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What does your current role entail on a day to day basis?

The great thing about public affairs is the breadth of work I do every day. Different clients need me for different things, but basically I see myself as an extension of my clients’ teams - advising them on how they should be positioning themselves in relation to policy, most of it proactively but occasionally reactively. I start early and digest my usual morning sources – Politico, The Times, FT and City AM. I keep my mornings for any analytical or written work, or brainstorming I need to do with colleagues, as afternoons my brain definitely slows down a little so generally I will do more admin type stuff. 

How did you get into public affairs?

Straight after finishing my masters I went to do an internship for an MP in Westminster. From there I did a few months at Edelman which was great, but the opportunity to work on a general election campaign in 2005 was too good to turn down. I worked for the Lib Dems for 5 years but always knew I wanted to go back to public affairs.

You set up your own consultancy almost 10 years ago: what challenges did you face? How have you gone about seeking new clients?

I got very lucky in my first year as I set up Riverside and very quickly won two hefty retained contracts. I thought life was always going to be that easy and to be honest I sat back in those first two years. I got a bit of a wake up call in 2014 when a client unexpectedly declined to renew our contract and suddenly I realised I was one phone call away from the bread line. I really had to scramble hard in 2015 and fortunately I managed to bring in Michael Burrell to advise me on how to be better at my job! It’s never always plain sailing but our client base is now much more stable and diversified. One thing it’s taken me too long to realise is being good at the job isn’t enough – you’ve got to be doing your own PR constantly.

You spent four years in Brussels: How did you find it as a place to work and live? How does public affairs in the EU world differ to the UK?

I had been really keen to go back to Brussels as I was born there and lived there until I was eight so had very fond memories of it as my first home. When I got offered the job in 2006, to be the Lib Dem Spokesperson in the European Parliament, I was unbelievably excited. I loved it there for the first couple of years (the social life was akin to being back at university!), but the work seemed rather pedestrian compared to working in Westminster, I know some people who will stay in Brussels forever but it wasn’t for me.

You worked at the influential European Consumer Group - BEUC - in Brussels – tell us about your Head of Comms role

I spent my last year in Brussels as Director of Communications for the European Consumers’ Organisation (BEUC) which I genuinely loved. In fact it was probably far more political than working in the European Parliament as policy makers and journalists were actually interested in, and influenced by, what BEUC had to say. Press coverage was never an issue and I really enjoyed the ‘on camera’ stuff which I’d never done before. Ultimately though, I really wanted to get back to London to be near family and that is where I saw the next chapter in my career.

What are the challenges facing the consultancy sector in the public affairs industry?

The steady professionalisation of the in-house public affairs function makes it ever more important for consultants to be able to demonstrate how they can really add value (for example, by offering frank, semi-detached advice).  Also, consultants need to demonstrate a capability of understanding how the civil service operates that is just as strong as their understanding of Westminster. There are many who are good at the latter, but not the former.

Which campaign/issue are you most proud to have been involved in?

Oh easily the Free School Breakfast campaign. We got approached by the charity who ran the National School Breakfast Programme (NSBP) as it looked like DfE might not extend the funding needed to feed 300,000 disadvantaged children every morning. We quickly mobilised MPs from across the House in a 3 month campaign which ultimately was successful. All campaigns matter, but I can’t think of anything that will have made as much difference as this one and I am very glad to have played a minor part in that and in helping the amazing people who work every day for disadvantaged children.

What do you enjoy about working in public affairs?

The client advisory side. That’s why I do it. I love giving advice, even more so when it’s listened to! I’ve built some really great and long lasting relationships and made some really good friends along the way. When clients invite you to their wedding you know you must be doing something right!

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Out of sight out of mind (Michael Burrell).

What advice would you give to someone considering a career in public affairs?

Networking is incredibly important so make sure you work at it. Particularly if you want to go consultancy side.

Quick-Fire Round  
Which politician, past or present, would you like to be stuck in a lift with? What issues would you raise? At the risk of sounding very unoriginal: Nelson Mandela.
LinkedIn or Twitter? LinkedIn – fewer anonymous haters!
Tweet your career-to-date in 140 characters or less London > Brussels > London. Parliament > European Parliament > Consultancy. #publicaffairs #transport #tech #healthech #campaigner
What’s your Media diet? Politico, The Times, FT, City AM, Sky News
Favourite Film Heat
Guilty Pleasure Krug – and always after a client win! I don’t know Kevin Bell, but I am sure he would approve!
Favourite restaurant for a business lunch? Casting my mind back to when this was a thing… A Wong in Victoria.
How can we find out more about your consultancy? Click here to visit the Riverside Communications website.


Read Dave McCullough's advice for students and recent graduates in the GraduateForward Advice Centre where he answers questions including: How important is gaining experience within political institutions when considering a career in public affairs? How relevant is Degree subject for a public affairs career? 

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