilitating and attending meetings with parliamentarians and officials. I oversee the work of junior members of the team and think it is important to ensure they benefit from new opportunities to develop their skills and deal with clients directly.
What skills and characteristics are most important to a Public Affairs professional?
It’s crucial to be able to write well. As communications professionals we rely on our ability to articulate complex and important arguments clearly and concisely. Working for an agency, it’s also important to be able to absorb a lot of information and shift your thoughts quickly from one policy area to another. This aspect of consultancy is exciting as you often don’t know what challenges you’ll face each day, and there’s a real need to be creative in working up solutions to help your clients.
Which campaign/issue are you most proud to have worked on?
Macmillan Cancer Support’s campaign for choice at the end-of-life. I feel strongly that people who wish to die at home should be able to. Before the campaign began the issue was not even on the radar, but with continued pressure from Macmillan and others a change in government policy now appears imminent.
What do you most enjoy about working in public affairs?
It’s fantastic to have the opportunity to shape and influence policy and work up a communications strategy that supports what our clients want to achieve. We’re working with one of our clients to ensure the Government protects music education within the curriculum and promotes innovative learning techniques, and it’s rewarding to see how much progress has been made on this issue.
Your career has featured a lot of health and education work. Do you think it is important for Consultants to find a specialist area of expertise?
Opinion is divided on this subject, but personally I believe consultants should specialise in at least one policy area. Our clients pay for policy expertise as well as campaign support. At Whitehouse I’ve had the opportunity to immerse myself in the health sector working with a variety of clients and this gives me, and the agency, a more detailed policy insight that enables me to provide a deeper level of analysis for clients. However, I also work in education policy which allows me to have knowledge of other policy areas outside of health.
You have worked both In-House and for a Consultancy; what would you say is the biggest difference or challenge between the two career paths?
In my experience, consultancy is faster paced and dealing with a multitude of clients and issues in an overall policy area delivers a wider variety of experiences compared to working in-house, which makes it very interesting. However, if you’re a policy wonk who wants to get their teeth into something very narrowly defined and specific, then in-house may be better for you. For me, I feel that I get a comprehensive level of detail in my consultancy role whilst also having a variety of clients and policy areas to work with.
How important is political party involvement to a public affairs career?
It helps, but there are other routes into the industry. Being immersed in politics doesn’t mean you have to align yourself with a political party. I, like many others I know in the industry, am fairly neutral in my party political views, plus there alternative routes into the industry such as working for charities and trade organisations.
What impact will the UK’s EU Referendum have on the public affairs industry, both in terms of build-up and the eventual result?
Brexit is looming over all long-term decisions UK companies are making, much like the Scottish independence referendum. Our clients benefit from the fact that we have a large and experienced EU team. I’d expect to see many clients take a greater interest in European developments as the referendum draws closer.
Having done a Politics and IR Degree, how relevant do you believe Degree subject is for a public affairs career?
Degree subject becomes less relevant the more experience you gain. Political theory goes out the window when you are trying to influence government policy. However, a degree in a subject like politics or economics does give you a sound basis to understand the foundations upon which decisions are made.
If you could time travel back to your final year at University, what career advice would you give yourself?
In the health sector the continuation of government policy has provided stability and having relationships already in place with parliamentarians and ministers has meant that we’re in a good position to advise clients on new regulatory developments. During the General Election the electorate clearly showed that they trust the Government on the NHS. It will be interesting to see if that trust can be sustained through the current workforce disputes and worsening finances as cuts to social care in particular will have a large impact.