I’ve worked in public affairs and communications roles at EU and UK level in the public and private sectors for the past six years. Following a stint with the European Parliament’s communications directorate, I spent 3 years with a major trade body in Brussels before moving to London.
How did you get into public affairs?
What was your first job and what did you learn most from this role? It was a bit of a roundabout route as it is for many people I suppose. When I completed my MA, I was selected for an internship on the European Parliament’s Robert Schuman programme. From there, I moved to a small association in Brussels where I ‘cut my teeth’ engaging with MEPs and the Commission.
What does your current role entail on a day to day basis?
Each morning, I will normally have a plan for what I want to get done that day. Oftentimes however, that plan goes out the window by 9.05am! That’s the nature of working in a combined PA/PR role. While public affairs is quite structured, media relations is about dealing with the unpredictable at a moment’s notice. I could be called up to react to a story in that morning’s papers or something that Government has announced. It’s a bit of a juggling act, but I enjoy the challenge.
When did you first decide that "EU public affairs" was something that you wanted to pursue?
When I was studying for my undergraduate degree in Ireland, there was a great deal of public discussion on the EU, especially leading up to referenda on the EU constitutional treaty (2004), Lisbon (2007) and later the ‘reform treaty’ in 2011. Uniquely in Europe, Ireland must, for constitutional reasons, hold a referendum on each new EU treaty. It was around this time I developed a strong interest in all things EU and this was fuelled further during my postgraduate studies when I decided to focus my MA thesis on the Turkey-EU relationship; something which has become even more topical in the current climate.
When did you decide that you wanted to head to Westminster?
Working in Brussels from 2011 to 2015, I developed an intimate knowledge of the workings of the EU institutions, in particular the European Parliament, as well as the broader community of European industry and NGO stakeholders. However, after four years inside the ‘Brussels Bubble’, I had a yearning to develop my skills and knowledge in public affairs and media relations further afield and Westminster seemed the most challenging and exciting political environment after Brussels in which to do this. When an opportunity came up in London which enabled me to continue working on food and environment issues, it seemed like an ideal move and one I have not regretted.
In your current role at the BRC, how is your time split between public affairs and communications?
I’ve found that for the most part, public affairs and communications go hand in hand. Political and media stakeholders are naturally crucial audiences for a trade association and there are real benefits in taking a broad, strategic, holistic approach to engagement with both audiences.
What are the main challenges for public affairs and communications professionals working in trade associations?
Trade associations are, by their very nature, made up of companies operating in a very competitive market environment. Getting a consensus isn’t always easy however, on vital issues, more often than not, companies will agree to work together and increasingly as part of broader coalitions of stakeholders such as NGOs, consumer groups etc.
How different is EU from UK public affairs from an association perspective?
In certain respects, they are not all that different at all. Both agree common positions among their members and lobby institutions on their behalf. EU level associations however, have to navigate the complexity of 28 different political and legal environments as well as be mindful of linguistic differences and cultural sensitivities which are highly important in themselves. Something high on the political agenda in one state such as GMOs for example, may not feature in public debate in another.
In your opinion, how valuable are stakeholder coalitions in making your voice heard within Government?
On certain issues, particularly big societal challenges, I’ve seen firsthand the positive impact that can be had where industry and NGOs join forces and communicate a common message to Government. For industries, there is great reputational value in showing real leadership on for example, a global environmental or ethical issue. In the 24-hour media age, the public are ever more conscious of how their goods are made, where and by whom.
Which campaign/issue are you most proud to have been involved in?
During my time at the BRC, I’ve really enjoyed working on a number of campaigns on tackling modern slavery in UK supply chains. It has been a real eye-opener to learn of some of the horrible practices that can occur all over the world and I really enjoy knowing that in some small way, the work I am involved in could have a positive impact on people’s lives in other parts of the globe.
What did you enjoy about working in European public affairs?
I loved the incredibly multicultural work environment and having the chance to work on issues which have a pan-European dimension such as tackling climate change for example.
Which skills are key for a successful career as public affairs practitioner?
In a nutshell, being able to quickly absorb and understand the key points of a complex issue or topic and then explain it in simple but accurate terms to someone else. It is also critical to have a strong interest in politics and political processes. Understanding how Parliament, Whitehall or Brussels work will get you so far; understanding why they do something will get you much further.
What’s your prediction for the UK Referendum on EU membership on 23rd June 2016?
Quick As someone who has benefitted directly from the right to work and experience life in different European countries, I have seen firsthand what the tangible benefits of EU membership are for young people and how it can enrich your life and career. I think turnout among young voters will be absolutely crucial to the result on 23 June.
|Which politician, past or present, would you like to be stuck in a lift with? What issues would you raise?||Churchill. Though from what I’ve read about him, I doubt I’d get a word in edgeways.|
|LinkedIN or Twitter?||Partial to both, but when something is breaking, definitely Twitter|
|Tweet your career-to-date in 140 characters or less||International relations graduate, former Brussels-based #EU lobbyist, now working in Westminster in public affairs & media|
|What’s your Media diet?||In no particular order: Guardian, Telegraph, Huffington Post|
|Favourite Film||Wall Street|
|Guilty pleasure||Obscure craft beers|