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 insights can you share about your three years working as Private Secretary to The Paymaster General?
Being a Private Secretary in the Treasury was a real privilege. It’s a brilliant job to do, great fun but also very demanding and long hours. It gives you relatively rare exposure to the interface between the civil service and politics and you get to see history being made at first hand. If you are speaking to a private office:
- Be clear about who you are and what you are asking for. They deal with numerous issues and organisations every day.
- Help the private office out. Go to them with suggestions for visits or briefing. Opportunities in the Minister’s local constituency are of course particularly attractive.
- If you are lobbying on an issue, make sure you have engaged the relevant civil servant first, the private office will always ask them for their advice.
- Don’t be afraid to call a private office, there’s no mystique about it.
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.
With operations across the globe, how does Interel ensure joined up client delivery?
We have a number of clients which we advise globally or out of a number of our offices. To manage this we have one central person who leads on the account but works closely with the rest of the team.
It really helps that we all know each other well. I speak to my colleagues around the globe each week (we Skype a lot!) and we all meet up four times a year in Brussels.
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 valuable do you think stakeholder coalitions can be in making an organisation’s voice heard within government?
It’s more difficult for Government not to respond to a number of voices calling for change. One corporate asking for support can look like a sectional interest so it’s worth looking to build coalitions to push for change.
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’s your secret to achieving a successful work/life balance?
Working for Interel and their support for flexible working.
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.
What's your prediction for the UK Referendum on EU Membership?
Remain - but it’ll be close.
|Which politician, past or present, would you like to be stuck in a lift with? What issues would you raise?||
Aung San Suu Kyi.
How did you persevere?
|LinkedIN or Twitter?||Both|
|Tweet your career-to-date in 140 characters or less||Civil service fast stream, Private Secretary to Treasury minister, worked in European Commission, eight years in political consultancy, Director at Interel.|
|Favourite restaurant for a business lunch?||Depends on the business; from Pollen Street Social to Pret|
|What’s your Media diet?||Twitter, broadsheets|
|Favourite Film||Once Upon a Time in the West|