After a brief stint in public affairs, I spent eight years in the Treasury and European Commission, including working for three years as the private secretary to a Government Minister. I then went to work for MHP Communications and moved to Interel in 2014 to head up their financial services practice.
You worked for seven years at the Treasury before moving into consultancy: what lessons did this help you draw about the “Do’s and Don’ts” of effective engagement with civil servants?
- Be clear about what you are asking for. Set out the costs but also the benefits this will bring not just to your organisation but to the wider economy.
- Have concise and well-argued messaging.
- Work with the grain of the political cycle. Radical policy changes are less likely to happen towards the end of a Parliament. If you are looking to effect a change at the Budget don’t ask a few weeks before, begin your conversation with the officials as far ahead as you can.
- Speak to the right person about your issue. Don’t blanket lobby.
- Develop a good relationship with the official and don’t annoy people.
- Be aware that civil servants are often managing competing pressures.
- Often people who you may think are relatively young or junior are instrumental in shaping policy.
What does your current role at Interel entail on a day to day basis?
Day to day my role is to provide advice to clients and proactively lead their public affairs programmes. As a Director at Interel, a big part of my role is also to win new business and support in the day to day running of the company. I am the Group Head of Financial Services so I’m particularly focused on building up our financial services practice across our seven offices globally.
Which campaign/issue are you most proud to have been involved in?
In the Treasury I was responsible for developing and delivering a tax free saving scheme for people on low incomes called the Saving Gateway. This matched savings of lower income savers and supported those at the very bottom end of the income distribution. The current help to buy ISA is modelled on this.
What do you enjoy about working in public affairs?
Public affairs is great fun, particularly if you love politics and you’re politically active.
In a consultancy you get to deal with many different types of organisations working on issues which are front page news or not news at all. No two days are ever the same.
Working as a team: I work with a great team of bright people at Interel and it’s really important to enjoy coming to work each day.
What challenges does the public affairs consultancy sector face?
It’s changing now, but in the past many organisations have seen public affairs as a ‘nice to have’. The challenge for public affairs professionals is to demonstrate the value we bring in an ever more political and regulated world.
It’s also getting more competitive out there, organisations are doing more in-house, there are more consultancies going for the same work.
Public affairs and public relations briefs are being merged into one which can often mean that both disciplines are being asked to do more for less.
At Interel we’ve found that having the relatively unique offer of being specialist public affairs advisers, in a number of key sectors, who can truly provide expert advice locally as well as at a global level, has enabled us to create a clear and differentiated position in the market place.
How important is gaining experience within political institutions when considering a career in public affairs?
It certainly helps. If you understand the ins and outs of the political process from having been on the inside, it significantly improves the advice and intelligence you can give.
How useful did you find your stagiaire role in the European Commission at the start of your career?
Europe can be a complicated world to navigate and understand. Working in the Commission has been invaluable in helping me to understand the EU and in all my roles since then.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
What advice would you give to a civil servant who is considering a career move into public affairs?
If you are interested in politics and the political dynamics rather than policy making, go for it. But think carefully, make sure you’re happy to be a poacher rather than the gamekeeper and the one asking for decisions rather than making them.
If you could time travel back to your final year at University, what career advice would you give yourself?
Work hard at the start of your career, it will pay dividends later and it’s a small world so make sure to keep people on side!
How important is being politically active to a career in policy and public affairs?
It is important and definitely helps in terms of building your network, knowledge and ultimately the advice you can give.
How relevant is Degree subject for a public affairs career?
While some consultancies only look for those with politics degrees, any degree that hones your ability to craft a persuasive case and develop a strong argument is an excellent basis.
What's your prediction for the UK Referendum on EU Membership?
Remain - but it’ll be close.